News and views of Bangladeshi community in Australia

Our Story (26)

The Intrepid Migrant
Atia Nasreen Ghani

The Author
When I think of writing my experience as a migrant in Australia, the first thing that comes to my mind is the day we arrived in Australia. The day was 19th April,1983. Unlike most migrants, we didn’t come from Bangladesh. Both my husband and I were teaching in the University of Papua New Guinea and came to Australia from Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea. We boarded the plane when it was sweltering hot in Port Moresby, temperature in mid 30s and landed in Canberra in -1 degree Celsius. Our daughter Naheed was five-year-old, and our son Faisal was one year. That was their first exposure to winter. They were not used to wearing so many clothes. It was a whole new experience for all of us.

For the first week, we stayed with a family. Next week we moved to a rented apartment. Soon we bought a house and business. We lived upstairs and the supermarket was downstairs. It took us a while to get used to our new lifestyle. In Papua New Guinea, we lived within the University campus, it was 8 to 4 job. Everyone came home at lunch time when we had one hour break between 12 to 1 p.m. My husband was teaching in the Geology Department, and I was teaching in the Chemistry Department. After lunch we had laboratory sessions. We had house help. When we came home at the end of the day, the house was neat and clean and tidy. Life in Canberra was far cry from what we were used to in Papua New Guinea. Initially, I focused on looking after my family. I was always very musical and sang Tagore’s songs. We organized many cultural programs in Canberra with music and dance. We always had a good time.

I was missing teaching and thought of teaching at the secondary level. In Australia, I couldn’t teach at secondary level without teachers’ training. My long experience of university teaching, two years in Dhaka University and six years in the University of Papua New Guinea didn’t count. However, Catholic schools were different, and I received a teaching position in a Catholic school in Canberra.
At that time, Canberra was beautiful, but it was too cold for me, and I didn’t like it. By 1986, we were thinking of moving to Sydney and I was looking for a job. I got an offer of Research Assistant in the University of New South Wales and accepted it. My husband was trying to sell his business. I moved to Sydney and started working in the lab. Every Friday, I was catching XPT train and going to Caberra and every Monday morning I came back to Sydney and went straight to lab. Life was very hectic. In Canberra, I was cooking for the whole week, stocking up the freezer and came back. It took 13 months to sell that property. Finally, the family moved to Sydney.

Life in Sydney, for Bangladeshi people at that time was very different. We used to go to Surrey Hills to buy our spices as there was no Bangladeshi shop. The community was small. As an artist, I participated in the cultural program as singer of Tagore’s song. I remember one of our early programs that was organized by Bangladesh Association in 1986 or 1987. It was the annual cultural program held at UTS and 300 people, from all over Sydney, attended the program. The community was small.

While working as a research officer in UNSW, I saw an ad in the Newspaper for scholarships offered by New South Wales Department of Education to people with previous teaching experience, for teacher’s training. The scholarship was called the Mixed Mode Scholarship where students must do the coursework for one semester and get a teaching position. The rest of the course, students will do through correspondence while teaching. The catch was the students will have to go to the University of New England in Armidale. I was totally reluctant to leave the family again. However, a family friend called us and told us that if I could put up with the hardship for 14 weeks, a job was guaranteed. 14 weeks didn’t sound too bad compared to six months and I changed my mind. I applied for the scholarship, received it, and went to Armidale. Every fortnight, I came to Sydney repeating the whole saga. Anyway, I completed my course in one semester, was offered a job and started teaching at the secondary level. I was teaching senior Physics and Chemistry which I loved; however, the school was far away from where we lived and every day, I was commuting for nearly three hours. My daughter was going to Sydney Girls’ school, and we decided to stay in the Eastern suburb.

I would like to share some of my experiences as a post graduate student at the University of New England. Most of my fellow students, who were holding this scholarship, were mature aged students and we became good friends. Apart from our academic discussions, we used to share our views and opinions on many other issues. One of my friends, named Sue, told me that she was a university student in the 60s, however, had to discontinue her studies as she fell pregnant. She came back to study again in the late 80s as things have changed. I was quite surprised to hear this.

