On this page you can read stories about health and migration submitted by members of the public.
Warning: These personal experiences of migration, health and wellbeing may include memories of distress, pain and trauma.
‘Sometimes I wonder what my life would have been like if my parents had stayed in UK. I’m glad they didn’t’
My mother was a stateless genocide survivor. My father was from UK, served in the Middle East 1943-48 and, I believe, suffered undiagnosed PTSD as a result. We migrated to Australia in 1960. I was 2 years old. My brothers were born here.
Health has been a major issue in our family. My father died in 1968 of a massive heart attack, aged 44. My mother, brothers and I suffer mental illnesses. I am the only one of my family of origin with a diagnosis (clinical depression). My children also suffer mental illness, as do two of my four young nieces and nephews. Mainly it is major depressive disorder, severe anxiety and borderline personality disorder that turns up in my family (although I am appropriately suspicious of BPD).
In 1962 (aged 4) I was sexually assaulted. My parents knew but they didn’t seek medical attention. They never spoke about it after that day. That same year, I contracted Rheumatic fever.
Once I started school, I remember being a happy child until my father died. I don’t think I have ever recovered from that. I loved Mum dearly but she was abusive and life was harder without Dad around. There was a lot of violence in our house. I was hospitalised twice in my teens with illnesses that couldn’t seem to be diagnosed. I developed migraines and chronic back pain. I caught everything going – Rubella, Glandular Fever, Dengue Fever (in Bali), recurrent Tonsillitis (till I had the surgery). I married at 20 and at first it was great but then it became abusive. He made me abort two babies. I don’t tell anyone about that because I am ashamed.
Eventually I had two kids and I was very happy. I love being a mum. And I have always felt fortunate. I have a university education, I have travelled, I have a career I love, a home of my own and a family. And now I have a wonderful second husband, as well.
In my forties I developed a series of autoimmune diseases: Cardiac Arrhythmia, Rheumatoid Arthritis (sero-negative), Fibromyaligia, Diabetes. I had Fatty Liver even though I have never drunk alcohol. All the others maladies are atypical, too, and the RA/Fibromyalgia still eludes certain diagnoses. Even my Type 2 Diabetes is atypical! I went through the regime for RA but nothing worked for long or the med was too toxic.
Now I just manage everything with massage, exercise, physiotherapy, acupuncture, self talk. I still work full time. Sometimes I wonder what my life would have been like if my parents had stayed in UK. I’m glad they didn’t. There has been freedom and opportunity I wouldn’t have had. There was a wildness allowed in Australia when I was a kid. It feels like another world when I think about it now – so much space, hours of unsupervised play, the bush. (There was danger, too. There were predators. I know that only too well.)
My favourite thing still is being outside in the air and light. The longer I live, the more I am aware of the way my emotional/psychological state expresses though my body. I think the truth is that, on some level, I have always known that.
‘Migration involves visible and invisible baggage. Lots of it, big and small.’
BY BARRY YORK
Health was central to my parents’ decision to migrate from London in 1954. My Maltese dad, Loreto, and Londoner mum, Olive, had me in 1951. A year later, the Great Smog descended over London, killing thousands, mostly babies and the elderly. I developed a bronchial condition as a baby. My dad was horrified, no doubt due in large part to having been born and raised in the Mediterranean. His brother Joe had migrated to Melbourne in 1925 from Malta and worked on the wharves. He offered to nominate us for assisted passage to Melbourne. My mum didn’t want to leave England but my dad’s attitude was that he’d take me anyway.
I recorded lengthy oral history interviews with my parents, long ago, and they recall the sea-sickness on the voyage on the Himalaya. They reckon I was the only one not to be sea sick. However, at Aden, I developed ‘prickly heat’, a scalp rash, and my parents said I took ‘salt tablets’ for it. (Whatever they were).
My dad served in the Royal Air Force, which he joined as a volunteer in Malta in 1940. He was sent to the Middle East, Africa, Palestine, France and ended up in uniform in London after the War. He could speak of horrors that he witnessed during the War in a dispassionate way, which didn’t seem right to me. I think he was badly, deeply, affected by the war and carried this with him all his life. One expression of it was a capacity for violent temper outbursts. On a brighter note, he also developed an appreciation of life’s absurdity – a la Spike Milligan and other ex-servicemen who became comedians – and could be great fun as a practical joker dad.
Migration involves visible and invisible baggage. Lots of it, big and small. My dad loved London’s cosmopolitan character and expected Melbourne to be a ‘little London’. He was terribly disappointed, regarding it as a backwater. He was unhappy here and alienated, never really accepting Australia fully.
