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Western Oz Words: The Big Decision

“ An exciting prospect from this bleak winter of discontent - a new life in a sunny, spacious land…’’ Margaret Dunn tells of her decision to migrate to a country on the other side of the world.

It was December 1991 - a cold, wintry day, when I made my first visit to the Australian Consulate in Edinburgh. I had decided to migrate to Western Australia and this was the fist step , applying for a Residence Permit. My son and daughter had been living in Perth for a few years and I was to join them there when I retired from work the following year. An exciting prospect from this bleak winter of discontent - a new life in a sunny, spacious land.

The Consulate was an informal, comfortable office with panoramic views of the continent displayed on the walls. Brochures and newspapers told of the wonderful life awaiting those who would venture there.

Over the following months I made my way through the Migrants’ Obstacle Course! Obediently, I filled in forms - giving assurances that I could speak English, had never been in prison, and would have enough cash to keep me from being a burden on the State. I was required to submit a bond of $3,500 which would be refunded, with interest, in three years, as long as I proved to be a good migrant and didn’t need to be shipped out of the country! Then there were the medical tests - a full medical examination, passed with distinction. They were pleased that I didn’t have AIDS.

Eventually I completed the course and it was just a matter of waiting. I did have some anxious moments. Would I really be granted a permit to enter the Promised Land? Would I be able to sell my house in Edinburgh? Should I take my furniture or just personal belongings?

My friends were cautious. “Don't sell your house here, in case you change your mind and want to come back home". But there was no doubt in my mind. I had been to Perth for a holiday the year before and had fallen in love with this small city clustered around the beautiful Swan River.

Then at last, on a Friday morning in September 1992, the dream came true. I had been accepted as a Permanent Resident. The arrangements were completed, and my flight reserved. I only needed my Entry Visa from the Australian Consulate. This had to be presented to the travel agents before they would issue my ticket, and I was to call at the Consulate that day before 12 noon with my passport.

That was also my last day at work, and time to bid farewell to friends and colleagues in the University Medical School. A farewell party had been arranged and we packed ourselves into the coffee lounge. The table was laden with home-made cakes and savouries. Everyone settled down with red wine, tea and coffee. There was a good deal of teasing and jokes about Australia - about Margaret Dunn going to the land of the dunnies. I found myself wearing a bush hat, complete with corks, and clutching a furry koala someone pushed into my arms, as I tried to look cool and dignified. My boss took the floor to make a farewell speech.

Normally, I would have felt embarrassed to be the centre of attention, but as he sang my praises and told a few jokes, I was too busy watching the clock. I had to reach the Consulate before High Noon. There was laughter and applause as the speech ended; gifts and flowers were presented, and I suddenly realised everyone was waiting for my reply.

My mind went blank. What would I say. The clock on the wall said 11.15. However, with all the friendship and goodwill around me, I rose to my feet, took a deep breath, and, with the corks wobbling round my face, launched into my farewell speech. The words just came flowing, without any thought or effort on my part and seemed to please my audience.

As everyone began to drift away, and I made a hurried exit, it occurred to me that perhaps the best way to overcome speaker’s nerves is to have bigger and better problems on one's mind.

The rest of the day passed at high speed. I reached the Australian Consulate at ten minutes to twelve, when the precious Visa was fixed to my passport and handed over by a smiling Migration Officer. The next few days were given over to farewell visits, shopping and packing.

The final day dawned, mild and sunny, in this beautiful northern city. Friends came to see me off at the airport. It was exciting - joyful and sad: tears were flowing. The short trip to London passed in a haze of emotions, but I managed to find my way to the check-in desk for my next flight.

Finally, with too much hand luggage, I struggled on board the Boeing 747 bound for Western Australia and a family reunion. As I relaxed in my seat and the aircraft started rolling, the events of the last few days paraded through my mind. But a chapter was now closed. What would the future bring?

As the giant plane gathered itself to soar into the night sky, it was time to dream of the future.


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