Welcome Wall September 2017

Image: Andrew Frolows/ANMM.

Last Sunday, around 900 people attended a special ceremony at the museum which saw 339 new names unveiled on the museum’s migrant Welcome Wall. The Welcome Wall stands in honour of all those who have migrated from around the world to live in Australia.

The special guest at the unveiling ceremony was Dai Le, Board Member, Multicultural NSW who reflected on her family’s experience as refugees from Vietnam and the importance of multiculturalism in Australia.

The ceremony featured three migrant speakers who have placed names on the wall. Millie Soo talked about her parents who migrated from China in the 1950s and 1960s and opened the first Chinese restaurant in Dubbo. Terese McInerney and Katrina Hladun paid tribute to their grandparents and father who migrated from the Ukraine in the 1950s. Catherine Bullivant spoke on behalf of the Bugeja family who migrated from Malta.

This year we were fortunate to open the ceremony with a powerful Welcome to Country delivered by Donna Ingram, the Cultural Representative for the local Aboriginal community.

Australia is a multicultural nation with 44 per cent of its population born overseas or with a parent who was born overseas. The museum’s Welcome Wall is a celebration of this diversity. The 339 new names will bring the total number of names on the wall to 29,110. Of these 10,329 are from the United Kingdom, 3,610 from Italy, 1,743 from The Netherlands, 1,676 from Germany, and 1,397 from Greece.  In all, more than 200 countries are represented.

Millie Soo

The Soo family. Image: Andrew Frolows/ANMM.

The Soo family. Image: Andrew Frolows/ANMM.

Our father, Albert Lam Fun Soo, said he wasn’t scared; in fact, he felt excited and fortunate when he arrived in Sydney on the 22nd of November 1950. The six-week journey by ship to Australia probably felt more like a great adventure for a 13-year-old boy who was raised in a middle-class family that grew rice and farmed vegetables in the vast countryside of Southern China. Albert had heard about the Chinese working in the goldfields in Australia and realised that going to Australia was a unique opportunity, not only for him, but also for his entire family.

Albert was sponsored by his paternal uncle, Sue Ching, and wasted no time in settling into Australian life. He attended Redfern Primary School and Bourke Street Secondary School from 1951 to 1956, and helped out at a fruit and vegetable store before and after school. It was the height of the Korean War and Asians weren’t really accepted by the Australian community. But Albert fondly recalls the store’s driver, George Gurney who befriended him because he thought Albert was too skinny to be lifting the heavy boxes of fruit and vegetables. This was Albert’s first experience in Australian mateship.

In March 1958, at the age of 20, Albert bought his uncle’s share of a restaurant business; and with 3 other business partners they opened the first Chinese restaurant in Dubbo – “Hing Wah Restaurant”. Albert had no experience in running a business let alone how to cook. Albert will admit it was difficult but he never complained. He learnt everything about the restaurant trade ‘on the job’. He often recalls that Chinese food wasn’t so popular in a small country town of 7,000 people at the time.

Once Albert established himself in Dubbo, his mind turned towards the thought of settling down with a life partner. Albert met his future father-in-law, Kwan Cheuk Chan in Sydney who in turn introduced Albert to his daughter, Linda, through a photograph exchange. Both Albert and Linda must have liked what they saw, as they became pen friends in 1962 and continued to write to each other until they met for the first time in 1964 in Hong Kong. A marriage proposal quickly followed and Albert sponsored Linda to Australia.

Linda had studied nursing for two years in Guangzhou, before she in Sydney on the 1st  January 1965. In the same year, Albert and Linda married at the local courthouse in Dubbo on the 5th February.

Linda epitomised the phrase ‘behind every great man, there is a great woman’. She worked side by side with Albert in the restaurant and raising their three children, Richard, Millie and Bob. Linda may not have become the nurse that she aspired to be, but she was talented at running the business and being a dedicated restaurateur. In 1970, Albert and Linda, along with Kwan (Linda’s father), became the sole owners of the restaurant which grew into a very successful business.

Albert and Linda sold the restaurant in 1987 to Albert’s brother, Warren Gee Fun Soo. They relocated to Sydney where Albert traded his wok for an office and worked as a manager in War Hing Trading Company in Haymarket, from October 1990 to October 2010.

