Kwinana: celebrating our diverse cultures through story

Know Your Nation spent time with 12 Kwinana locals to find out about where they grew up and what brought them here. Know Your Nation has broken down the material gathered into a series of short stories.  The result is a beautiful, eclectic collection illustrating the luck of the modern community.  Of course, sometimes the stories illustrate the fortune of the individual. But overall the collection speaks to the luck of the community collectively. 

The most dynamic communities are those made up of people with different experiences, backgrounds and skillsets.  It is clear from this cross section of people in Kwinana that our community has the potential to be one of the most dynamic in the region. How lucky we are.     


know your nation social enterprise history kwinana

There are so many things to do.  I do heaps of stuff here, I love it.  It is growing so lovely.  I love it every day more and more.  It’s an industrial city so there’s good income here.  I’ve been back to my country many times but each time I feel more at home back in Australia.  There is more respect here, it is cleaner. This is my place.


Part 1

Date of birth 13 December 1960, in a small mining town called El Salvador in the north of Chile. 

My dad’s family, they were very stringent evangelical Pentecostal, but when they met, my dad wasn’t in any church.  Until the age of eight, my dad used to drink, smoke, parties at home.  1968 there was this, like a evangelism campaign, my mum made a commitment for Christ in the Baptist Church.

The parties stopped, the drinking stopped, everything stopped there.  But my dad, he went back to the Pentecostal Church. So we grew up in a Christian Church, not Catholic, Christian, but split into two ways.

In my dad’s church they wouldn’t allow radio or TV, or pants or short hair.  We tried to follow a little bit of that but because my mum was in another, she would let us wear pants – no make-up, always long hair – but my mum bought a TV when the TV came up.

For me, both were extremes. It was compulsory to go every single Sunday morning, Sunday evening, Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday.  It was church all the time.  My mum’s was set time from 730 to 9, but my dad’s would start at 7 o’clock and they would finish when the Holy Spirit tell them to finish, so it could be very late. It was worse going with my dad! When I would say to my mum, for example, ‘I don’t want to go to church tomorrow’ she would say ‘OK, you don’t want to come with me, go with your dad.’ ‘…I’ll go with you!’

My mum used to make us, you know, long hair with plats, and we were pulled, and bullied and because my dad used to go in the streets preaching with the Church, we were embarrassed sometime. 

Everybody was Catholic, everyone. I remember once, when they have this mass, and I had no idea even how to do the signal of the cross. I didn’t know, you know, the prayers they say.  It was very embarrassing.

Part 2

With Pinochet in power everything was a sin.  No miniskirts, these guys are on drugs, these guys are using marijuana, these are ‘marijuaneros’, these are hippies.

1973 was the coup in Chile and my mum and dad were on his side.  My mum start burning all the magazines that could say something about the politics.  Music changed in general in Chile because many groups were, you know, sent out from Chile, their music were not allowed. My mum never knew, for example, that I liked some music from Chile that she would never allow me because she would say I was a Communist. My dad, he never said exactly which party he would be. I always guessed he was right as well.   

So when Allende, which was a socialist party, came to power, my mum and dad were not happy. And very quickly, like in Cuba, you know, there was no food, no detergent. The basic things were not there. Because my mum was a hairdresser, her customer, instead of money, they would pay with sugar, with oil, with flour, so at home we never missed anything. We didn’t have to do this long queues to get a kilo of meat or chicken.

In El Salvador in particular many people disappeared but because I was just 13 years old I didn’t realise what was happening. My mum and dad, they were happy.

The first thing, knowledge that I had was as soon as the coup happened. My brother was in the navy.  We went to visit him.  We saw from top of the building there were some trucks coming in with men walking like this. My brother start telling us that they were being torture.  He told us some of the thing they were doing to that people, terrible things, like they had a, like a small swimming pool, and they put bleach and urine in there.  They would put them in there to get their skin itchy, and take them out, try to make them talk, and put them again. I was just 12 or 13.  I felt bad about it. But he would say, like ‘you know, these are Communist.  If we don’t do anything they will kill us.’  My mum and dad always would say ‘Oh, Pinochet saved us.  If it weren’t for them we would be dead.’ I grew up with that thinking.

