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niedziela, 3 czerwca 2012

Marika Biber: My Migration

W konkursie literackim "Moja Emigracja" oprócz przyznania pierwszej nagrody, równorzędnie  wyróżnione zostały dwie prace . Przedstawiamy pierwszą z nich autorstwa Mariki Biber pt. "My Migration".  Konkurs zorganizował portal internetowy Favoryta. Bumerang Polski był patronem  medialnym konkursu.

Our QANTAS Super Constellation plane which my parents and I boarded in Tehran, was forced to land in Darwin due to engine trouble.
This was not the intended plan of our arrival in our new country, this was not Sydney.
We spoke no English and the friendly and smiling stewardesses had trouble making us understand what had occurred.
Our buses took us to what looked like abandoned army barracks : rows of crude wooden huts on stilts each one furnished with a solitary wooden bed over which hung tired, droopy mosquito nets.
We were to rest there until the plane was repaired. This gave us an opportunity to wander outside and inspect our new surroundings. At the time we did not realize that Darwin and Sydney were nothing alike. These army barracks standing on dry barren dirt seemed rather exotic. We walked towards the end of the compound just as dusk was setting in. We reached a cliff edge, which overlooked the Timor Sea. Unfamiliar plants, flowering shrubs and evergreen trees and palms grew at random and just as we were exalting at the wonder of this new land, the sun began to set low over the water.
A huge ball of fire hovered above the horizon and it was the most magical sight I have ever seen.
Our plane landed at Kingsford Smith Airport the next morning on June 8th 1958. We hadn't seen my mother's brother and his family for almost eight years. It was a cold and wet morning but our joy at seeing our beloved family didn’t dampen our spirits.
The plan was that we would live with them until we were ready to live by ourselves. After a few days, I was taken to the Education Department for assessment. I did not speak English and no one spoke Polish. I was given an intelligence test, something I had never had to do before, and a mathematics test.
I managed the additions, subtractions and multiplications fairly well. What I found puzzling was the sign used for what I later learnt to be the division sign. Instead of a horizontal line with a dot on either side of it ( ÷ ) which to me signified division, I was shown examples with a sign that looked like the square root (). Needless to say I did not do well. As a consequence, I was assigned to Darlinghurst Home Science Girls School in Darlinghurst.
This was my first experience of single sex school as was the wearing of a school uniform.
I began first year high school that June in 1958. There were mostly Australian girls and some New Australians, as was the term used for us, new migrants. The school consisted of the first three years of high school only but upon completion the only employment opportunities available were as sales assistants, and, upon further training, stenographers, typists or secretaries.
I sat in the classroom for three months and was left to my own devices. After that time I began to communicate and speak some of the language. There were no Polish girls at the school and no extra tuition for migrants.
Our class mistress showed me a cupboard at the back of the classroom which was locked with a key. She opened it and said this was the class’s library. I saw a shelf of old reference books.
I can only recall female teachers at the school, most of whom were spinsters, strict and severe looking. They were not reluctant to inflict corporal punishment on us. I found this practice abhorrent and shameful.
Everything about me was foreign and strange to my classmates. The Australian girls marvelled at my smelly kielbasa or ham sandwiches on rye bread. It was a lonely, drab and unsatisfying experience. One Monday, I bought what was the cheapest item in the tuckshop. It was a vegemite sandwich. I felt so bad for having wasted my precious pennies on such inedible, unpalatable spread.
At the end of the year I came third in the class. The vocational guidance teacher asked me what I wanted to be. When I told her I wanted to be a doctor, her question to me was “do you like cutting people up?”.
From the age of about seven, whilst living in a provincial town of Bielawa in Lower Silesia I fantasized about being a paediatrician. I planned to complete my high school matura in Bielawa, a town I loved and felt happy and safe in, and to continue medical studies in Wroclaw. I would become a paediatrician, work in a paediatric hospital and I would ensure that the children not only received the best medical care but would also have an amazing playground.
I knew I had to move away from this school if I wanted to receive a better education and hopefully attain tertiary education. In order to do that I would have to repeat a year and go to a school which offered matriculation.
We continued to live with my uncle and aunt in Rose Bay. My mother worked as a process worker in a cosmetics factory, whilst my father worked as an ironworker. 
The following year I was enrolled at another girls-only high school, Dover Heights Girls High.
This was a big school with about one thousand students, sport gymnasium, swimming carnivals, a choir, music lessons and end of the year musical performances. We had scripture classes, foreign language classes and the obligatory Shakespearian plays which we studied each year.
I made good progress in English and became an avid reader of English books. Unlike the previous school, Dover Heights had a well established library and when I spotted Anne of Green Gables in the original I became very excited. This was one of my favourite stories, which I read as Ania z Zielonego Wzgórza. I continued to read the entire series in English.
One day I spotted a new girl in the playground. She was from Poland, also from Lower Silesia, and a couple of years ahead of me. We became friends and have remained friends. Although she arrived here later than I, she had managed to have met other young adults from Poland. Having left Poland as a child I did not know how to speak the language of adults. I addressed the males as ‘Pan’ and that amused them.
When I was in second year high school, my parents managed to put a deposit on a house in Enfield.
I pleaded with my parents to let me stay at my school. I didn’t want to start all over again elsewhere. Dover Heights was the sixth school I attended. By remaining at the school I faced the prospect of having to travel each day from Enfield to Dover Heights and back again. The return journey took roughly four hours.
To this day, I remember this period as my darkest days. There were no positives, no advantages, just a long, miserable haul each and every day. My school friends lived miles away and I had not managed to make new friends in Enfield. The winter days were short and I would return home to a dark, cold and empty house.
At school I enjoyed English classes, particularly Shakespeare. I also studied French, maths, ancient and modern histories and biology. This was at the time when the five-year secondary school system was in place. Third year was equivalent to School Certificate. I had done reasonably well in it and planned to remain there until fifth year, or, the Leaving Certificate, which was equivalent to Higher School Certificate. This meant another two years of long distance travel.
Fourth year high school was not a good year. I failed in almost every subject. I could not face repeating a year at the same school as the problem would become even worse. To add to my concerns, a new system of education came into place in 1962 called the Wyndham Report. This report abandoned the five-year secondary school system in favour of six years.
My option was to enrol at East Sydney Technical College at the old Darlinghurst gaol where matriculation courses for adults were offered alongside numerous courses for art students who attended the National Art School.
The Department of Education took over the site of the gaol and transferred the buildings into classrooms, studios, and theatres. It became the National Art School offering diplomas in painting, sculpture, ceramics, fashion design and commercial art. The East Sydney Technical College art scene in the 1960s was vibrant, experimental and somewhat risqué; an expression of irresponsible excesses and flamboyance.
Our course was attended by adults from many different backgrounds. Having come from an over protected background, I found this experience intriguing and fascinating as well as educational. Suddenly my best friend was a 38 year old divorcee with a teenage daughter. My other very good friend was a woman in her forties who was now also divorced. She spent some years living with her then husband in Formosa where he held a high government position. Once there she realized that for him this was a marriage of convenience or rather necessity. He married her to be seen as a married man, which he needed for the post, whereas in fact he was a homosexual.
Having found myself in an adult environment meant that I had take my studies more seriously than I would have otherwise. I did not want to appear naive or unsophisticated but I knew that I lacked the maturity or the experiences of some of the people there. The people were kind and patient and helped me with subjects such as mathematics, which I found difficult. The mathematics teacher, a wonderful man who lived for his vocation, tutored a group of us in his free time and never charged us a penny. Needless to say, a few decades later, he was giving free tuition to one of my children. It was due to his efforts that I passed my maths exam.
In order to obtain one’s matriculation, one needed to pass five matriculation subjects minimum. As I only studied five subjects I had no option but to pass them all. Attempting to cover two years of curriculum in one year was taxing.
It was my pride more than my ability that steered me towards reaching my goal, as well as, being threatened by my mother that I would have to get a job if I did not gain entry to a university. Although I had always worked during school holidays at places such as factories, coffee lounges, restaurants, did baby-sitting and kept accounts for a service station, I felt that I wanted a more interesting, more challenging and fulfilling job than the ones I knew already.
I enrolled at University of New South Wales in the faculty of Arts. Again I was fascinated by my surroundings and by the way young people functioned and went about their lives. I felt disconnected from them, as they appeared to have a sense of belonging. They belonged to a country, to a community, to a group.
The only time I had a sense of belonging was when all the remnants of the family who survived the War were united in Bielawa where we virtually lived all together in harmony and with a great deal of affection and support for one another.
I believe that by nature I am rather territorial and living in Bielawa suited me. My parents and their siblings were there and some of my older aunts doubled up as surrogate grandmothers. My cousins were like my older brothers and our family was well known and well regarded in town. I felt safe and secure and had great plans for my life. All this, however, came to an end when one by one our relatives began to leave Poland for various corners of the world.
When my parents and I were left all on our own, our lives changed dramatically. We moved to Wroclaw, a much bigger city, and found ourselves there without the backing or the support and the love of our dear ones. It was then that I began to understand that perhaps I did not belong there.
I loved Poland, loved living in Poland and adored the nature, the seasons, the landscape, the traditional holidays but as I began school in Wroclaw I began to feel that things had changed. I hid the fact that I was Jewish as this was not something one could feel free to express in 1950s.  My Slavic appearance helped me to integrate but I needed to be cautious as well as secretive.
Since we left Poland I was always the outsider, either because of my background, or the fact that I spoke English with a foreign accent, because I didn’t understand nuances, or because I ate strange food. I felt alien and so I looked at everything around me as if I was an explorer, an observer of human behaviour and human interaction. My rationale was that I was a foreigner and so I was different. The few friends I made had already established their roots here or were born here. I didn’t feel that I fitted in a university milieu.
I left UNSW and there were not many options left to me. Enrolling in a librarianship course at Sydney Technical College on Broadway presented new obstacles. In order to be accepted, I needed to be working in a library. In order to get a job in a library, I needed to be enrolled in the course. It was a vicious circle. I was rejected for each job that I applied. My two referees consisted of my then boyfriend and my school friend. Their references obviously didn’t carry enough weight. I was strongly encouraged by my mother to ask a family friend for a reference. He was an Australian man who embraced my uncle and aunt during their early days of arrival and helped them to make their lives in Australia easier. He was also the Head Librarian at a Teachers’ College. My sense of integrity rejected the notion of favouritism but when I submitted his reference with the next three job applications, I was accepted by all three libraries.
Thus began my next stage of trying to establish myself professionally and educationally in this new country of mine. I worked and studied, sometimes during the day, other times during the night. If I attended lectures after work, I would invariably fall asleep during the first lecture. 
After three years of study, I received my Diploma and I was a fully fledged librarian. I enjoyed my work at Ryde Municipal Library and I was fortunate to be befriended by my boss.
During that time I married a wonderful man who also hailed from Poland. We settled on the lower North Shore and established a family. It was then that I stopped working and became a full time ‘housewife’ and mother. Whenever it was possible I took part time work to supplement our income.
Time passed, our children, a girl and a boy, reached high school. They remained living in the country of their birth. They were surrounded by friends from kindergarten, from primary school and from high school. They participated in sport activities, music lessons and here they belonged. They had the permanence I yearned for and through them I too was experiencing that permanence. The urge for this permanence was so great that when the children were younger and my husband was offered an overseas posting, we declined it as we wanted our children to have continuity. This may not be something they would have wanted but we transferred our perceptions on to this situation.
In 1986 when the children were 14 and 11 respectively, having been inspired by one of my friends, I enrolled as a mature-age student at Macquarie University in the faculty of Arts.
Something changed within me during those twenty years. This time I was studying for myself. I had now lived here for almost thirty years. I had my own family, I had planted my roots here. We had a circle of good friends. I felt more grounded and from then on I did not fail one subject.
Polish language studies were being offered as part of Slavonic Studies. We spoke Polish at home and continued to do so with our children but our language had not grown.

I delighted in the Polish language studies. It gave me an opportunity to connect with contemporary Polish writers and to discuss their work in class. I also listened to scholarly language for the first time. Some lectures were available on tapes and I would spend hours just listening to the words, the expression, the language used by the lecturer.
In 1990 I answered an advertisement for a position in the University Library. I was the Head Cataloguer at Ryde Municipal Library, so I felt competent to apply for a position of a Library Assistant. I was successful in getting the job and it was a wonderful two-fold achievement. I could work and study in the same place and, as a student and a staff member I was eligible for study leave.
It was also my first introduction to computers. It was a huge learning curve but eventually I began to understand it. We were also encouraged to attend courses to help us with our work. It was a wonderful work place and I am still there.
In 1991 I received Bachelor of Arts degree. My first university degree. 
There is a famous saying “Nothing breeds confidence like success, nothing breeds success like confidence”. In my case, one of my lecturers appeared to have had confidence in me and suggested I continue studying for a Master’s degree. I was flattered by his faith but he had ulterior motives. He needed post-graduate student numbers to assist with his tenure. Just as well I didn’t know this at the time as my confidence would have faltered.
Things happen in life, which have a reason and a purpose, but sometimes it may take a long time for them to surface.
As a very small girl, when the family was together in Bielawa, the adults would reminisce about people from their home town and speak about their demise. The phrase I heard my uncle utter repeatedly was ‘they shot him like a dog”.
Almost forty years later the book entitled “Sanatorium Pod Klepsydrą,” or “Sanatorium under the sign of the hourglass” was recommended to me. It was then that I discovered that my uncle was talking about  Bruno Schulz. Bruno Schulz and my father's family came from a town called Drohobycz. My older uncle knew Bruno and worked with him in the Drohobycz ghetto. Bruno worked in the library and gave him a copy of his book and inscribed his name in it.
Bruno Schulz became the subject of my Master’s thesis.
1992 was the year of Bruno Schulz in Poland. It marked 100 years of his birth and 50 years of his death. My daughter and I travelled to Europe and arrived in Poland in time to witness this commemoration and to attend cultural and literary events which took place. It was an exciting and wonderful time. We searched for new and old publication on Schulz in every bookshop we came across. We attended art exhibitions, lectures and performances in Schulz’s honour.
My thesis drew on the entire remaining corpus of Schulz’s writings in which I attempted to re-construct the fantastic imaginative world of Bruno Schulz – his vision of his world, comprising a uniquely Schulzian order of animals and humans, myth and invention. The thesis is entitled “The Second Genesis or the motifs of men, women and animals in the prose of Bruno Schulz” because of Schulz’s literary proposal of an alternate Genesis. His influence since his death to the present has taken him far beyond the small world of Drohobycz. I attribute his influence to a common human quest for acceptance of individuality.
In 2000 my family witnessed my graduation ceremony of my Master of Arts degree. It was a humbling but satisfying feeling, but sadly my mother was no longer alive to witness it.
In recent years we have made friends with several Polish couples who had arrived in Australia during 1980s. It is through one of these friends that I learnt about this competition.
My migration can be viewed as a journey of growth, discovery, learning and development as a human being This can only be illustrated by divulging processes of my formative years.
I firmly believe that by remaining in Australia and living here most of my life I was able to achieve for my children what I wanted for myself, a sense of belonging.
My children knew their grandparents and were loved by them. Our grandchildren have grandparents. We have two delightful grandsons who eat kiełbasa, rosół and know to say „Ja cię kocham”. Our children have planted their roots here, this is their country, and should they ever wish to live elsewhere, it will be their choice and their decision. We have had a good and peaceful life. We have felt safe and secure in the knowledge that in this multicultural society great emphasis is given to tolerance, acceptance and personal freedom. I have led a fortunate life and I have grown to like vegemite very much.

Marika Biber

4 komentarze:

  1. Bardzo podobna historia mojej rodziny

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  2. Fajny prezent pod Choinke, gdzie ta ksiazke mozna kupic?

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  3. W sprawie kupna ksiaki nalezy wejśc na strone: www.favorita.com

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