Today, Albert and Linda are enjoying retirement, visiting their relatives in China each year and being grandparents to their five grandchildren. The Hing Wah Restaurant remains in our family today under the ownership of Warren’s daughter and son-in-law.

This November Albert will celebrate his 80th birthday and having our parents’ names inscribed on the Welcome Wall was a fitting tribute to mark such a milestone and their life in Australia. Our parents were pioneers for their respective families as they worked hard in the restaurant to sponsor their immediate family members to Australia – that is, our grandparents (who unfortunately are no longer with us), and our aunts and uncles. Our parents assisted them to find accommodation, to secure jobs, to teach them the Australian way of life, and even gave them anglicised names.

My brothers and I are very proud of our parents’ achievements, our Chinese heritage and to be Australian. Our parents are our greatest influence and they instilled in us to have a strong work ethic and to uphold the values of respect, honesty and tolerance.

Terese McInerney and Katrina Hladun

Terese McInerney and Katrina Hladun. Image: Andrew Frolows/ANMM.

Terese McInerney and Katrina Hladun. Image: Andrew Frolows/ANMM.

Serhij Hladun was born in 1920 in Ukraine. He was one of eight children. But due to illness and the lack of food, only four survived to adulthood. He was multi-lingual, speaking Ukrainian, Polish, German and some English.

During World War II, Serhij was conscripted by the Russians as a soldier and subsequently captured by the Germans and relocated to a camp in Soltau in Germany. In order to simply survive he used his many natural skills to prove his worth: He was as a mechanic, a locksmith and even chauffeured vehicles for the German Army personnel.

It was during this time that Serhij met Vera Schmidt, also of eight children, who would later become his wife and my grandmother. Vera was in her own relocation camp in Germany after her father had been captured by Russian soldiers – Serhij and Vera met by chance in Soltau, but they were married and, in 1947, welcomed their first child, Valentin, my father.

After the war, and in search of a better life and their freedom, Serhij, Vera and their small son Val set sail on the SS Nelly from Naples, Italy in 1950. They arrived a few months later here, in Sydney.

For years, the three of them lived in various Migrant Camps in NSW where Vera’s caring and soft nature saw her working as a nurse, caring for children as they moved from camp to camp. Serhij worked on the nearby railways, as a fettler. Their second child, Valentina, was born in 1951.

The Hladun family settled in Wagga Wagga. They supported other migrant families who were also settling in Wagga by combining their diverse skills to build homes for each other. As a result, Wagga Wagga was fortunate to have many talented migrants who learnt their trade building ‘the great Australian dream of the 1950’s’ – a family home.

My father, Val, was only five and could not yet speak English, though he helped with the family shopping and learnt to read the labels by trial and error, making for some interesting meals. His perseverance was rewarded as six years later he was Dux of Kooringal Public School in Wagga Wagga.

Sadly, Serhij only experienced thirteen years in this remarkable country before passing away in 1963, of pancreatic cancer aged 42. Val left school at the age of 15, to go to work and help support his mother and sister. Like his father before him, Valentin was a man of many skills: He became a dry wall plasterer and learned to make plaster sheets and to fashion decorative cornices – skills that are no longer taught.

Vera re-married and had another son, Helmut in 1966, and she lived to be 85 years of age. She was an extremely strong woman who was humble and grateful for the life she had lived in Australia.

In 1972 Val married my mother, Marie Ray. They have four daughters and seven grandchildren (so far).

Val always remained extremely proud of his Ukrainian heritage. He was active in his local community, including the SES, and was always ready to lend a hand. He was a wonderful family man and father of 4 daughters who tested his patience on more than one occasion. His gruff and dry humour will never be forgotten.

Like his father, Valentin was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer in 2009. But unlike his father, was able to access our modern medical system having multiple surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation to have an additional seven years of life. Val passed away, last November, aged 69.

The Hladun family came from horrors of unthinkable proportions in today’s society to live a humble life in regional New South Wales.

They were not wealthy with money or possessions but wealthy with love and happiness from their family and friends.

