During the Communist regime in the 1960s when we lived in Croatia (formerly Yugoslavia), there was a lot of religious discrimination and a few friends and family members just disappeared.
Our religion was and still is very important to us and we were lucky that a relative living in Australia was able to sponsor us. Australia offered us religious freedom and an opportunity for our children to do well and for our family to be safe - there was hope for a future.
I was the first to arrive, having travelled to Australia by ship, and I was lucky to find work in a factory in Geelong within two weeks. For me walking off that ship felt like a prison door had been opened. The children and Maria arrived by plane nearly six months later and straightaway we went to the local church and our children started at school. Being able to openly go to church was really important to us and through the church we met people with similar beliefs and values.
In the early days we rented a house and both Maria and I worked in factories until we eventually saved up enough to buy our own home. Our weekends were busy with work, family outings and church. When the children started playing sport we met other people from similar backgrounds and our group of friends increased. We also found that attending a cultural club was a great way to meet others and to celebrate our culture with food and music. This was a great way to connect with people who had been living in Australia for a while and who were able to offer advice and support.
For a while Maria and I also went to English classes at the migrant education centre and we were able to practice our English language skills and make some new friends from all cultural backgrounds. I remember our group used to go on outings to primary schools where everyone would cook food from their culture to share with the school students and this allowed us to practice our English. Now as we get older, our health issues are making it more difficult, so now we go to the club to share a meal rather than for the music and dancing.
I feel that being able to go to church was so important for us especially in the early days as it gave us the opportunity to belong and be part of the community, we were finally free. Making the decision to leave Croatia was very difficult but we are so grateful to have had the opportunities to make a good life here for us and our children and grandchildren. We are very proud to be Australian Citizens.