Issue: Refugees

Please note: All articles are © copyright  their authors

The Beak Speaks: Editorial

This edition, as with our float in the Festival parade, is mainly devoted to celebrating the refugee families in our midst.  We have invited the families themselves, or the St. Paul ’s family link with them, to reflect on the experience of taking up residence in Australia .

The Port, which for most migrants in the past, was the first point of entry to Western Australia, features in an article by Lynne Eastoe, while the drawing by Roland Chan captures the view of the harbour as seen from the railway bridge referred to in Lynne’s reflection.

Lynne’s article will resonate with many of us who have come to call Fremantle home and for whom the view of ships at the end of the street is both a comforting domestic scene and also a reminder of the larger world beyond our horizon.

Beth’s and Pat’s reflection on St. Paul ’s garden celebrates an even smaller patch of Fremantle.  The “desert blooming” (Isaiah) is perhaps an icon of our lives as a community at St. Paul ’s and as individuals.

David Hawks and Susan Grace

For the editorial committee

Don Barendrecht

Kath Jordan

Sui Oakland

Anna Weldon


February 2005

The View from the Train

By Lynne Eastoe

Over one summer I went each weekday to work in town, and I went by train. I drove to North Fremantle station, parked, and caught the train from there. Coming home was frustrating, because half the express trains did not stop at North Fremantle . By the second or third week I had worked out how to get a spot at the Fremantle station Park and Ride and felt the satisfaction of not having to be so aware of the time after work, as I could now catch any Fremantle train. I also found a joy in the journey that far surpassed that satisfaction. I became enraptured by a view of the harbour and obsessed with sitting in the right seat.

I was surprised by falling in love with the harbour. I remember a friend, a painter, telling me she was fascinated by the harbour and with painting it in all its moods and colours. Yeah, OK, funny thing to be fascinated by. But I can remember the day I began to be aware of the harbour, aware of it being part of my life, rather than simply the place with a history that involved CY O’Connor and wharfies’ work and woes and the place where sheep ships sent out their sad perfumes. It was when I read a line from a poem that said something like, ‘red crane slices the sky in two.’ When I read the poem that line snapped a yes in my head, a view I knew.  It changed also and it’s forever my consciousness of the harbour audits cranes and gantries.

When I drive homewards from other parts of the city I know I am near home when the orange-red cranes are visible on the horizon, before they dip out of sight and appear over the next rise. When I go into Fremantle the cranes and the sea rise into sight as you ride the crest of each little hill, each ancient sand dune buried beneath the tarred roads of our sea suburbs. When I sat each week for an hour or more on the river’s edge at coffee with a friend we talked and watched boats bobbing about with the red cranes behind, and were as hungry for the view as we were for the conversation and company.

Going into town by train each day over that summer, and twice a week now, I look for a seat by the window which will give me maximum view of the harbour. If I have to sit on the isle or away from the window I am resentful, until my favourite part of the view captures all feeling in awe. I get particularly resentful if the passengers between me and the window read without looking out the window, but mostly I find that others stop their reading to gaze outwards too. I like to watch what is newly arrived or departing on the wharfs alongside the train line, usually sheep or sheep feed trucks delivering to sheep ships, or vehicle ships with lines of shiny new cars and vans and fork lifts all neatly lined in their rows behind the cyclone wire fences. And over the other side the container ships by the cranes, and scrap metal ships up the top end tipping massive trays of scrap as if they were little Dupio toys. Sometimes there is a ship moving along in the harbour, seeming to barely slip between the sheds on this side and the cranes on the other. As you sit in the train it seems impossible that such a massive thing could turn around in the harbour, but as you turn the bend to cross the bridge the perspective changes; you see width and room to spare on either side, and best of all is when the tugboats are alongside.

The bright little green and yellow tugboats are wonderful. And each time, like a mantra, I remember one of the meanings of the Greek word paracletos. It’s the word used in John’s Gospel for the Holy Spirit and is usually understood in its meaning as advocate; Jesus promises to send the Advocate when he departs. But the word also means “one who goes alongside”, like a tugboat moves alongside a ship and guides it safely into harbour.

