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Three short stories about refugees in Australia

Troy Pittaway |  17 June 2012

'Sudanese youth' by Chris JohnstonThe first story begins in a three-bedroom Department of Housing house. Inside is a family of seven: single mother and six children aged three to 17. The house is in terrible shape, because the father, who abused alcohol and was violent, left without paying any of the DHS payments, dumping the mother with the accumulated debt. DHS will not do any repairs until the payment has been met.

The house is tiny. The mother shares her bed with four children, while the two teenagers live in the other rooms. There is no privacy, no quiet area for the older boys to study or be alone, little space for the younger children to play.

But they are not unhappy. This is far from the worst experience of their lives.

The eldest boy Juba, then aged five, and his mother, Esther, had to leave their village in South Sudan. After weeks of aerial attacks, the Sudanese army from the north was approaching to burn their village and kill the survivors.

So they began walking, in the general direction of a refugee camp they had been told about. They didn't know how far away it was or even if it really existed.

After days of walking along sandy roads in desert-like conditions, they sat down. They had run out of food and water and Juba could no longer go on. Esther laid him down in the grass. Knowing he wasn't far from death, she decided to run to find water. Juba recalls lying there, thinking he would die soon.

A few hours later Esther returned bearing milk from a cow that she had found. The milk saved Juba's life. Not long after this they arrived at a UN refugee-processing site and reunited with their extended family. They lived as urban refugees in Egypt before receiving humanitarian visas and being moved to Melbourne.


The next story takes place at Dandenong Magistrates Court south-east of Melbourne. A young man in his 20s is facing charges of driving while under the influence of alcohol. He arrived in Australia with his mother and three brothers and sisters six years ago.

He remembers the civil war in his home country that left seven million people displaced, two million people dead and many more injured. He remembers the gunfire, the screams of women and children as they ran from their village. He remembers learning to handle a gun before he was a teenager, and walking incredibly long distances, and spending three years in a refugee camp in Uganda.

These events, scorched onto his memory, happened to him during those years when in other, more fortunate countries, people his age were studying at school, chasing after girls and working part time at Macca's.

On arrival in Australia, he was too old for school, so received some English language classes and was left to fend for himself. He couldn't find work, wasn't educated, and was deeply troubled from his experiences.

Alcohol became a way to pass the time with his friends who were in the same situation. They would sit and drink, unsure of what the future held, trying to forget the nightmare.

Until, after drinking a little too much, he gets into his car, is pulled over and ends up in front of a magistrate, about to enter the Australian criminal system.


The last story takes place on a basketball court in another Melbourne suburb. Here, more than 30 teenagers, boys and girls, are engaged in the fun and competition of sport.

The UN has advocated sport as a community capacity building tool, and in my experience, it is one of the best tools available. Southern Sudanese teenagers love basketball and soccer, and as I look out at the court I see young people experiencing great joy.

I see a young man who saw his best friend killed in front of him, when rebels who killed teachers and students alike attacked his refugee school.

I see a young girl who remembers her grandmother lying on top of her all through a night when her village was attacked by the Northern Sudanese army; the next morning they went outside to find her grandfather had been killed and the village half burned down.

I see a young man who was found wandering by the side of a road, without family, alone, and was picked up by the woman he now calls mum and taken in as one of her own children.

All these young people, each with their own story, shooting hoops, having fun. Enjoying life.

Troy PittawayTroy Pittaway is a Salvation Army minister who has been working for the Salvation Army in various capacities for ten years. Two years ago Troy and his wife Peta took up a position running a church and community centre in Berwick, south east of Melbourne, where they began working with refugees from Southern Sudan. Troy is completing a doctorate on Sudanese youth with Curtin University.

 This week is Refugee Week.


Troy Pittaway


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Submitted comments

I was very moved by these reflections; thank you, Troy, and thank you, Eureka Street. The power of narrative puts legitimate teen angst, the federal policies on immigration and detention of refugees, and 'our' introspective concerns in suburban Oz, into sharp perspective. I wish to also express my appreciation for the artwork that accompanies the piece: vivid and compelling.

Barry G 18 June 2012

I will include these stories in a newsletter I prepare for a Writers group in Brisbane. Very moving - hope each of these has been able to make something of their lives in Australia.

pat 18 June 2012

Yes indeed very moving!

Peter Hardiman 20 June 2012

I work with Chin refugees from Myanmar. Such similar stories. It is a privilege to work to help them settle, and then see their lives improve. They have taught me much about courage, endurance,and laughing!

Robyn.Beckingsale 21 June 2012

Please where can I buy the collection of short stories? I am collecting works written by and about African in Australia and in the general West. Thank you!

Esosa Osaghae 25 June 2012

this is so sad

davina 09 October 2013

hi i am a hobo

hobo man 26 February 2015

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