But when I went to study English at university, I start seeing things and listening things that I never knew. For me they were sent overseas, or they were in jail. But I never knew that the people was actually killed. And there was this riot with police outside. Some of the girls start having panic attacks in the class.  I never saw anything like that in El Salvador, it was like a bubble, you know, nothing happened in there.  And that particular girl, her brothers and father had been killed or disappeared. And it was the first time, you know that I heard ‘Oh, this really happened.’ And that changed my way of thinking. 

I always thought a little bit different to my parents; I was never in favour of what was happening, but I wouldn’t say anything because I didn’t know any different. But when I went to university I realised that in Chile there were crimes that nobody was saying anything, that people had been kidnapped, people had been tortured and we didn’t know.





know your nation social enterprise history kwinana

I love Kwinana because it is quiet. I love the community because I feel like a real member of it.  I believe that everyone should come together and be open about their passions and their thoughts – what you like and what you don’t like – so that the community gets closer and better understands each other.  To all Thai people in Australia, think about who you represent and what you want.  Go and be independent and make the most of yourself.


I’m born in Suphan Buri, in Thailand, there’s just some small town named [Doem Bang] Nang Buat. 

I have one brother.  He, maybe, 9 years younger than me.  It just, like, very strange because every time when he crying, his tear that had some blood come out, and, like, scary me.  And then we have to took him to go to some local doctor – again – is not the hospital but a local doctor, and he just make some medicine with the, some small ‘mortar’. Make like a paste and he grabbed the paste in his finger and put in the mouth.  Screaming, the boy screaming – oh my god. But yea, it worked! It gone. You see some movie, like, you know, like local magic thing, and yea, this is surprise!

And that village – what you can call –look like some townhouse but it wooden, just one floor. We have to be friend because with next door just one wall.  You have to share together.  It really close, sometimes you can hear what next door are saying.

Because every time, if you have good neighbour, like sometime when you making some food you always sharing with some people from next door, or your neighbour.  So sometime you go to fishing and then you catch some big fish and then you have to cook it all but you cannot finish it by yourself or your family, so you have to share. We don’t never have food for keep for next day. Always just fresh cooking every day.

Yea, mostly the women stay at home and do something like a do the garden thing, and the man alway goes out, to do, I think they always go out to do the field, the rice field, something like that.  But sometimes they go together. Because some in high, really high season to have a lot of people –we, some small community to like, if some house need some worker, like, we call a ‘long kag’, that mean everyone in that state or that village come to helping to take the rice out, and make sure, and put in the same, and they helping together for this house.  And then if another house we do the same, like a community, we do together. Like we sharing some time; ‘oh you can take some rice, this one’s for yourself’.

My hobby; I have hobby is…actually, no hobby.  Do cooking. Because you make your own food and go to school, and when come back from school you have to come to helping auntie business, because she sell some dessert in the market in the morning.  So you have to prepare the - everything.


know your nation social enterprise history kwinana

I was raised in a small village in South West Germany in the Palatine region. Kwinana is really the best, beautiful value.  There are so many facilities and it is so beautiful.  I tell everyone, come to Kwinana!

But you have to actively engage with people and not wait for them to hold your hand.  You have to mix with people and learn.


The only stories I remember of my grandfather that he was, during the Second World War, in prison in Russia.  He was always saying he was treated fairly and he never hated the Russians.  He also told me – I mean – he still has his school bag, and his school books and so their school was interrupted because of the Second World War.  How hard that life actually was I was taught, and when I see my life and my daughter’s life I think it’s, yea, easy peasy.

In Germany the Germans are always the bad people. So, it started just let’s say a decade ago that people actually started talking what happened in the eastern part in Germany, and how much German public suffered from the Red Army.  Yea, all Germans, including civilians, were the evil ones.  It was a topic you could not discuss.  What Germans did, which was horrible – we all know that – we actually were raised with a sense of guilt.  Honestly speaking I hate it, and I find it unfair.  I think every nation did things that were horrible. And I think it is important to talk about it, and I am very proud that Germany, compared to other nations, did talk about it and did actually commit to say it’s wrong.

It was quite difficult for me, when I was from 2003 to 2004, I was in Indonesia, and I was to live together with Japanese, Korean and Chinese students. So, especially the Japanese, they were so proud of being Japanese.  Being proud to be a German is something you actually can’t say.