We, their descendants, take this opportunity to honour, and thank migrants such as Serhij, Vera and Val, for adopting Australia as their home. We respect their strong work ethic and selflessness. They always helped each other, and looked out for each other. They were the founders of the Australian spirit, and our country today is well known on the world stage because of this spirit of comradery, built on the shoulders of the migrants.

Catherine Bullivant

Catherine Bullivant. Image: Andrew Frolows/ANMM.

Catherine Bullivant. Image: Andrew Frolows/ANMM.

In August 1954, my grandfather Joseph Bugeja left his home country of Malta to start a new life in Australia.

Five months later his wife Carmen followed with five children, on a month-long journey by boat to join him. They settled in Surry Hills, had another baby, created a community, friendships, new jobs, watched their children grow, marry, have their own families, became grandparents…

We are so fortunate that my Nannu wrote down his life story – and I didn’t realise until I started to prepare to share it on the Welcome Wall, that the chapter recalling his journey to Australia was actually written to his grandchildren. So I will read an excerpt of his memoirs, that he titled:

‘To all my Grandchildren with love’

One day you may ask yourselves why my grandparents came to Australia, what brought them here from Malta. Why come here to start with? I had a very good job as a Non Commissioned Officer in the Royal Air Force (British). I served for fourteen years including all the six years of World War II. By 1954, Nanna Carmen and I had five children, some starting school, some were younger, and so we were looking to the future (your parents’ future) and decided to find somewhere else in the world where we could spend the rest of our lives. We had several choices, for instance, the R.A.F offered me a good opportunity to live in England, also I could have picked Canada as an alternative, but after some consideration and deep thought, Nanna and I decided to come and live in Sydney, Australia.

So in May 1954, I resigned from the R.A.F, was granted permission to migrate to Australia with the rest of my family, providing I have accommodation in Sydney. Knowing no-one in Australia I had no choice but to travel alone first.

I admit as usual I rushed things and wanted to leave Malta on the first ship available. Normally those days travelling by boat through the Suez Canal would take about twenty-eight days. By air, if you were lucky enough, took under thirty hours, but my journey took fifty-six long days.

The ships was MV Tahitien and our sleeping quarters were at the bottom of the ship amongst bags of cement, the showers and toilets were blocked too – the conditions were more suitable for pigs, not human beings.

The food was as bad as we had during the war. The Captain gave several parties on deck for the tourists, but we were not classified as such and we were not allowed to go and talk to any of the tourists.

I arrived in Sydney on Friday 13th August 1954.

Now I will give you the details as I know it, how your Grand­mother Carmen with your parents struggled to Sydney. I used the word struggle because she had to carry five children (little ones at that) with her, although she did have the company of my brother, Alfred.

On the 8th December 1954, Carmen, Alfred and the children Malta on an Italian ship called Surriento, which was carrying about a hundred Maltese migrants. They were in a cabin shared with another family, the trip took exactly one month, but with five children it was more than a handful. Carmen had to feed them, clothe them and also look after them, in other words had her eyes on them all the time.

Everyone of them got sea sick. They had never travelled by boat before and half the journey was during winter. Spending one whole month like that wasn’t easy. Every port they stopped at they went ashore just to have a little walk on land. One day they arrived in Ceylon (now called Sri-Lanka), where someone offered Nanna some money to buy one of the children. He picked Yvonne, he absolutely wanted Yvonne, he was a bloody nuisance.

Luckily Nanna met a fellow passenger and asked him for help, which he did and told the buyer to go to hell. Then he made sure that everyone was safe and escorted Nanna and your parents back to the ship, where they stayed till they reached the port of Sydney, arriving on 8th of January 1955.

Of course, I was waiting for them and more than happy to see they all arrived safely. All your parents were happy to see me, they hugged me and kissed me as well, but not Leslie. He was the youngest, not even three years old then, I suppose he forgot he had a father. When he saw me, he crept behind Mum and cried.

— Edited by Kate Pentecost, Digital Curator and Sabina Peritore, Project Assistant Welcome Wall. With thanks to Millie Soo, Terese McInerney, Katrina Hladun and Catherine Bullivant for sharing their family stories. 

You can view more photos from the ceremony here.

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