I reminded my siblings and mum via email on Monday that it was the 20th anniversary of our family’s arrival in Australia. My sisters have since written about the anniversary – see here and here. Back then, the 16th of January 1986, I was ten years old. My memories are all over the place, some things vivid, other things murky.
I thought the orange juice they gave us on the plane tasted bitter – I wasn’t used to 100% juice. I was too airsick to eat anything. I was terrified of throwing up because my dad would get mad at me. I lay back in my seat nauseous and stressed out the whole way while my siblings listened to the different music stations.
We moved into a rental house in Castleton Street, Balcatta. There was a nice big friendly labrador next door named Sheba. That summer, I learned how to ride a bicycle on a clunky old blue chopper, which was really heavy (which meant you went down hills very fast, and it hurt a hell of lot when you fell and the bike fell on you). There were two choppers – which meant my two older sisters and I had to take turns. Later on, we got a third bike, a black BMX, and then we could go on rides together (our brother was too little to go bike riding, and our little sister had not been born yet). On one occasion, I had an accident and slid under a parked car, grazing knees and ripping off a line of skin across my tummy. I never said anything about it to anyone because I was worried that my parents wouldn’t let me go bike riding any more.
I remember discovering red creaming soda and drinking it, so it seems, all summer. Funny thing is I haven’t drunk red creaming soda for years, and I won’t touch the stuff now! I loved barbecue chook from the supermarket, with bread and lettuce.
I loved how the sun rose so early in the morning in summer (it didn’t rise so early in Malaysia). I remember when we still lived in Malaysia, watching an episode of Magnum P.I. when it was bright and sunny at 5:30am. At the time I didn’t think it was possible for the sun to rise so early! I was thrilled that in Australia when I woke up in summer it was already sunny outside (I’ve always been a morning person). I loved to go outside and hear the sound of automatic sprinklers.
The first song I remember hearing on AM radio that summer was “It’s All Right, Baby’s Coming Back” by Eurythmics. Another song I associate with that time is “Everyday” by James Taylor. We had an old red radio cassette player that my Auntie gave us. It was a double cassette deck, but I think something was wrong with one side – it didn’t shut properly or something. My sisters used to record songs off the radio and make mix tapes. I still have those tapes (Yep, as well as a blanket from the plane trip to Australia, and as well as that very copy of Ash Road by Ivan Southall, CW!). Songs like “You’re a Friend of Mine” by Jackson Browne and Clarence Clemons and “That’s what Friends are For” by Dionne Warwick and friends take me back to that first summer. We used to listen to the AM radio station 6PM which became an FM station called PMFM and then 92.9.
I was horrified when I started school and saw the uniform I had to wear – this disgusting one piece blue dress. I was in Year Six. I had a terrible haircut and was very self-conscious because I knew I had noticeable boob bumps and hardly any of the other kids wore glasses. I called them “specs” or “spectacles”, which the other kids thought was really funny for some reason. On my first day of school a boy came up and introduced himself: “G’Day, I’m Mick Dundee from Australia”. Having never seen or heard of Crocodile Dundee I didn’t know he was taking the piss. Later I learned that “Mick”‘s real name was Russell. When it was lunch time I saw that a lot of kids had ordered their lunches from the tuckshop – crumbed sausages, meat pies, hot dogs, with choc milk and strawberry milk and spearmint milk and Bucket ice creams. Much better than my plain old sandwiches. There was one other Chinese kid in class named Raymond. I felt embarrassed if anyone thought of me as being the same as him (as we were both Chinese) because he couldn’t speak English very well. I got 100% on a comprehension test (the piece we had to read was about Australian marsupials) and then the other kids said I was a brain and didn’t like me anyway. Later that year I got a reputation as a boy-basher – there were a couple of boys Mark and Chris (I do remember their full names, I won’t give them here though!) who liked to hassle other kids – I punched them and they never bothered me again. I never got into trouble for being the boy-basher because those boys never said anything to the teachers – I think they were just too embarrassed to admit that quiet Chinese girl kicked their asses (actually, they probably didn’t think anyone would believe them).
These days, people who meet me tend to assume I was born here, which is fine by me. I can switch between Australian and Chinese-Malaysian accents at will, but I prefer to stick to the Australian. I haven’t been back to Malaysia. Maybe one day. I’d love to go back to Malaysia and show Jac where I used to live and go to school etc., but I’m in no rush. Australia is well and truly home now. I’m proud to be an Australian citizen.