Welcome to Australia

St Paul ’s refugee experience began with the arrival of a young woman, Rose, in the middle of winter 2003. She was very tall and impressive with a beautiful, shy smile. She sat in a back pew surrounded  by her young nephews and nieces. Although there was little English, we learned that she and her extended family were newly-arrived refugees from Ethiopia -- and she came to St Paul ’s because, in her home country, she was a Christian and worshipping Anglican.

Within a year of this encounter, there were twelve parishioners trained as volunteer community support workers assigned to give friendship, guidance and practical advice and help to refugees when they first arrive and as they settle into their first year. At present St Paul’s is working with nine families. They come from all corners of Africa: Somalia , the Sedan , Sierra Leone and the Congo , as well as a family from Iran who were originally refugees from Afghansitan.

Among the many gifts the refugee families give us is a cheerfulness of spirit and sense of hope, in spite of the traumas of their lives. In our mutual sharing, we help each other to find a “sense of place”. The following stories provide “word snapshots” of the experience St Paul ’s parishioners have had working with and befriending these families.

First Impressions

What would they be like? A mother my age with 10 children ranging in age from 2 to 22. How would they react to arriving in a strange country where they knew no-one and being totally at the mercy of strangers? We were soon to find out. Not long after we arrived, the large arrival doors opened and out came a mass of small, dark people dressed in black clothes, lots of shawls and head-scarves. Instead of being shy, as I thought they would be, they were all beaming at us with the most beautiful smiles. Overcome with emotion I rushed over and hugged and kissed them all, not realising I was breaking all the rules on how to greet Muslims. All their worldly possessions were with them – a few suitcases and a large bundle of prayer mats.

Their look of amazement when we showed them their new home in Beaconsfield was a joy to behold. This small 3 bedroom home was an absolute luxury. I wish I had had my camera with me as we left: all of them were crowded into the doorway beaming at us all with such joy and gratitude on their beautiful faces. It is an image I will never forget.

I was so pleased with how Freo people welcomed them once I said they were newly arrived refugees. They shook the boys’ hands, smiled greetings, cut prices and even gave them free produce. It was very touching.

~ Jenny Grace

The First View of the Ocean

It was one of those winter days when we took Margaret and Stanley and their two daughters, Alitha and Erica to Cottesloe beach. The sun was shining but the cold breeze reminded us that we needed to rug up. As we walked from the grassed area to the sandv, Margaret told us she had never been on a beach before, and had only seen the ocean from the air on her flight here. To see her delight was wonderful. Margaret took her shoes off to feel the sand on her feet and tasted the water and the sand. She was surprised to discover how salty they were and asked if maybe they could be used for cooking. The way the waves rolled in and then receded as quickly and the constant sound of the waves was fascinating to them.

We began to make sand castles with the girls, and Margaret sat down with us and built an entire village in the sand. She showed us the design of their traditional houses and meeting places. The girls helped Ken decorate a castle with shells and seaweed. Ken made a man in the sand; the girls collected seaweed for his hair, shells for eyes and buttons. Stanley said God did not intend for man to be alone and so made a woman alongside. Alitha pointed out that it didn’t look like a woman until some breasts were added. A passer-by came over and created a shield in the sand next to the sculptures and said that it was an award for the best sand art of the afternoon.

~ Gwenda Kelso

Surrounded by Water

Our first trip with our family was to South Beach just a few days after they arrived. They had never seen the ocean before in their lives, something almost incomprehensible to we ‘beachies’. They stared at it in awe, only a few of them daring to go close to the waves lapping on the shore. We told them we would teach them to swim there in the summer, to much giggling and “no! no! no!”.

~ Jenny Grace

Walking along the spit at Pt. Walter when you cannot swim takes courage, rewarded however by a view of the city in its soft evening light and an awareness that this is a good place to live. Or, as Felolo said in response to my question, “What is it that you most like about being here in Perth ?”, “It is the peacefulness”.

~ Angela Wilson

Practical Necessities

One of our first calls had an air of urgency about it – how to keep warm. It was the beginning of winter and the Congo by contrast is an equatorial country. Arriving with only the clothes they stood up in, finding adequate warm clothing was an immediate requirement met by a magnificent response from St. Paul ’s congregation.

