By Lorna Ramirez

The early Filipino migrants in Victoria had a reunion, and the only agenda was to reconnect

What makes the grand reunion of early Filipino migrants so unique and different from other events?

This was not an organisation, not a charity, nor a fundraising function. There were no sponsors, but solely a non-profit event with the intent to gather people together. The reunion was held last 17 June at the Grand Star Receptions in Altona North.

 

The extra money garnered was given back to the guests, through door prizes. Thirty lucky winners received $50 each in cash. The reunion was a resounding and roaring success, attended by 470 guests.

It was a night filled with laughter, lots of kisses, hugs and camaraderie. Political issues, conflicts were set aside and the guest had these things in mind: bonding and re-connecting with friends, some of whom they haven’t seen for decades. There were also a few tears upon knowing some friends had passed away.

Though most of the 70s and 80s migrants are now seniors in age ranging from 60s, 70s and some in their 80s, “we can prove that we can still dance to the music. It was a nostalgic moment. Full of memories, and that night we all felt we were one big extended family celebrating and commemorating the wonderful years we lived in Australia,” one said.

Journey of the early Filipino migrants

The first Filipino migrants came to Australia in 1974 when the government introduced the Assisted Package Migration Scheme and started recruiting both single and married tradespeople with families. Also approved were teachers, nurses, secretaries and accountants. Financial assistance and subsidised airline tickets were provided.

Upon arriving in Australia, they were distributed to three different hostels: Maribyrnong, Nunawading and Springvale. Whilst looking for employment, they were provided free board and lodging. They were allowed to stay at the hostels for a period of six months. At the hostel no cooking facilities were available. Breakfast, lunch and dinner were provided and served at the big mezz hall. As a bonus, they were provided a supply of fresh milk and fruit every afternoon. The hostel also provided clean linen and pillows on a regular basis.

Filipinos at the hostels bonded well together, finding support and strength with each other. It was one way of alleviating their loneliness while being away from home.

The Western suburb was a strong hold of skilled tradesmen, hence on 22 October 1978, the Filipino Tradesmen Association of Victoria (FILSTAV) was established with Eddie Atacador as the first President. It was an active organisation, promoting sports activities and entertainment. The Philippine Fiesta of Victoria (PFVI) was created. Members and supporters were all FILTAV members. The PFVI purchased 4.74 acres of land at Laverton at a price of $320,000. The place was named “The Philippine Community Centre”. The Contract of Sale was signed on the 8 April 1994. With the help of the Filipino community (FILTAV and PFVI members), the land was paid off within several years.

The idea for the reunion came to be

The reunion was conceived during wakes or funerals attended by Hugo Espenida, Caram Singh, Chito Balazo and Tess Magpantay. They then initiated the concept of having a grand reunion. They said it would be best to meet and see old-time friends in a happy atmosphere rather than in wakes or funerals. Those who supported and helped in the event were: Jean Pitagara, Jessie Sison, Lowie Lawang, Dom Ortis, Ador Cabantog, Poly Magpantay, Eddie Atacador, Gerry Ocampo and Jot Banco.

Dom Ortiz served as the master of ceremonies. Sylvia Cabantog led the opening prayer then acknowledged and paid tribute to the migrants of the 70s and 80s who passed away.
The only guest speaker of the night was Eddie Atacador, first President of FILTAV and the Filipino Community Welfare Services (FCWS). He was the Founder and Editor of Philippine Mabuhay newspaper in 1982. He was also the first Chairman of PFVI. In his speech, he acknowledged the organisers of the event. He also welcomed those who attended the reunion. Eddie spoke about the journey of migrants and his family in the early 70s adjusting to a new culture, food, colloquial words and accent in Australia.

The Associations of Seniors Filipino Australians of Victoria performed two dances, Cariñosa with a twist and Ah-Si dancing.

Robert and Marie Hernandez led the guests in dancing.

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