Well it also penetrated subjects at school and I remember one incident that was in high school, so our teacher, she was asking us ‘would you have taken Jews in? Would you have protected them?’  So everyone else in the classroom said ‘yes’, and I thought about the question and I said ‘well I don’t know. I would have put my family first, to be honest.’ And then they kicked me out of the classroom.

I lived in a village and most of my other friends, they were farmers, you know, it was quite different than it is now.  And I really hated it in my village because my parents knew most of the other parents from my classmates, so which resulted that we actually had, all of us, we had total control.  Because if something, if we wrote, for example, an exam, our parents already knew from talking to the other parent, even before Facebook and internet, what actually happened. So we were all, really, very good kids. Didn’t bully each other, because if we would have done, one of the other parent would have called and then it would be really bad. Because, at that point in time it was not like positive parenting. At that point in time it was like ‘what did you do? *bang*.’

I remember once, we were 16, when I gave a, you know, when you start to give each other left and right a kiss. And my best friend, she is female, and so when we separated we gave each other left and right side a kiss. And our neighbour saw that. And then the following day my parents had a talk about my sexual orientation. So, so much to the surveillance in the village. Total control, and that was West Germany!




know your nation social enterprise history kwinana

When I first came to Australia I was quite excited.  It felt like all of the pressure was taken away.  But then later I was worried about what I could do here for work, and some of the pressure came back. It’s a totally new life.

My husband works at the naval base in Kwinana and we wanted to build south of the river, so we chose Kwinana. Kwinana will always be home now.

Kwinana library is so good.  It is big and there are lots of activities.  Also there is a wild flower reserve near my home, and I love flowers.  I am a Kings Park guide and I paint flowers so Kwinana is an ideal place for me to live.  I want to work with my art.  It’s my dream to paint 100 wild flowers. I am also a Thaichi instructor and another of my dreams is to help people through my Thaichi.


Li is my family name and Xiu Zhen is my given name. In China it is traditional for each name to have three parts.  The first is the family name, the second indicates which generation you are born into and the third part is the given name.  So for me everyone born to my father’s side in my generation (my cousins) have ‘Xiu’ as the second part of their name.  My grandfather’s father prepared a list of the name to be given to each generation of the family, and that list included my generation’s ‘Xiu.’ 

I was born in a little town, which is very close to Beijing in 1964 and I moved to Beijing when I was 17.  I have 2 older brothers and 1 younger sister.  We did not fall into the 1 child policy, which only started 30 years ago.  

My parents had an arranged marriage.  Before they got married they had never seen each other.  It was common.  In their day that’s how all marriages were. My brothers had arranged marriages but before they got married they met and got to know each other first and got to choose whether they were happy with the match.  When I was old enough to marry I lived in Beijing with my parents and sister, so things were very different.  Times had changed; people were not so traditional.  Also, because we were living in the city we were introduced to many more people so an arranged marriage between parents of different families was less likely.

School was strict.  We learnt world history, but Chinese politics of the day often influenced what we learnt.  We only heard one voice and we thought that voice was right.  Then when we were in university we heard different opinions on matters for the first time from professors and supervisors. And then we started to think.  It’s not that they were allowed to offer different opinions to the rest of the State, but sometimes different opinions just came out.

The Tiananmen Square incident deeply influenced my view of life.  It is something that very few people in Beijing will talk about openly today.  The press in China reported the incident repeatedly and only gave one perspective.  It would be frowned upon to hold other perspectives on what took place and why. 

My home was a typical Chinese home.  In the middle was a cooking area.  When I was little we had three houses linked together for my whole extended family.  We lived with my father’s side of the family, which was the tradition, though my mother’s side did not live far away.  Everyone in the town knew which house was ours.  However, when I was a child one was not proud to be rich.  The Communist Party divided all riches and the poor were treated better than the rich.  So when I was a child we seldom talked about what my grandfather and his father did for a living, which led them to be able to afford that property. 

As a girl, there was no expectation on me.  Families just supported girls while they were growing up so that they could get married, then not need to belong to the family any more.  I think this is the traditional way. 

Chinese culture is a mix of traditions and religions – Confucianism, Taoism.  It’s not really a religious thing now but a traditional festival. We still celebrate Chinese new year, it’s the biggest festival and everyone needs to return home.  We got new clothes (we had these new clothes but we had to wait until the new year to wear them), new shoes and delicious food when I was a child.  My year is the year of the dragon.  People think the year of the dragon produces strong people.  Through the one child policy people chose which year they wanted to have children in but when I was young that didn’t matter to parents as the policy didn’t apply.

