More years ago than I care to be specific about, I was one of the many immigrants who travelled halfway around the world to find a new home at the invitation of the Australian Government.
Australia had accepted masses of displaced persons after World War II and, with the Baby Boom population now coming of age around the globe, was in dire need of trained adults, particularly in the fields of education and medicine. The ideal immigrant unit was a married couple in their early 30's with one or two children. Experience showed that a family group would stay in the country and become citizens more readily than younger, single people would.
My background was in neither education nor medicine, but I did have a good education, valuable job skills, and considerable work experience. I was young, single, and
acceptable to the powers that be in Canberra. I sailed out of New York Harbor on a cargo ship one bright September day and, a bit more than a month later, entered Sydney Harbour.
I was on the bridge deck that morning as we passed through the Heads of Port Jackson. It was very early, the surface of the water covered with rising mist. The harbour winds between low hills. Houses can be glimpsed among heavily forested gardens. As we probed further inland the Sydney Harbour Bridge loomed ahead. The clean salt tang of the air disappeared as the engines slowed; the smell of the land came to us. We slid under the massive steel structure. The beginnings of the Sydney Opera House were on our left, Luna Park on our right; we idled past Dawes Point, slipped into Darling Harbour for a berth in the heart of the city.
I immediately fell in love. I had planned to visit several of Australia's major cities before choosing where I would settle. I was happy to stay in Sydney.
With the help of the Immigration Service I quickly found lodgings in a women's hotel in Neutral Bay. I found a job at the top end of Hyde Park and went happily back and forth on the Ferry each day. "Hello, there" was replaced with "G'Day". I bought a wardrobe of miniskirts.
The freighter I had sailed on to reach Australia carried 12 passengers. On my voyage, four were immigrants : a young couple from Maryland headed for a teaching post in the University of New South Wales, a printer in his early 30's from Chicago, and myself. The other passengers were Australians returning home after visiting in the United States.
These three other American passengers formed the beginning of my social life in Captain Cook's Land. We
soon became part of a group of recent immigrants from Britain and the United States. When your experience in a country is counted in days, then weeks, it is more comfortable to stay with others who are in your time frame. Discoveries eagerly shared become old history in a matter of weeks, even days. What was new and exciting yesterday becomes normal today, even boring tomorrow.
I later made many dear friends among the Australian residents of Sydney, but at the onset I clung to my own kind. Being in a foreign land can be confusing.
October slid into November and we New Australians began to think of that great American holiday, Thanksgiving. Among my new friends only the Maryland couple, Peppi and Barry, had their own flat. The rest of us were sharing flats or living in boarding houses or residential hotels. Our group, now perhaps 20 strong, decided that we would have Thanksgiving in their flat but each of us would bring a favorite Thanksgiving dish, be it cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, or mince pie.
Our various Australian employers, not appreciating this great national tradition, were not about to give us a paid holiday. Not to worry. We would celebrate on the Saturday following the last Thursday in November.
Which is why, on the last Friday evening of the month, I was in the communal kitchen of my residence, a converted mansion just a few streets from the eastern end of the Harbour Bridge.
From this point in time, I don't remember what I was cooking that evening. I do know that as wave after wave of Australian maidens arrived home from shop and office, I was asked more and more questions as to why, what, and who I was cooking that mass of food for. I tried to explain Thanksgiving, but didn't seem to make much headway. Indians, gratitude, Pilgrims, harvest time - I wasn't being understood.
Finally, when yet another bright young thing wanted to know what "the Yank" was up to, I simplified my reply:
"Look, it's just a day every year when we all get together and stuff ourselves."
If you don't understand, ask one of our Aussie noders to explain.