There is a photo; it is old and curled at the edges. We have thumbed it many times – it is the first photo of our arrival in Australia. It is a photo crowded with people, newcomers and the people waiting impatiently for them.
I am in the centre of the photo, grasping my mother’s hand; half pulling her forward, half seeking her comfort. I am looking straight out, but not smiling. It is apt that I lead my family into this land: many years from the taking of this picture, I will consider this country my only and fight many fights to have others recognise it as such.
My mother (Um*) is wearing a light coloured dress, her hair bunned up: she has vowed to shave off her hair when we arrive safely – it will be the first thing she does when we come to rest at the government home. Um smiles a tired, nervous smile; her dark eyes are looking at one of her sisters, her shoulders laden with bags of many descriptions; one is full of food we did not eat on the plane. Um cried when they gave us food; she did not expect strangers to be so kind. We kids happily ate the food, my father (Ba) did not.
Behind Um and I (#9), are Ba; my brother, #8; my sisters, #s 4, 7 & 6; and some strangers. We crowd the edges of the picture, seeking a way in. #8 looks wild – his eyes are round, his hair spiking at slept-upon angles. #4 is but a step behind Um, ready to support and comfort her. # 6 & 7 are together, ushered into the photo by Ba. #7 is also staring, unsmilingly out of the photo, towards the land we must now call our own. Behind them are other people, who are pushing forwards, smiling at unknown others, looking at their feet in weariness.
In the foreground are the backs of many heads – my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. In a stroller is a young girl – the first Australian born. Off to the side, but somehow separate from the rest stand a young boy and a young girl. They stand self-consciously, the young boy looking out eagerly, the young girl is looking sideways at an uncle. They wait more awkwardly than the rest, more unsure. They are my second eldest brother, #3 and second eldest sister,#5 – they have pulled away from the fake parents and fake siblings who got them here; Um and Ba will soon claim them warmly.
This is how we arrive in Australia – a mass of people; separate, together, confident, fearful, anxious and hopeful. We are seeking a new home, in an unfamiliar place.