At college in Beijing I went to ‘foreign language college’, I did English. Then I worked in my dad’s water company, but in a different department.  I started working at 20 years old. I met my husband in 1989. We were introduced by my neighbour.  About two years later we got married.  He was in Beijing, he worked in the army.  My parents liked him.

I have one son because of the one child policy.  He is quite lonely.  I see the good and the bad in the policy. The population is so large; Beijing has the same size population as Australia. Yet, the next generation is made up of single children and they might have some problems as a result of having this experience.  For example, parents spoil them because they are only children, so if they cannot find a job they just stay home (at their parents’ house) and watch TV.

My first husband and I divorced because he loved someone else.  I moved in with my parents.  I became a Christian in 2000.  My friend is a Christian and she brought me to the church.  At that time my marriage was in difficulty, leading me to feel like I didn’t want to live.  The church made me feel better.  I met my current husband in Beijing in 2006. I was an interpreter at the church he went to. He heard my voice and was moved by it.  Later my friends introduced him to me.  He volunteered to teach all of us translators to pronounce the names in the bible as well as possible.



know your nation social enterprise history kwinana

I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.  I’m happy here.  There are just so many memories with me about Kwinana.  We could be here all day if I were to tell you them all.  Father Christmas and the lolly run (the Kwinana tradition, since 1954, of cars driving round the local area with Santa on them, throwing out bags of lollies to children) on Christmas morning for example; my dad did it, now I do it, and our kids help out on the day too. Chris is now the coordinator of it. It’s just this wonderful feeling, putting back into the community what it gave to us.


My dad was a prison officer and he was working in Scotland in Stirling and he got a transfer down to Strangeways in Manchester just before I was born.  And my mother used to say ‘don’t’ worry love, you were made in Scotland.’  We arrived in Australia in 1956, I was six years old.  We came over by ship, ‘cos my father said ‘this is no place to bring up children, in England.’ And dad said there would be more opportunity for our children in Australia.  I don’t think mum had much say in it ‘cos I don’t think she really wanted to come.

Well, mum always used to say it was primitive.  When we first moved into the house here in Medina, she went into the kitchen and she said to my father ‘what the hell have you brought me to?’  She said ‘where’s the stove?’  There was a wood stove in the corner.  There was no hot water, ‘we’ve got nothing here, absolutely nothing.’

There was a community at the end of the day that everybody was in the same boat.  Nobody had anything, because a lot of people didn’t have jobs, they’d only just arrived here.  They were trying to get themselves settled.  There was Irish, Poles, Hungarians, Germans, Dutch, Scotch, English – have I missed anybody? – Italians, Yugoslavs; the majority of people spoke English, there was a few that didn’t speak English but that doesn’t matter, they fitted in to the community of people. They all got on.  90% of them used to go to church on Sundays.

What got a lot of people was the isolation. You know, like it’s a big thing to leave your whole family behind.  Once you got here you were stuck. Unless you could save up enough money to get a ship out of Australia, there was no way you were gonna leave.  A lot of people used to say ‘oh, you know, I’ll go back’, and they’d save a fortune, and they flew back to England and they were in England for about six or eight weeks - they came back, going ‘I don’t like it there’.  Not many actually went back and stayed back.  I think there were some - a lot of European people did that too.

I think they were holding on to their families.  I don’t think it was a cultural thing, I think it was a family thing.  Everyone used to share culture.  They used to have dances out here at the Ding Dong, old Corker’s place.  People from all different – the Poles would get involved and they’d dance and do this, and the Scotch would do something and the…you were Europeans and that was it. (There wasn’t a lot of Asians here at all because of the White Australia Policy.)

When the penny final dropped was when we had to do National Service. And they said ‘you have to’, and I said ‘but I’m not Australian.’  Oh it doesn’t matter.  If you’ve been here for more than six months then you have to register. So – OK – and they take you in; you actually have to swear allegiance to Australia, and your Queen and country.  So I thought ‘that makes me an Australian’. 

Well, I always thought of myself as an Australian anyway because I’m here, I know nothing about England, nothing at all.  And, I mean, I’d be one of the first people to stand up and fight for Australia.  


know your nation social enterprise history kwinana

Kwinana is a beautiful place.  All of our children have bought their homes here. We’re happy little Vegemites.


