Those among us: Three stories

Gunther Laws (1930 – 2005)

Gunther Laws


Born in Hamburg in 1930, Gunther moved to Australia 50 years ago to pursue a career as a joiner/carpenter during a time when the Australian Government was recruiting tradesmen to build public housing in Geelong. Upon arrival, Gunther worked as a builder in Geelong, sleeping in an abandoned hospital with other foreign tradesmen. The hospital had dirt floors, and often flooded with water. Gunther found living in Australia difficult. He struggled to make friends, missing the sense of community and especially the food from his hometown.

Gunther Laws



He was married after placing an ad in a German personal column stating: 'person living in Australia and wanting a female.' With such obvious charm, Gunther was quickly wed, and the blushing bride returned with him to Australia. Gunther was once passionate about Scientology and I pressed him as to why he no longer believes. He replied: 'I am no longer interested,' with a bland matter-of-factness. Just prior to his death, Gunther surrounded himself with small objects of personal nostalgia. During my visit, his cook brought him some Bratwurst sausages as the interview came to a close. Outside, his beloved caramel Volkswagon Beetle sat quietly under a makeshift carport. Inside, old telephones dotted around the house created a link to his much-loved homeland.




Nassar and Alaweeya Elsheik

Nassar and Alaweeya Elsheik


Nassar was born in Sudan, Africa. The son of a high-ranking military official, Nassar was named by his father when the British and their Allies were fighting the Germans on the Libyan Front in the Battle of Allemaigne. Nassar’s father won the Victorian medal for bravery, and gave Nassar his name as it is the Sudanese word for ‘Victorious.’ Nassar was destined for great things in the eyes of his father.

He quickly moved up the army ranks and became a Sudanese Army General. His position has since seen him work both in England and the United States of America as a Defence Attaché. His position became compromised when his moral beliefs conflicted with the beliefs of the Sudanese political party then in power, and he was subsequently thrown into jail. Realising the severity of the punishment, and due to Nassar’s high-ranking status, he was offered exile to another country. In 1991 Nassar went to Egypt to establish a business that quickly failed. Egypt was a difficult place for Sudanese. The Egyptians were shrewd and savvy businessmen and made business deals difficult and confusing for foreigners.

Nassar and Alaweeya Elsheik


In 1995, Sudanese living in Egypt were finally recognised by the United Nations as refugees. The choice for Nassar and his wife Alaweeya then lay between Canada and Australia, with the warmer climes of Australia being the deciding factor. In 1998 Nassar, his wife and two sons arrived in Australia and immediately embraced the Australian way of living. Having just come from Egypt the difference was dramatic. He found fairness in the social security and medical systems, but having a highly conservative Sudanese heritage found some of the differences in this new land quite confronting.

Nassar has not returned to Sudan since he left. Australia is home now, for him and his family, but he is hopeful that his two sons do not lose a sense of their African heritage. I left the interview as Nassar began his Ramadan prayers. The Australian sun drifted through his living room curtains.




Noe Bonnici

Noe Bonnici



Noe (pron. Noah) was born in Malta in 1932. Noe remembers life in Malta as being poor and hard. He remembers being on a fishing trip off the coast of Sicily and seeing machine gun holes in the prickly pear leaves. He remembers seeing his friend gunned down in the street by a sniper during the war. He was only a teenager, but he remembers feeling helpless as a priest ran over to his friend's body and gave him his last rites: ‘so I think the machine gun shoot him in the back. Vella I remember, poor thing you see. I was small but I remember.’

Noe immigrated to Australia in June 1952 on board the SS Austurias after being told Australia was the lucky country and there was plenty of work. Noe remembers this first trip taking three months. He felt like a stowaway, conditions were bad, and he slept on a canvas sack on the floor. But there were cheap cigarettes, interesting people and ports to stop in so he didn’t mind the passage so much. Upon arriving in Australia, Noe abandoned his love for the sea, and did not work as a fisherman as he had done in Malta. ‘The sea is too angry,’ as he said to me. Instead, he worked at the timber mill and during this time he lived with an elderly Maltese man, Mr Fava and his wife. They lived on the Esplanade in Altona, Melbourne when there were only a few houses and Altona was a seaside village. Noe remembers reading to Mr Fava as he was blind.

Noe Bonnici



Noe returned to Malta after three years as the promise of work was not met. After spending eight years in Malta, Noe returned to Australia in 1963 bringing his wife Catherine and their two young children on the ocean liner The Sydney. This time Noe got stable work in the steel-mill and was part of the scheme installing 700 miles of gas piping from Gippsland to Melbourne. He was away from home a lot initially, but in 1964 he built a home in Altona (where the family still lives today) and Noe got a job with Newport railways where he stayed for 30 years until his retirement in 1997. In his retirement, Noe has been able to spend time on his passions. He loves boats, classical music, painting and reading.

Noe is a very proud man. Proud of his wife and his family. After suffering a stroke two years ago, his family must assist him with reading and other tasks. One hand is gloved in what appears to be a mitten made by his wife and it sits here shaking silently. We talked at length of his adventures and of Lampedusa’s Leopard of which I apparently reminded him of. His eyes still twinkle with the salt of the sea and a life well lived.


More of John's work can be found here.

 

 

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