I had another friend, living in the same dorm, Jenny. We became good friends. She told me that she always kept her bread in the Freezer. In that way it always stayed fresh. I asked her if bread was their staple food. She said it was not. She told me that she came from a farming family and their staple food was potato as they were growing them on their farm. These were all eye-opening experiences for me, a new country, new people around me with very different types of food habits and culture.

After teaching at High School for one and half years, I applied for a teaching position at Sydney University. My previous experience of teaching at the Tertiary level, both in Dhaka University and in University of Papua New Guinea helped me in getting this job.

I started teaching at Sydney University in 1991; however, life was not easy. My campus was in Lidcombe and was far away from Le Perouse, where we lived. I also started to work on my PhD. My research work was on the main campus of Sydney University in Redfern. I was teaching during the daytime and then came to Redfern to do research work at night. I was working in the lab on Sunday as well. On Saturdays, I tried to catch up with the housework, cooking, cleaning and so on. I was burning the candle on both ends. After two years I decided to discontinue my research work and give my children more time.

After five years of teaching at Sydney University, I thought of going back to Secondary teaching. I had to give up my own ambition for my children’s sake. My daughter started her degree at UNSW. Soon my son followed and started his study in UNSW. I received an offer of job in a renowned Anglican College in Darwin and accepted it. My life of living in two places started again. I was very happy teaching in the college in Darwin. I came to Sydney every holiday, four times every year. I used to cook for the next 10 weeks and stock up the Freezer before leaving. After teaching for 10 weeks, I caught the plane on Friday night. During the holiday, I tried to catch up with all the cooking and cleaning and then flew back to Darwin on Sunday night. So, literally I never had a holiday.

After some 10 years, living in this way, my son Faisal said, “Why do you worry so much mum? We can cook”. I was overjoyed to hear this. “Hooray, they can cook”. In 2005, I received my long service leave and went out to travel the world. By then both my children had finished their education, my daughter Naheed was a clinical psychologist and son Faisal was an engineer. Both were working and it was time for mum to take time off. I traveled round the world for 16 weeks stopping at 25 different places. At that time, I have seen five wonders of the world but couldn’t fit in Egypt and Turkey. I saw these places in 2013, taking a package tour.

While living in Darwin, I was involved in many Cultural Programs. In late 90s, Bangladeshi Community in Darwin was very small, comprising only 12 to 14 families. Over the years, the community started growing, the city was expanding. In 25 years, I have seen many changes in Darwin. It is a changing world. In Darwin, I organized several cultural programs to raise funds for a school for disadvantaged children in Bangladesh. I had huge support from my community which made me feel very proud of

my wonderful community. While teaching at Kormilda College, I took part in many fund-raising activities such as Cancer Council, 40-hour Famine and so on. Once I had my head shaved to raise funds for the Cancer Council. My students were very excited about it. The whole event was organized by the SRC (Student Representative Council) of the College.

Celebrating the Bengali New Year, for the first time in Darwin in 2007

While teaching in Kormilda College, I gained the firsthand knowledge of the Indigenous culture. 20% of our student population was from Indigenous background. They came from different communities of Norther Territory and lived in the College Dorm. I enjoyed teaching them. They used to call me, “Little Brown Miss”. Knowing them and their culture was a wonderful experience for me. I found many commonalities between their culture and ours. They had an extended family system and maintained a close relationship within the family. They used to become friendly very quickly and ask me many personal questions like, “Do you have children, Miss? Are they short or tall?” I used to laugh. There are many sweet stories that I treasure. I had an indigenous student named Jasmine Bobongie. She was quite bright but a bit easy-going. One day, she came to my morning class late and joked with her, “Good afternoon Ms. Bobongie”. She smiled at me and said, “Merry Christmas, Ms. Ghani”. Both of us burst into laughter. The Indigenous boys were very good in Sports. They all loved playing Rugby. I used to feel amused when I came to work in the morning on Mondays and found many of the boys on crutches. The weekend causalities.