I was born in Liverpool, Wavertree, 1953.  I can remember the snow, I can remember always being sick ‘cos I was asthmatic and still am (which is one of the reasons why the family moved to Australia, to try and help me get better).

We left England on Guy Fawkes night, 1962.

Back then, Australia had the all-White Australia Policy.  So, if you were pregnant, you were not allowed to come to Australia, because they couldn’t guarantee just ‘cos your husband was white, that the baby would be white.  And my mum was pregnant with my youngest sister.  And when we got to the part where you had to do a urine specimen, my mum, she poured some of my sister’s bottle into her bottle, ‘cos otherwise we wouldn’t have been allowed to have come.

My last meal in England was beans on toast in this little café in London not far from the palace. And then we got on the boat and I was violently ill for about a week.  We were the only passengers that were allowed to have the whole family together in our cabin; all the others were segregated.

We were in the camp for three weeks and we arrived in Medina on 19 December.

Our neighbour was Australian, and they said to my mum the day before Christmas, she said ‘don’t forget’, she said, ‘to make sure the girls are out the front on Christmas morning’.  We had no idea what she was going on about.  But, we heard all this commotion in the street, there were bells and horns beeping, and it was the lolly run, which Doug and I now do.  Every child got a bag of sweets, thrown at by Santa on the back of a truck. I think I must have still believed in Santa at the time, and thought ‘wow, this is strange! You know, Father Christmas drives down your street!’

We made friends with a couple of Australians up in the street, and they said ‘oh, come over, we’re gonna have some friends over, oh, just bring a plate.’ So my mum, she got five or six plates, and my dad said ‘what are you doing with them?’  And she said ‘oh, well the woman hasn’t got enough plates for us.’  So she went up there with these six dinner plates and the woman actually meant bring a plate of food.  But we never had that in England.  You didn’t say to somebody ‘bring a plate’.  And my mum was so embarrassed.

A lot of the Australians picked on the English.  I went to Medina Primary School and I got called ‘Omo’ because I was so white: ‘Omo washing powder makes you whiter than white’.  People ridiculed me about my accent.  But I never thought of myself as being anything different, always was English, until we [Doug and I] both became naturalised on the same day. And I even now, when people say, you know, ‘what’s your nationality’, I say ‘British born but Australian by choice’.   


know your nation social enterprise history kwinana

Making the decision to immigrate to a new country is both exciting and difficult at the same time, especially with small kids and if you are not sure about the place and whether you will be able to find a job. We researched a lot about the place while we applied for the visa, we also prepared our minds with both good and bad possibilities; we knew that there was no looking back.  We connected with friends and agencies in WA through social sites, and we remained motivated and positive.

Our first few months were difficult, we were very nervous and scared but we remained positive, we made new good friends, we were determined and tried to adapt to the new culture quickly. My husband and family supported me very well and trusted in my capabilities. Very soon we got jobs, kids started school and we came to know the surroundings. Now we have relatives and friends who are looking at immigration options and consult us for information and advice. Our only advice is to think positive, be hard working, remain dedicated, and pray.  Good things will always happen to good people.

I think it is a privilege to be part of the Kwinana community. There are a lot of things that the government is doing which I like.  I consider myself flexible and adaptive but it is an equal and opposite reaction – the way you behave is the way people behave to you.


I was born in Assam in India.  My mum has tried to tell me to enjoy life always, you know; be fun and enjoy. She just feels that you never know, you know, what happens next so just live the moment and be yourself. And my dad always taught me discipline, because I think it just comes from the army background.  So our routine used to be getting up 6 o’clock in the morning, going to church, coming back, getting ready for school, and coming back from school, finishing the studies and then we used to get time to play before dad comes back from work. And after work we used to say the rosary (the prayers to god), and it was meals, half an hour TV, and then we used to sleep at 8 o’clock, 8.30. And my friends used to make fun of me. I used to love it, you know.

I don’t worship money, I don’t, but I value it.  I know what the value of money is.  I know when you don’t have it, how it feels, and when you have it, how it is. Year 11 and 12 I did science and then I moved into commerce because I couldn’t cope up with science. And that was the time when my dad went, passed away, basically, and we were financially a little difficult, so I had to study and work. My sister was married and she was away, and it was me who was responsible to take care of the family. So my mum used to do a little bit of stitching, blouses and clothes, but it was majorly on me that I had to earn, to study and to take care of the house, yea.