Toward the end of his life, he told me that “leaving Malta was the biggest mistake of my life”. His damaged emotional and psychological states were not helped, and indeed, I believe, worsened during this time. He worked in factories in Melbourne, for much less real pay than he was earning in London when still in uniform.
He told me he was hoping that Olive would stick to her word and return to London at the earliest opportunity. However – life can be strange! – she fell in love with Australia from day one. From a health point of view, it’s interesting: her psyche was changed by Australia, by its openness, lack of formality, wide open spaces (even though we settled in industrial Brunswick, Melbourne, and rarely ventured beyond Altona for our holidays).
She suffered during the Blitz over London – like hundreds of thousands of others – and her mother died in 1953. I doubt that she would have left ‘home’ had her mum still been alive. She lost her dad when she was 12 (in 1928) – and never recovered emotionally. So, migration and settlement in Melbourne meant all that could be put behind her, I think. She could start a new life as a ‘bloody Pom’ Down Under.
I compiled a YouTube clip, with an edited excerpt from my oral history interview with her, where she talks about how Australia changed her for the better (ie, improved her emotional and psychological health).
I’ll finish by sharing it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p-vBP8L_wJc
‘We were not the picture of ideal healthy emigres.’
My mother, brothers and I emigrated from the UK in 1966. We would have emigrated years earlier, however the Australian government rejected my father’s application because of his health. They were happy to take Mum and us, but not Dad. So it wasn’t until after Dad died that Mum re-submitted her (our) application which was accepted and we came out as 10 pound Poms.
We were not the picture of ideal healthy emigres. My elder brother had had a major knee reconstruction, I was a critical asthmatic and my father had terminal kidney disease. My younger brother & mother were in fine form however. But even so….. I am sure that the Australian immigration officials would have looked kindly on my brother’s knee (it was after all fixed, even if he had a limp), and perhaps accepted my asthma on the strength of my GP’s recommendation that my health would only improve in a drier, warmer climate, which of course it did. I have little memory of school life in England because I spent a large part of it at home under bed rest, but I have a vague recollection of our GP recommending to Mum that I would be better off in a warmer climate. Perhaps, like our previous Prime Minister’s GP when considering her childhood asthma in Wales, he was thinking of Cornwall or Devon rather than Australia?
My father’s health situation was not so easy to sanction by Australia. He had been a pilot in the Royal Navy all his then young life but contracted kidney disease aged 26 when on duty in the Mediterranean, was hospitalised then invalided out (unable to fly) and given a life expectancy of ten years. He became a salesman. Britain in the 50’s was still suffering the after effects of the war and our parents discussed the possibility of a new life in Oz, no doubt influenced by the information campaign conducted by Australia at the time. My mother told us that they wanted their boys to have the best opportunity in life as they could give us, and a life Down Under had better prospects than in the Old Dart at the time.
Our parents’ first application to emigrate was made in the late 50’s which, my mother told us, was rejected because of my father’s health. We do not know how he came to submit the application – perhaps it was during one of his frequent visits to London on work related matters that he dropped in to Australia House. Perhaps he was also informed verbally by immigration officials at Oz House of the rejection? We have no written correspondence in the family archives.
I presume the rejection was based on the level of health care that Australia would have had to provide him as his condition worsened. The massive immigration program at that time would have been expensive, with most immigrants needing some form of financial support for varying lengths of time when they arrived in Oz. Realistically, adding a known health cost burden was unnecessary. Perhaps Mum & Dad, and their GP, could have fought a little harder, who knows. I have little memory of my father but I understand as his health declined he spent more time at home rather than at work and became bedridden shortly before his death. So the health costs as such would have been limited, in the UK or Australia.
Anyway, after the failed application Mum and Dad decided that Mum would reapply after Dad had died. And this she did. Dad died in mid-1963 and we left the UK mid-1966. I was 13 and my brothers were 15 and 12. Mum was a typist. She got a job with the Australian Defence Department and worked there until she retired, and we three lads have managed to enjoy a good life here. My brother’s knees have not hindered him in his academic and business life, and my asthma improved to the point that it did not unduly restrict my participation in sport and eventually allowed me to serve in the Royal Australian Naval Reserve. I spent my whole career working as a professional engineer for the government. My younger brother, “the healthy one”, spent the first half of his working life in the open air as a gardener and the second half as a nurse. Of course it is impossible to know how our lives would have turned out if we had remained in the UK, but I am convinced that it would not have been as good as we have enjoyed here.