The Welcome Wall and What It Taught Me

Early sunlight peaking through thick curtains of my room. I opened my eyes, a little confused. Where am I? I paused to organize my thoughts. Suddenly remembering the night that was. Ahh… my hotel room. I got up and walked to the window. At 8:00 in the morning, the city was and about. I changed to my running gears and went down for my morning run. It was sunny yet cold and windy. “Fresh, isn’t it?”, greeted a guy who had started his day early. I smiled then crossed the street towards Pyrmont Bridge. I had the place almost to myself except a few who probably were on their way to work – Saturday shift, pensive. 

After going around Cockle Bay Wharf, I exited and went to King Street  Wharf. I passed by a bunch of senior citizens doing their Tai-chi and two guys sparring. Apartments lined the wharf and I recalled my cousin telling me that those were the expensive ones. On the other side of these apartments were restaurants, cafés and bars. It smelled of alcohol and cigarettes mixed with the smell of sea.

My watch said 6km was done so I started my way back then I saw the Australian National Maritime Museum’s Welcome Wall. In it, the Australian Government gave tribute to more than 6 million people who travelled the sea and settle in Australia. Parts of the wall listed migrants’ names. On the other side, interview snippets when they first docked at Australian Harbour. These people were desperate to have a better life and they found it in Australia where diversity was accepted.

Like these people, my aunt was just trying her luck when she migrated to Australia. She was a hotelier and was employed in a top-class hotel in Manila that paid her well but her husband left her and their four kids. She had to go for more. Eventually, her three kids followed. Since then, my aunt has tried again and again to convince us to go too. I understood that move was out of necessity. Over the last five years, I had other cousins left Manila to study in Sydney. When they left, I knew after a certain period of time they would come back. Noone has. One cousin who has always been my favorite would be graduating in December and as early as now, I look forward to welcoming him back.

I was in front of our hotel. I went in and headed straight to meet my cousins for breakfast. C, my cousin was walking next to me. I asked when he was going back home. “I like it here, Ate.” he said. I told him Manila would be waiting. “I mean, I want to live here.” my cousin added. I asked him why. “Ate, what’s not to like?”. His answer echoed to my mind. What is it not to like? Another face of migration that I never fully understood until today. I thought people left out of necessity – to earn more. But this other side of leaving, it somehow rattled me. How can one leave the comfort of his home when all he needs is there? Family. Friends. Career. Familiarity. Then I would go back to what C said. What’s not to like? I looked around me and realized sometimes, you just grow inlove with a place and you don’t see the point of going back…home.

I wanted to go overseas and see the world. The Snowy sounded funny to us, because in Australia we expected sun but they said snow; we were a bit devious at first, because it was so unknown and usually it’s a bit dicey if noone else wants to go. But we were young, and we said “We’ll give it a go.” – Otto Blank, arrived 1951


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