My dad came back from the army; civil life is very different to the army life, you know. There it is more organised. So my dad struggled getting a job. Finally he got into a good company, a public company, but the salary was not that good, and he had used all his money to building the house and everything. The company was closing and then they didn’t give him enough of compensation.  And he struggled basically, then he got into addiction. 

I’m very happy that I came to Australia and I think my children should appreciate, you know, the life they’ve got, because we’ve struggled when we were kids and I feel privileged, basically. I feel happy when I’ve got my kids growing here and they are spending a good life. So it’s really good, you know, it was always a good opportunity, I always wanted to do this, and I feel I’m just waiting to get a citizenship!

I would like my children to have little bit of culture and traditions to follow, yes. See, they have got friends and family over here now, but at last they are Indians, they are born in India, and their parents are Indians. So I think they will have that mixture – they’ll grow up as an Aussie, with all their friends and all, but they’ll have little bit of Indian. 



know your nation social enterprise history kwinana

It’s very green and there is a good community spirit too.  I’ve been part of many community related organisations in Kwinana but I’m a father now so for two years have only had limited spare time.


I was born in Hulst, a small town in the Netherlands. It’s a medieval town actually, it was given town rights in 1180. And there’s about 8000 people living there I think. It used to be, in medieval times, the bustling centre of trading. Nowadays it’s a bit sleepy.

My dad was born there and still lives in the house he was born in, and his dad was a coal merchant. 

We’d been to the UK in the 70s, my mum and dad and I, and my brother, and that’s when I realised it was quite a bit different – ‘cos - to us it was almost like a third world country in those days.  It was, it looked really poor, fashion was like 10 years behind, yeah things looked a bit bleak. We had to find some food and ended up in some sort of fast food, well, fish and chip joint with plastic chairs and strip lights. And I thought ‘oh god!’, and the chips were presented in a newspaper and they, I don’t know what they fried them in because they weren’t golden yellow, they were like grey! And they were twisted too.  That was the first time I saw twisted chips.

For some reason I wasn’t consciously exposure to the rest of - you saw the first famine crisis was probably in Biafra, which is now Ethiopia. I think I recall a picture of that, and also the Vietnam War. I almost lived a bit in a bubble.  ‘Cos even to the rest of the Netherlands, which is quite different from the area I was born, ‘cos I was born near the Belgian border in an area that’s, actually, you know the people have a bit of self-esteem problem because they don’t really feel Dutch but they don’t feel Belgian either. Nowadays you’ve got a tunnel, but you used to travel by ferry all through Belgium to get to the rest of the Netherlands.

We used to make trips to places like Amsterdam, not very often, but school trips. We almost felt like we were in a foreign country. ‘Cos Amsterdam, contrary to what lot of foreigners think, is very different from the rest of the Netherlands. It’s like a freak show for tourists. Yea the rest is a lot more sedate.

There is a lot of different dialects in the Netherlands. So the next village, town, they spoke differently. There was a bit of ‘us against them’, but, yea they were looked upon differently but we didn’t have a lot of contact with people from the north.  It was more a bit like we looked in awe, and we thought ‘oh, what’s going on around here?’


know your nation social enterprise history kwinana

When we moved to Australia I ensured I gave as much money as I could to my sisters to try and repay them for everything they did for me when we were younger, although in my opinion there will never be enough money to repay them for everything that they went through.


I was born in 1952 in China in Hokkien province.  When I was five years old my parents brought me to Malaysia.  I know that the house I was born in was very, very small as I have visited my home town as an adult.

When I was 12 my parents told me about my family’s past.  My father is from a very, very rich family, and he inherited quite a bit of land.  In the early days of communist rule he was classified as a ‘medium – rich landlord’, so all of his wealth and property was taken from him and redistributed to the poor, leaving him very poor.  It’s amazing to think of the hardship that he would have gone through.  One day he happened to be near a mountain and he found my mother there under a tree, cutting wood to burn for a fire. At that time my mother was 12 or 13 years old.  My mother was born in the year of the tiger.  In ancient China, if a family had a daughter in the year of the tiger it was thought to bring bad fortune to the family.  When my father asked ‘where are you from’ my mother therefore replied that her family had discarded her in the far away countryside and some bandits had found her and taken her to the mountain and made her work for them as a servant child.  My father took her back to the city with him, where they lived together.  His wife had passed away while pregnant.  When my mother was 15 or 16 they got married and stayed together.