My first trip to the local vegie shop was disconcerting, as Javaher   walked around what I thought was beautiful produce, looking bewildered and shaking her head at most things. All she chose were apples, tomatoes, eggplants, mushrooms and cabbage, not knowing what most of the other things were. The trip to Dewsons was a similar experience, where I had to explain what most of the packaging meant and what most of the items were used for. It took two hours to get around the shop! The trip to Fremantle Markets was much better, with a bigger variety of things for them to choose from.

~ Jenny Grace

The Fremantle Cat bus has been an easy and cheap way for our family to find their way around. A morning on the orange Cat doing the complete loop, stopping en route for coffee or icecream with a walk on the beach, was a great success.

~ Kath Jordan

Six bicycles from Works West, all hand delivered by Grant in the back of a Mazda – so treasured and longed for, but then this family is practised in patience.

~ Angela Wilson

Such Determination

What struck me about the Bararuhanya family is their determination to be self sufficient and to make a contribution to their new country. Their father Charles and his wife Beneconcila, while not speaking English, attend classes 4 times a week and are learning our difficult language.

~ Carol Eaton

Three of the older boys have now got after-school jobs at Hungry Jacks, while two have already been to a school camp and seen “many” kangaroos.

~ Angela Wilson

But It Is We Who Are the Beneficiaries

My weekly visits with my daughters are a joy. Once I get there, we enjoy it so much we don’t want to leave. We sit on the floor in a circle and chat away – them trying out their English on me and me trying to get them to understand what I am saying. It is always a lot of laughs. It has been such a wonderful experience for my daughters, helping people less fortunate than themselves and realizing that even without lots of material things you can still have love, happiness and fun. They have been such an inspiration and joy to me. That they are Muslim only affirms for me that we are all the same under our skins.

~ Jenny Grace

The delight and joy of the family at the beach is something that will remain with us forever and is another reminder that we always receive much more than we give when we spend time with them.

~ Gwenda Kelso

The family is truly gracious and very welcoming to me at all times. They have a sincere appreciation of everything that is done for them to help their resettlement. They have given me as much as I have imparted to them.

~ Carol Eaton

And finally...the “Arc”

St. Paul ’s identification with the refugees was vividly demonstrated by its entry of Noah’s Arc in the annual Fremantle Festival parade. The Arc had been beautifully constructed of wood encasing a truck(!) and was filled with ‘animals’ wearing extremely life-like heads. Whenever the truck stopped the ‘animals’ carrying suitcases alighted and mixed with the roadside crowds, only to be firmly ushered back into the Arc by ‘police’ before the Arc continued its journey, earning the entry ‘The Most Controversial Award”. As the Arc wound its way through the streets of Fremantle it was joined by many from the Parish and members of the refugees families dressed in their national costumes.

~ Kath Jordan

The Garden is a Lovesome Thing

By Beth Mooney and Pat Brady

St. Paul’s, once set amidst parched, barren hills, now promises to give rise to a garden that may become one of the defining signifiers of the spirit and sacredness of this place. How has this happened? Why does it feel so important to dig and plant and dream a garden into being here?

In 1997, St Paul ’s had something of a re-birth when it became once again an independent parish. It was at this time, perhaps to mark the much longed-for change, that two remarkable women, Wendy Castleden and Bronwyn Riedel, took a long look at this sandy hill and imagined something more. Lavenders and daisies dotted the hill, olives and fruit trees were put in, plane trees edged the church walls, rosemaries and Flanders poppies took hold. At the heart of it all they placed a cruciform-shaped space that would be the memorial garden,  filling it with biblical herbs and trees of sacred symbolism. It was a miracle.

But the river of life moves people on and for a time all that early work was precipitously close to being lost. We walked the path from the church door to the hall every Sunday on our way to coffee, glancing uneasily at the shrivelling plants until again the garden’s siren song caught us with its promise.

