40 years in Australia

Lech Milewski

40 years ago, on 8th February 1983 we landed in Australia…

Visa issued in Kuwait?

Yes, in 1981 I commenced a 2 years work contract in Kuwait University Computer Centre.

 My wife and children joined me soon.

We felt quite comfortable living in Poland and my plan was to work 2 years, maybe a bit more in Kuwait to earn some “hard currency” and get some experience with modern computer technology and then return to Poland to our spacious 66 m2 flat, safe jobs etc.

The history changed our plans, in December 1981 a martial law was introduced in Poland as a response to social unrest under Solidarity banner.
Officials in Polish Consulate in Kuwait advised – do not go back to Poland. There is total paralysis of economy, social life, everything. Stay in Kuwait as long as you can.
On the other hand – staying in Kuwait did not look like a safe option, just across the border there was a war between Iraq and Iran, we could hear bomb explosions quite frequently.

So where to go?
There were 3 main migration destinations – USA, Canada, Australia.
First two looked as easiest options – not so far from Poland, similar climate, we had some friends or relatives there.
I visited US Consulate and asked about migration procedure.
The official in the Consulate was very frank – you realise that getting permanent residency in US is the greatest privilege in the world. No wonder the process will be long, you may feel humiliated sometimes, but remember – you must be honest and humble because at the end there is the greatest reward.
I felt to small to apply.

Canadian Consulate.
The official was quite friendly, he introduced Canada as most open, multicultural country, encouraged me to apply for permanent residency visa…then whispered – may I ask you few unofficial questions?
– Go on.
– How old are you?
– 40.
– How much money will you bring to Canada?
– Few thousand dollars (my salary in Kuwait was heavily taxed by Polish government).
– Do you have any close family in Canada?
– No.
– Well, as I said before, we are extremely open country and you are most welcome here, but privately… if you are so old, so poor and so lonely… better stay where you are.
I thanked him heartfully for such honest advice.

Australian Consulate.
First question was – what is your profession?
– Computer analyst programmer.
The official grabbed me by arm – you are position one on our country demands list, I will not let you leave unless you give me you details and contact information.
I filled application forms.

To get some idea what can we expect in new place, I looked around to find some Australian professional in Kuwait. It took quite some time before I found one.
I considered it a good sign.
There were many professionals from USA, Great Britain, from European countries. So employment conditions in Australia must be so good, they do not need to look for better options.
We invited the special one for dinner and explained him our curiosity.
– What a pity my wife is not here, she would have told you everything you need. One thing is certain – Australia is extremely friendly country with the best medical and education systems in the world.
Your kids will love Australian school, it is so multicultural. Take the languages, there are 3 terms in a school year. In term 1 kids learn French, in term 2 – Italian, in term 3 they have swimming.
– How old are your kids? – I asked.
– Boy is 8, our daughter is… I think she is 6. If my wife was here…

After the dinner I drove our guest to his hotel.
There was a long line of cars on the traffic lights. We moved slowly forward. Someone was pressing on the horn.
– What happened? – asked my passenger – a police?
– No, just someone overslept the green light.
– Missed green light and such a noise? In Australia they may honk on you, but not earlier then after you missed 3 green lights. 
I returned home in good spirit.
– I think we will manage there – I announced.
– And it looks like women enjoy high respect there – added Sylvia

An official in Australian Consulate reinforced my positive look.
– On what day of the week will you arrive in Australia?
– Tuesday, 8 February.
– Excellent, just on Tuesday, The Age – the main Melbourne paper, publishes a list of vacant computer jobs. If you ring them from the airport you may start working same day after lunch.

January 1983 meant packing and clearing up all issues in Kuwait.
I visited Bank of Kuwait and enquired about exchange of my savings to Australian dollars.
– Sorry, we do not keep Australian dollars.
So I exchanged all my savings yo US dollars.
My boss organised a farewell party..

My contract provided for a free return flight to my home country or any flight with Kuwait Airways.
We chose Manila, Philippines.

Almost a week in a paradise…

… and we boarded a Qantas plane.

Morning sun woke us up, I looked down thru the window – unending slightly undulated terrain covered by sand or dried out grass.
We are back in Kuwait – was the first thought.
Few hours later we landed in Melbourne, pilot announced a hot day.
Some strange figures in white overalls sprayed passengers with some fluid and we touched Australian soil.

Sylvia had some relatives living in Melbourne and they (Barbara and John) offered us an accommodation for the first weeks, Barbara was also to pick us up from the airport but we had to wait a bit, until the morning traffic will ease.
I bought The Age – the Consulate official was right, there was a special section with advertisements of computer jobs. I decided to try them next day.
I visited currency exchange.
The price of 1 AU$ was close to 1.18 US$.
That was a big surprize, on the other hand it probably meant that the economy was very strong. For the beginning I exchanged some 200 US$.

Soon Sylvia’s cousin arrived and drove us to their home.
Surroundings of Tullamarine airport did not look too encouraging, small industry area, poor road surface, lots of small workshops or warehouses. 
– Like in Kuwait – I thought.
Sylvia’s cousin must have noticed our disappointment.
– Do not worry, it is just an industrial area, Melbourne is a beautiful city and our home is in a very nice, green suburb with many parks and trees.
Finally we got to Hawthorn East – looked very nice, lots of nice homes and residences, but lawns and trees… they looked like drying out.
– Oh, I did not warn you, we are in a long period of drought. Our council forbade watering plants and gardens.

Eventually we reached the home.
Very spacious, with nice garden, swimming pool and tennis court.
This was Australia of our dreams.

In the late afternoon we felt in the air some smoke, the sky darkened, there was a strong wind.

Next day we could see in newspapers this photo…

Details HERE.

My plan for this day was to look for a job.
I looked at list of job offers in yesterday’s The Age and rang. Got an interview in the afternoon.

People in the agency were very friendly and nice, they looked quite impressed with variety of my job experiences.
Then came a question:
– Do you have any Australian job experience?
– But I think I told you – we arrived in Australia yesterday.
– Oh, yes, of course, of course. It does not matter at all.
The agent looked quite worried, he flipped over my job certificates without much enthusiasm.
– We are sure we find something for you soon. We will ring you. Bye.

The Australian experience started!

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