My mother got pregnant many times and had many children, 12 in total.  She didn’t know how to control her family’s size.  Because my father was from a rich family that had become poor, he didn’t know how to find a job to help the family to survive.  So my mother found some jobs; on summer days she’d sell watermelon for a little bit of profit, but not enough.  In order for the family to survive, my mother threw away a lot of her children.

When she had me she was already 36 years old, and when she was 38, another sister.  The two of us were numbers 11 and 12 of the children.  In fact, I understand that my mother had tried to abort me using a stupid, crook method but I survived. 

When my oldest brother was nine, there was British colonial rule over Malaysia.  The British were encouraging migration of many races to Malaysia (known then as British Borneo).  Because we were so poor, he was encouraged to run away to Malaysia where he might seek his fortune.  My parents then didn’t know how to contact him. They first heard from him when he was 16, when they received a letter saying that somebody had found him.  He had been living with a family (that had more or less adopted him) in a small town in the countryside and had been asked to marry the daughter of the family.  To earn money he had been powering a speed boat across a river as a transport service.  He sent some money in the letter and asked my parents to bring me and my siblings to Malaysia for a better life.

Before we left we had a family photo.  Because my sister and I were so young, we were carried by our parents in the photo and my brothers stood back.  On the day we left, those in charge of the boat (who I assume were people smugglers) refused to allow my brothers onto the boat.  I think this was either because they did not believe that my brothers were part of the family (as they were not in the family photo taken prior to departure) or because at that time girls were considered to be of no use in China, but boys were very useful.  My parents cried but there was nothing that they could do, the boat was leaving.  So my brothers stayed in China and my parents, sisters and I left.

We travelled for one month from China to Singapore, which was half way.  When we got there we received a message that the father of the family that had taken in my brother would kill us if we actually arrived in Malaysia. As I understand it, the concern was that the Malaysian family would need to provide for my family if we arrived, when they only lived modestly themselves.  Everyone had hardship.  It’s all really cruel.  

When we arrived in Malaysia somebody my father knew helped to get us to the countryside to hide.  We stayed in a little wooden hut with no roof, amongst coconut trees.  We stayed there until I went to secondary school.  As a child I was petrified of heavy rain because we had no protection from it. 

Because we had no money my parents had to work hard.  They were cement washers and the work ruined their hands.  My mother got additional work with the local pastor but unfortunately he was inhumane and my mother was maltreated.

When my older sister was 15 my mother made her leave school and get work because the family couldn’t afford her anymore. So my sister was sent to the town by herself. My younger sister is two years younger than me but didn’t know how to study so my sister in law forced her to work when she was only 12.  She was a maid for a rich family, but the family was very mean to her and used to smack and bully her. 

I passed the exams that allowed me into high school, so my younger sister’s wage paid my school fees.  My mother’s job with the pastor also helped to pay the fees.  I tried to tell my mother to stop working for the pastor, since she was badly treated, but I was told that if I wanted to continue my study she had no choice.  I kept asking myself why I should bother studying when my family had to work so hard in order to allow me to.

I studied hard and was very good at mathematics but I couldn’t afford to buy any of the books or stationary that were needed so I quit in year 11. 

Eventually I got married and worked as a kindergarten teacher.  One day, when I was about 30 years old, a friend offered to train me as a life insurance seller.  I trained with seven men, each with university education.  The men laughed at me whenever I asked a question.  But, I was very good at my job, even though at that time purchasing life insurance was a bit taboo as it related to money for people’s death.  The company sent me to Taiwan for training and eventually I moved into overwriting. I became the district manager, with 86 staff reporting to me. 


know your nation social enterprise history kwinana

My kids are sometimes complaining when I take them to India – ‘what’s this, there is no electricity, the mosquitos are biting’ – but I let them know, in my day I never complained about the lack of electricity.  Whenever we go back I teach them about how I grew up, which I think is very important.

When we first moved here I felt really lonely. I’m a very talkative person and like to be around others.  But recently there has been humongous growth in Kwinana, I like it.  It’s what I wanted. Now I can go to the park in my churidar (a traditional style of Indian dress) and nobody looks at me differently; I feel like I fit in. I completely respect the community here, and completely respect each and every person.  It’s a good community. 


