Moving My Family from Buenos Aires to Australia
07/07/2004 by Silvana Ligouri
Packing up her life and her family in Buenos Aires, Silvana moved to Australia with her husband to start a new life Down Under. This is her story…
The day I arrived at Sydney airport my only thoughts were of my grandmother. I arrived on an Aerolineas Argentinas Boeing 747 on the 30th of June 1997, the day Hong Kong was being officially handed back to China.
The news was all over the place, and in the many planes I had been on, there wasn’t anything else to talk about. People were making presumptions about the economy, the dollar and the Chinese market; I had other things going through my mind and I did not pay much attention; it is amazing how your priorities change according to the circumstances.
I had left Aeroparque – the Buenos Aires domestic airport – on the 29th of June, twenty four hours earlier. The domestic flight had taken me to the city of Rio Gallegos, on the Southern Patagonia, very close to the Falkland Islands.
As we arrived at the insignificant airport at six in the morning, the shops were closed and there were very few people around. And yet I had many issues to concentrate on, no time for just wondering around.
The Challenges of Moving a Family Overseas
First of all, I had three young children, aged eleven, seven and two. I had bought cheap tickets for migrants, all the way to Sydney, and due to the price of the ticket; we had a nine hour wait in Rio Gallegos, as it always happens with cheap tickets.
I had with me as many bags as I could carry, four in total, the smallest was one metre long. If you have ever heard about the Argentinean reputation of being prone to exaggeration, please make an effort to believe me: every single one contained clothes, photos, some toys and books and weighed about 500 tonnes.
My entire life was in those bags. I had managed to fit in all of my children’s pictures; but I had left so many things behind. My mother and father had made it to the Buenos Aires airport, and as I kissed them good by, I told them “I’m going to be OK, don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine”. I had tried to explain to the children why we were leaving the country, but I don’t think that they understood; not then.
I also had the baby pram to push, which made things worst. I will never forget until the day I die how extraordinary my kids were, even the baby (well she wasn’t really a baby). They were anxious to see their father, after all, they hadn’t seen him for three months.
It was snowing in Rio Gallegos and as we boarded the plane, a chill ran through my spine. It wasn’t the snowy wind from the South Atlantic Ocean, it was something else. I don’t think this feeling can be understood by everybody, unless you have “been there, done that,” as Australians might say.
As I saw the Patagonia’s plains for the last time I felt tired. It had been a long difficult fight for all of us. The plane’s door closed, and that was the last time I saw my country.
The trip was pleasant but long. The fifteen hours flight from Rio Gallegos to Auckland felt like three days. The kids had a few hours sleep, after enthusiastically talking to the 300 passengers travelling in our seating class…the youngest one went from seat to seat, playing with her books and calling the airhostess every five minutes; in the end, I stopped counting.
Most of the travellers were Sudacas – South American people from Brazil, Colombia, and Chile, either returning to Australia or visiting family. I don’t know what time we arrived in Auckland, but it was dark. “Good morning”, I said; it was the evening, actually.
We had twenty minutes before boarding the next plane, and of course, as you would expect, every one of us had to go to the toilet. Three girls, one boy, so I had a problem. A seven year old boy going into men’s toilet by himself, not quite my style. Do I leave him waiting outside? Alone? I dragged him into the ladies toilet, I don’t think he ever realized.
I was also worried about being robbed, typical Argentine paranoia. I had some money and traveller’s checks with me, and, according to my upbringing, I held my handbag tightly. I soon discovered that the airport was quite safe, at least it felt safe to me. Anyway, we quickly found our way through the airport to our next boarding gate lounge.
Living Away From Family
The plane took us to Sydney in about three hours. I remember this young Argentine lady; she was coming back to Australia after visiting her family. She also had a two-year old toddler on her lap. As we talked, she told me that if I was new in Australia I’d better be prepared.
People, she continued, “Are cold and never invite you for dinner.” She was an architect and in spite of having being in Sydney for five years, she hadn’t found a job according to her expectations. I tried to convince her that my husband had found a job in two weeks, so it couldn’t be that bad.
She went on and on about how hard life is in Sydney, and how she hadn’t made any friends apart from people she had met from Argentina and Uruguay; I just wanted her to shut up, I wondered why she was still here.
We arrived to Sydney airport at nine thirty at night. After collecting the luggage we walked the long way across the corridor into the exit door. I still don’t know how I made it. I remember carrying two bags, but not four. My eldest daughter was pushing the baby’s pram, so someone else might have taken the others. Honestly, I don’t know.
As the sliding doors opened, I saw a multitude of waving, yelling and calling their loved ones. My throat was closed and dry. I saw people hugging and kissing each other. Relatives and friends converted a simple dead corridor into a remarkable expression of life.
If you have ever been to an airport and observed this, you know what I am talking about. This feeling of seeing people reuniting makes me wonder. How long have those lovers been without each other? What took mother and daughter apart?
Nobody was waiting for us and at that very moment, I could not think of anything else but my grandmother. I didn’t fell sorry for myself; I felt so sorry for her!
How had she felt, seventy years earlier, when she arrived to a foreign country, without any education and nobody waiting for her? Was she desolate, lonely, sad? I tried to move my mind from that distressful thought, but it kept coming back.
Language Barriers in a New Country
This is where I found my first problem, the language barrier. Despite a good level of English, I could not understand this new way of speaking. We went through customs and I had all the passports with me, mine and the kids.
As I showed them to the lady there, she put on a funny face. Something was wrong, and she wanted to know who was that blond young boy, whose name appeared in the screen as having arrived in Australia three months earlier. They asked me all kind of questions about him, and why he was there, with me. I panicked.
I think she understood me, but I couldn’t understand her. Luckily, I found the way to explain that the person whose name appeared on the screen was my husband, and he was already in Australia.
We made our way into the Hilton Airport Hotel, where we were supposed to spend the night before catching the plane to Melbourne; I had booked the hotel when I was still in Argentina.
The four of us jumped into the same bed, looking for comfort and security. The first plane to Melbourne departed at 6.30 in the morning. Was it my jet lag, tiredness or anxiety that stopped me from sleeping that night? Sure I was in a new country, and certainly not on holidays. “Take it easy”, I thought, “there’s no way back.”
The following morning we had a very quick breakfast and I made my way to the front desk to pay for the night; to my surprise, the gentle young man told me that the bill had already been paid; someone had paid for that. To this day, I don’t know who it was. It might have been a mistake, I didn’t dare ask. I cordially thanked him and moved on quickly.
Relocating to Rural Australia
By the time we arrived at Melbourne airport, I was exhausted. I walked the long way through the corridor from Gate 28.
Years later I would discover that it wasn’t that far, after all; but for me then, it was endless. To my surprise, there was no gate as such. I kept on walking and we arrived at what looked like a patio area. I was wrong, it had to be wrong. I approached someone and asked for confirmation three times. “Yes, madam, this is the plane to Mildura,” he said.
Mildura… what a funny name, I thought. And there’s no way I was going to go on that! The two propellers didn’t’ seem to be very safe.
Fearing the worst, we were either on the wrong plane or it might crash, I made my way on to the aircraft.
When I spotted Mildura five minutes before landing, I was certain that we were on the wrong plane. There was nothing there, no city at all; only subdivisions and red soil. No houses, no streets, only red deserted land. I couldn’t even cry because I was so tired. As the plane gently landed, we all got out, and there he was, my husband, waiting for us.