Australian and more: Melinda Ann-Craggs
Australian and more explores the dissonance and delights of an individual straddling two cultures in Western Australia’s current social atmosphere. This series of five stories shares perspectives of people with Chinese, Malaysian, South African-Indian and Iraqi heritage. The Centre for Stories believes that sharing diverse perspectives is essential to creating a cohesive and empathetic society.
My name is Melinda-Ann Craggs, I am 50 years old and I am originally from Malaysia. I came to Australia in 1980.
A PAST LIVED
I’ve got lots of different ancestry. On my mother’s side, her father was Chinese and her mother was Irish. On my father’s side, we’ve got English as well as Indian.
My mum came from a seven-sibling family, so lots of cousins of the same age. We always congregated for Christmas at my grandparent’s house in a place called Portuguese Settlement. Growing up was fun. We are very close; uncles and aunties all made sure that we grew up very close. We grew up too fast, sometimes, I think. It was good times, doing lots of cycling around together and lots of eating. The aunties and my mum would cook up a storm and we would have lots of parties. There were gatherings, book readings, we would talk about books, and all that sort of stuff. We made our own pretend games, soldiers, cowboys, it was fun. It was good.
When I first came to Australia the language was difficult. I was brought up with English but the way Australians spoke English was so different. Even now I say to my husband to slow down. Australians tend to speak really really fast and so I struggled with understanding. I also think Australians, on a whole, they are not as close. Maybe it is changing—and I can’t speak for all Australians—but Australian families are happy to move to the other side of the country and be apart. Whereas in Malaysia, grandparents look after children and we keep close. I am married to an Australian. There have been a lot of adjustments, but with my husband’s family they have always been close as well. Family-wise it is really great that both families are close.
Culturally, it is hard to pinpoint similarities because I found such a big change when I first came. For the first year I cried because it was so hard to adapt. I left all my family—all my friends—the way people spoke was so different. When I first came a lot of Australians had not travelled. It was probably because we went down to Collie, that I was very much a minority, a handful of Asians. It was different for them to have an Asian amongst them.
I remember, I was such a scholar that I would just be trying to do my best and trying to get good results, and all that. I remember one girl saying to me “Is that all you do? Can’t you talk about something more than study?” So, I tried to dumb myself down to fit in—so that I didn’t stand out, so that I didn’t get teased. For a little while there, I also wanted to be white. I really wanted to be white because I felt that every eye would be looking at me because I was different and I remember wanting so badly to be white. Maybe it was a group of popular girls—there was one that was so fair and she was so popular with the boys. She had a few freckles and she had this beautiful orange hair and she had another friend—it was like in the movies. They would walk around and the boys would be around them and then you’d sort of feel as though you don’t measure. I think the teasing was a little bit hard—the teasing might have been friendly banter—but I took it the wrong way. I thought, yeah, if I was white I would just go under the radar and nobody would, you know, I’d just be one of the girls. But then some of the white girls would go out in the sun to try and be dark and I was going “What?!” You are never happy. As a child you are never happy. You think life would be better, but it is not.
I told my mum once, “Mum, I’ve never told you this, but I cried for one year” and she goes “I’ve never told you this, I did too.” It was hard trying to come, but I wouldn’t have it any other way, I love Australia.
A PRESENT LIFE
I think overall it has been wonderful. I don’t know what I would have done if I was just Chinese or just Indian because when you see my family photo it is different shades of colour and it is great! Being part of different cultures has made me more tolerant and I think more confident.
When it comes to food, I identify myself as Asian, because I prefer the Asian food to the Western food. Give me Asian food any time, it is just the way I was brought up. I find it tastier than Western food.
Ask me to identify myself, and I am Australian. I’ve lived in Australia longer than I was in Malaysia and I’ll always be loyal to Australia. In Malaysia, I’ve got fond memories and my family is all there—but apart from that, I am more Australian than Malaysian. After three years my dad took out an Australian citizenship and we are all under that. So I don’t even hold any other country’s passport. So, you know whenever people say anything on Facebook or anything, it gets my goat because there are a lot of loyal Australians that come from other countries. There is still a lot of things from white Australia. There are still people who are not tolerant, but we have to move on. Maybe one day we will fully be good as a country.
I am very thankful that Australia accepted us. At that time, you would come on financial grounds, like you could contribute financially to the country for employment status. My dad had an engineering degree and thankfully, at that time, they were asking for engineers so he ticked that box, or you’d come in as a family reunion. So, we had one of the three. So that was the only way we could have ever come in. Between the government saying, “Yep you’ve got the green light” you had three months to pack up and come, if you didn’t you’d go back down to the bottom of the list. It was very, very strict, so it was very rushed. Before you blinked your eyes you were in another country.
Read the rest of the stories in Australian and more here.
Copyright © 2018 Melinda Ann-Craggs
This story has been licensed to the Centre for Stories by the Storyteller. For reproduction and distribution of this story please contact the Centre for Stories.
This story was collected by Centre for Stories intern, Karen Escobar.