I born country India.  Earliest memory’s that always holding mum’s sari, moving with her.  She’s beautiful when she wears red. She wears very neatly, but when she is doing houseworks and things it will be messy, quite messy.  But I like the way she’s messy and I carry her, I wipe her face with the saris and, you know?

When they got married they go to the in laws’ house. We have to be – professionally – we have to be - traditionally saris is the one they have to wear every day.  Even if I go to my in laws’ house I have to be traditionally respect my father in law and mother in law not wearing the modern dresses inside the house.

When you are certain age you are going to get married. You go to the next level of your life. It gives you little scare inside, you know; before you live in your mother’s place, but when you are moving to in laws’ place I don’t know who the peoples are, I don’t know how they take me, like that. But after support from my husband and things like that, now I’m quite comfortable.

We live in very small house.  We don’t have much money, we don’t have much worry. We don’t have electric stove or gas stove, we only have firewood stove on that day. But when I grow, I have electricity, but not 24 hours.   We use candles to - for dinners, we use candles to do our homeworks.  I have to say there is no toilets, bathrooms, we don’t have.  Because we have well on the other side, so ladies, there’s no protections to take bath or anything. So early morning we wake up, we take some water from the well, and we take bath in the morning before the sun comes out.

Every - if a parent got a girl baby, quickly they will marry when she got a certain age. That’s a very important role for the parents, to quickly give her to the other safe hands. That’s why my mum didn’t get the opportunity to work or go to university or anything after that.  I’m a very lucky girl, I have to say.  They left us to study in private schools.  We can’t even afford to pay.  The reason is want me to study well.  They want to make me as a doctor, they want to see me as a doctor. Because they didn’t do it, they want their girl or kids has to do it.

I got a good marks and things like that, then one day got a selection from engineering college.   I told to dad, ‘dad, you keep this – my engineering approval seat - as a frame and we keep it on the photo - memorable photo in our house,’ because we couldn’t afford the time to pay for the engineering college as well. But my dad said ‘no matter what it stops me, I’m going to borrow money from someone, I’m going to let you to study.’ That’s a big heart. I’m so lucky my dad, you know.

And I studied as engineer, when I come out as engineer I’m so proud. You know, my dad took a lot of effort to make me study but finally he was in the pressure to give me marry as well, you know. So that’s customs and traditions - I got married after that. Then I have a family commitments I didn’t worked, but I felt sorry for that.   


know your nation social enterprise history kwinana

The whole journey, getting to Perth until today, has been amazing.  I still look back at us getting here and think ‘how did we do this’.  It has only been possible because of the culture here. 

We are all the same human beings.  We do sometimes get labelled before people get to know us.  That will only change if people engage with each other. We speak the same language, we understand the culture pretty well, and we are doing our little bit to improve the community. 


We’re from Goa in India, so it was a Portuguese colony, so we have all of the D’Souzas and Pereiras and Fernandes’ – they are all Portuguese background names. My great, great grandfather moved from Goa into other parts of India, so we landed up in Bombay. But my home town, it’s another place called Pune. Bombay was a fast paced city, it’s a city that never sleeps. And Pune is much more quieter picture, something like Perth.

The problem with being Anglo-Indian in India is that you can’t associate yourself with any other part. It is a secular country so there are a lot of religions in that one place, and every area is based on a certain religion. So we were neither from Goa, because we were not born there, we were neither from the same state we were staying in because we didn’t have surnames or names that would match that kind of criteria. The worst thing for me was I didn’t even know the native language because my dad was a Goan, mum was an Anglo-Indian and we only spoke English at home. So I was, like, in between. 

I used to stay in the Gulf; I was working in the Gulf for many years – so I was there for about 7 years.  And that’s the time I realised that ‘there’s something wrong here.’ I would not fit in any of the groups because I didn’t know the language, my own language, correctly so I could not fit in that group either way. OK they could recognise me or they had a connection with my name but then when they will talk to me I will not be able to answer them back so then, OK, they didn’t want to be much with me.

So basically I am the sole flag bearer of the country - I have nothing – no caste, no creed – associated with me. Yea, but I did feel that that was an issue and I needed to move to a place that can address, where I don’t need to be known by my name or by my caste or creed.