With a few Darwin Bangladeshi ladies in a party in Darwin

In 2011, after teaching at Kormilda College for 15 years, I resigned from my permanent position and went out traveling the world. After a year I came back and started doing contract jobs. In that way I could take a break whenever I wanted. During the holidays, I was going to travel in short breaks.

Celebrating Eid in Darwin in 2020

With my students in Darwin in Junior Rotary Club

Darwin Krishnachura, the best in the world

My son, Faisal Ghani, completed his PhD from Waikato University, New Zealand. He completed his PhD in two years, came back to Australia and started teaching in RMIT in Melbourne. In 2016, Faisal, received an offer of lectureship at Harriet Watt University, in Scotland. Two days before that, he was offered a lectureship at Charles Darwin University, in Darwin. However, Faisal opted to take the offer from Scotland.

In 2017, I went out to travel the world again. This time I travelled for 18 months like a free bird. I covered six continents, 43 countries, 143 cities and towns. I came back to Australia in January 2019. In 2020 COVID started. In Northern Territory, we were very lucky to be a COVID free Territory in Australia. In that year I did relief teaching. In 2021 I took another contract and started teaching full time. In 2022, I moved back to Sydney and decided to enjoy my retired life.

In 2020, amidst all the sad news from all over the COVID stricken world, I received the happiest news from my son in Scotland. He was awarded the 2020 “Scotland’s Inventor of the Year”. I was in Cloud 9. I felt all my sacrifices have become fruitful. I literally gave up my First class first career for my children’s sake. I was not only their mother, but I was also their teacher and taught them regularly, helping them with their homework, especially in Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry. Even when I was staying away from home, I taught them over the phone. Now a days we call it online teaching. I have watched several programs on BBC where they interviewed Faisal for his invention, SOLARISKIT, world’s first flat packable solar collector. Now, Faisal is CEO of his own company SOLARISKIT in Scotland. They call him “The Scottish Scientist”, however, to me, he is my Bangladeshi son. I visited him three times in Scotland.

At this stage of life, I feel very happy and contented. In my very busy life, I always looked forward to my retirement. I feel very fortunate to get that opportunity. Now I can spend more time on the things that I love to do, singing, reading, writing, listening to music, gardening, and enjoying my tea and coffee whenever I like. I write regularly in a Canadian magazine in their travel column. I have two granddaughters from my daughter and one from my son. I love spending time with them. It is so wonderful to see them growing. From the day they were born to their teen age, I treasure all the happy memories. Holding your grandchild close to your heart is a feeling any grandparent will appreciate. Recently, my eldest granddaughter Nazara, 16-year-old, and a student of Sydney Girls, interviewed me on my experience as an immigrant in Australia, for her History Assignment. I was very happy to share my experience with her.

It reminded me, my daughter Naheed was the first Dux of the year in Bangladeshi community in Sydney. She received it in 1989. At that Mr. Fakhruddin Chowdhury and Mrs. Mahua Haque used to run a Bangladeshi program from SBS radio. Mr. Fakhruddin Chowdhury contacted us, asking if we could let them announce it in news in the Radio as it is a great achievement for Bangladeshi community. We happily agreed. This year, my granddaughter, Nazara has become the Dux of the year from Sydney Girls. Grandma is overjoyed.

Music and Travel were very much a part of me. I travelled to 62 countries in the world on all six continents. I tried to spend time with my family and friends, whenever I got the opportunity. Everyone organized musical get together and I sang all my favorite Tagore’s songs wherever I went. I have been to so many beautiful places in the world, however, after coming back to Australia, I loved to sing, “I still call Australia, home”.

Atia Nasreen Ghani, Darwin, Australia


Anisur Rahman

Share on Facebook               Home Page             Published on: 18-Jan-2024

Coming Events: