1968-2008 : 40 years of Turkish migration
In 1967 the Holt government signed an historic immigration agreement with the Republic of Turkey which saw the influx of thousands of unskilled migrants to Sydney and Melbourne. My parents were amongst those early arrivals who came to Sydney, starry-eyed and without a word of English. I grew up in world of terrace houses and narrow streets, my friends were named Scott, Chris, Kon, Zoran, Arthur and Andrew and we played cricket in the lane way. Growing up in Newtown was like living in a sanctuary of innocence and idealism. We did not care about where you came from and we felt safe in our little multicultural enclave. It wasn’t until my family moved to Emu Plains that we realised the real world was not so innocent and instantly I became an alien with three eyes and green skin in a sea of white. I was called names like ‘gobbler’ and often got into punch ups.
It didn’t sway my determination though, I excelled in English and was always in the top classes through high school. Eventually I left that place that I called home; but it left our family scarred for life. Not one of the nine children in our household escaped unscathed if it wasn’t trouble at school and expulsions it was identity crises and racism. Sound like any normal Australian family? Through it all we managed to keep it together. I finished my Masters in Peace and Conflict Studies recently and often look back at our tumultuous upbringing and all the arguments and fights and it does make me laugh even if it wasn’t funny at the time. But life is like that, such experiences toughen you and prepare you for more hard knocks. I know that almost all of those families that arrived between 1968 and 1977 have had the same problems.
Call it “adjustment”. Of course the next generation of Turkish-Australians are not experiencing the same dilemmas that we experienced. Their problems are more complex. Instead they are more concerned about parental pressures, peer group influence, social adjustment and identity.
But the Turks like all the others are just one cog in the very sophisticated machinations of a pluralist society. Turks like other cultures have enriched the fabric of this society. They have by and large successfully “integrated”. There’s that word again. We still haven’t defined what integration is so maybe we should use a euphemism like “adjusted” instead. Just to keep it safe. However, the merry-go-round never stops and as each wave experiences “adjustment” a new wave comes along to face new challenges.
The Turks are trying to get over the stigma of kebab shop owners and hair-dressers. The new generations are doctors and journalists, economists and futures exchange analysts, lawyers and IT specialists. We still have a long way to go and many of the community are still grappling with English and do not really know much about the political, or judicial or tax systems but then again which Aussie really does?