What is it like to be placed in a completely new environment. New streets. New buildings. New house. New school.
To be surrounded by new people. To be suddenly aware that you are the new person in the room. Surrounded by people you do not know. Not seeing any sympathetic faces. No friends.
We have all experienced this to a smaller or greater extent. We all know that uneasy feeling of feeling shy. Of being very aware that no one knows us. That we are alone in a large group. Where we feel the group is hostile. Where we wish we had a friend we could be with.
But some of us have it easier than others. To be new in town can be very intimidating. Especially if you come from another country. Especially if you are a different ethnic group.
In the 1950’s Australia had an immigration programme. This policy was instituted by the government because Australia had a need for labour. Between the wars all immigrants had come from Great Britain and immigration was self funded. The new policy of assisted migration still brought many migrants from Great Britain but also migrants were brought from war torn Europe and given the official name of New Australians. This policy was considered radical and was not totally popular with the public. People had a set idea of what an Australian was and these New Australians did not always comply with the accepted norm.
I went to several schools during the 50’s. I came into contact with several migrant children. None of them had an easy time. Boys especially. I know this because I was there.
I knew one child who had several black marks against him. Not only did he have a thick accent but he had a single mother as a parent. Also he came to the school in the middle of the term. Also he was poor. If you saw him on weekends at something like the Wangaratta Show he was still wearing his school uniform. He did not have any proper clothes. Early on he tried to join the kick to kick group playing football, but he had little talent and no one would give him the ball so he could have a kick. He was small and his skin was very white. We learned that his mother was a cleaner at the Woollen Mills. Worse, we learned that she worked shift work. I once had a conversation with him and he told me that he listened to the radio every Sunday night when his mother was working. He was always home alone. He knew the serials that were on the ABC. His accent meant that the teacher had trouble understanding him, so he did not get much opportunity to speak in class. He was made fun of by other students at every opportunity.
I knew another boy who told us he came from Poland. He also had a mother as a single parent. She worked at one of the hotels. He lived with her in the Hotel. This surprisingly had some kudos because sometimes adults who frequented the hotel befriended him. Once a star footballer came to our school, recognised him nd made a big fuss of him. Called him out to the front of the class. Called him My Friend Edvard. This was impressive to us children. And Edvard had aspirations to being the class clown. He sometimes got the English wrong which made the clownish behavior more funny.
I never wanted to swap places with immigrant boys.
I always thought that immigrant girls had it easier. They were always good looking. They always had good looking clothes. They always seemed to be sophisticated. They seemed to have a background that protected them from being teased. Where their parents got the money to buy their nice clothes I cannot say. They also were never seemed to be required to speak in public by the teacher. There were always two or more of them and they stuck together in the schoolyard. They did not hesitate to speak in a foreign language and laugh at you. I can never remember any of them being teased by boys. Sometimes girls tried, but it never seemed to affect any of the migrant girls. Australian girls, yes. Every day one girl or another seemed to be crying at the back of the class because she was being picked on.
It was always easier being a girl. It wasn't until I became an adult that I was told this was not the case.