It has not disappointed. We have cobbled together money, effort, helpers to plant masses of heritage roses in pinks and reds and to border the front walls with indestructible plumbago. The walks to the hall now grow ever more packed with shastas, bright blue sage, gardenias, salvia and solanum, day lilies, ageratum. Pure, faithful nasturtiums unfailingly pop up in the cracks, sometimes to be cosseted along and at other times they are summarily yanked out as usurpers of the grander vision. In these summer months, an allee of hollyhocks   parade along the path.

The memorial garden is a constant source of delight and inspiration, particularly as after flirting foolishly with other ideas, we have returned to its original conception, planting mostly biblical herbs and flowers. So there are now wormwoods and yarrow, marjoram, oregano, mints, lemon grasses, sage and balms, basil, chives, garlic, mustard, calendula and viola, pomegranate tree, olive and almond in jostling informality. We could not resist adding white roses, justifying their non-biblical inclusion by saying, “Well, they symbolise love”. And, virtually all of them have been gifts in memory of someone loved.

Further up the block are the lavender hill and the remnants of our flawed kitchen garden. The lavenders have had to be constantly replanted but we think that this time we must have God on our side because it looks like, at some point still a little way off, the hill will be bursting every winter with bushes of purple flowers and soft, pungent leaves. In the meantime, we have had the unexpected exhilaration of a red sea of Flanders poppies just appearing out of nowhere and dazzling the world all last winter. They date from the garden’s inception, though they were originally sown around the olives at the back of the hall.

The creation of a productive garden was an idea close to our hearts last year. We dug out terraces on the mound behind the church with near religious zeal...for months! Then we seeded them with all sorts of things to eat. The most successful were Peter’s broad beans, rocket and tomatoes. There was a brief harvest though, when we were able to load the tables on a few Sundays with greens and herbs. But alas, it all came to naught as the summer dragged on: the terraces collapsed, watering became a big issue, just about everything bar the couch grass died. And so we are back to the beginning. This time we are listening carefully to Carmelo and taking his instruction to heart on how to raise really productive, as well as upright tomato bushes. The rocket was dead easy and the parsley has self-seeded so they are definite starters again. We are ignoring Peter’s  reservations and putting in the fig tree anyway. We shall keep it pruned and sit under it in our old age eating the figs that fall into our laps. Vindicated!

Two great joys have been the increasing complexity and beauty of the sacred circle under the big gum tree and the planting of more olive trees at the side of the hall to ring the new north terrace. That now makes six trees there, enough to call an olive grove. The original two trees are remarkably bountiful, giving up buckets of fruit every autumn and which sometimes make their way to the Fair in November, salted, oiled and chillied. The sacred circle is ringed with grey, spiky santolina, bright anemones, white Star of Bethlehem, lobelia, little blue Michaelmas daisies, eriginon, pansies and petunias in season. It is a very special part of the garden, for here spiritually innovative Christian mandalas are created over Easter and danced out on Easter Sunday. The garden holds such promise as a mentor.

The south side of the block was our blind spot until recently when we had an epiphany of sorts and put in a whole row of bougainvillea. The first plantings are all white and arching and already beautiful. But, the rectory’s yard remains our Achilles’ heel. Plumbago has been planted en masse along the fences and roses are soon to follow. Slabs set wide apart and interwoven with native violets may provide the answer to the acres of intractable weeds and Peter’s commitment to the task of taming this near-wilderness has reached truly epic levels of late. Work progresses.

It is Joan who looks after perhaps the most difficult part of all, and that is the area around the hall. It is cold there, the sun will not shine in the right places and there is something wrong with the soil. But Joan persists, talks her charges into action as she puts in annuals, shrubs, bulbs, roses and now rows of geranium.

Every November the watering roster goes up in the hall. Indeed, people have been known to book their space, so pleased are they to play their part. This brings us to what we think is the real gift of St Paul ’s garden and that is the love and companionship that it grows. We dig away in our oldest clothes in all weathers, blithe and oblivious to the world outside. We talk of what shall go where and why we both to do it at all, though we really know. We sit on the terrace in 2s, 3s, 4s, eat cake and drink tea, ponder. We find that people are drawn into the spell, into the garden’s promise of creation, of fulfilment, of heaven.