By Alfred Nicdao
It was 8 pm on 9 October 1974. My parents and two siblings landed in Melbourne’s Tullamarine Airport. It had been 24 hours since we departed Manila. After a day’s stopover in Sydney’s Villawood Migrant Hostel, everyone was exhausted.
Stepping out of the airport and into a waiting taxi, we felt the temperature was less than 16C, and our first impression was, “This is like being inside a refrigerator!” We were not prepared for this. Our clothes from a tropical city did not suit the climate here. But like Sydney, the air was so fresh and clean. This country smells of heaven.
We arrived at the Midway Hostel in Maribyrnong, and an elderly gentleman (the hostel manager) greeted us. He led the way to our unit, our new home – a two-bedroom flat on the ground floor. We were exhausted, and we just wanted to settle and get some proper sleep. But a nun knocked on the door. It was Sister Power. She brought some fresh fruits for us. She introduced herself and told us that she was there to care for our needs and ensure that we settle in nicely. She looked at us and was concerned as we all looked malnourished. Before she left, she told us that she’d be back at 7 am to take us to the dining hall, where we will get our breakfast (and lunch and dinner). I then noticed that our flat did not have a kitchen.
Right at 7 am, Sister Power knocked on the door, and there we were at dawn, walking along with other people dressed in thick coats. We entered the dining hall, a room big enough to accommodate all the residents of the hostel. It was a sea of white people. I thought, “This is what Australians look like.” There was a buffet with so many varieties of food that I had never seen before in my life. Sister Power finds us an empty table and tells us that there’ll be other newly arrived Filipino families she’d like us to meet once they arrive.
We were part of the then Whitlam government’s migrant assisted passage program, where skilled workers from the Philippines were given free airfare and accommodation for a year to contribute to Australia’s growing economy. We were one of the lucky 500 migrant families who became part of the vibrant Filipino community here in Melbourne today.
It was our new beginning. I was 15.
(Alfred Nicdao is a Filipino migrant actor and co-Convenor of Project Kultura.)