My skin is white, my hair is blonde, my eyes are green. My name is Jane, and on the surface, I could be an average Australian girl.
However, most people wouldn’t know from my surface that I moved to Australia from Africa around half my life ago – when I was 10.
Moving countries isn’t easy, especially when you grow up amongst things like apartheid and AIDS.
Most people won’t be able to say that they lived through a time where they remember the first multi-racial vote of their country. Those events are normally confined to history books and old movies. But I remember it vividly. I remember my mother and father putting up large Nelson Mandela posters up around our house. I remember being held by my father as went to vote with everyone – no matter what colour their skin was – for the first time in our country.
Most 10 year olds are able to say they have gone on a train before. Or ridden their bikes down to their local park with their friends. When I arrived in Australia, all that was completely foreign to me.
The first time I had been on a train was because I had asked my mother what it was like. So, one day my mother gathered her courage to take her daughter on a real life train. We boarded a train – just so she could show me what it was like – from only one station to the next. I remember being completely terrified, and before the train had even reached one stop, we had witnessed someone being stabbed to death. To get on a train for years to come was a scary and traumatic experience for me, and I still find it hard some days.
I remember our first few weeks in Australia, because, for me, the rules changed. My dad one day asked if I would like to walk down to the park a few houses down from the bed and breakfast we were living in. I agreed, but then he said, “Why don’t you go by yourself?” That was the first time I was ever allowed to go somewhere alone. I still remember the intense excitement of running down the footpath by myself, content to play for even just twenty minutes alone in the park. I remember being aghast – Australia had no big barbed wire walls, no alarms, no panic buttons… I then realised what it was like to live without being scared.
Moving to Australia has given my family the opportunity to live a life every child deserves. A life where children can play freely, make friends of any race, background or skin colour without question, and grow into intelligent, free-thinking people.
My little brother was 1 when we arrived, and he was lucky enough to grow up with a clean slate, in a society where he was free from being haunted by terror.
Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t trade my childhood for the world. Growing up in South Africa showed me so much of what life can be like, and it has given me a compassion and understanding that a lot of people my age don’to grasp.
Growing up between two countries is a strange thing. You often feel like you don’t belong anywhere – Australians see you as African who came, and Africans see you as the Australian who left.
I love both sides of me. I love that I’m African, and I love that I’m Australian. I avidly support asylum seekers and refugees, and have involved myself in letter writing to people in detention centres. Even though I came here legally, escaping to freedom is a concept I know, and I can’t even comprehend the suffering and injustice other people go through for the mere chance to live a happy life in Australia.
But I live in Australia as an African-Australian, and I am accepted as that. I love living in a place where all my friends are from somewhere different. I have friends that are Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Greek, Italian, German, American, and everything in between.
My boyfriend is Israeli, and I love that the challenge and triumph of moving to Australia is a common bond for us. We know what it’s like to move to a completely different country, to overcome discrimination and to be the very definition of diversity. We walk the line of balancing our culture and heritage and embracing our new Australian way of life.
I love travel, I’ve lived in Africa, India, Australia and America, and visited countless other places in between. Travel, culture, and learning about different people and places is an invaluable education to me.
But when it comes down to it, I’m so grateful that my parents took a chance and risked everything to come to Australia. We came here with no jobs, no friends, no house and hardly any money. My parents risked everything to give my brother and I safe and happy place to live and grow, and one day I hope to give my children the same.