By Eren Erdogan…….
With my brother and sister we have written two articles about our childhood for cyprusscene.com which covered the years of our lives whilst living in the British Governor’s House in Nicosia during the period 1950 to 1961. Like so many Cypriots, Turkish or Greek, we left our beloved island during those very desperate and dangerous times to make a home elsewhere in the world from which very few actually returned to their homeland.
Our family settled in Melbourne in Australia and have all made new lives but cannot forget the childhood years and with the advent of online social media, together with a number of other people who had similar interests, we created the Frozen Cypriots Facebook page which has a wonderful wealth of pictures shared by its members showing Cyprus and its history and heritage.
With many ex Cyprus members having grown up and made their lives in the Diaspora our page has proved to be in great demand and we are glad to say devoid of the politics of Cyprus past as without it, many people of different ethnic backgrounds can come together.
I recently placed some more pictures of my past life and description in Frozen Cypriots and decided to write a fuller account of my life since making that one way journey, We perhaps now see so many people fleeing their countries with a dream of a better life, who may never return to their roots.
My journey from Cyprus to Australia and a new life
Looking back to our first stumbling years in our adopted country can also be very nostalgic. Here is my passage to my adopted country:
Nicosia, Cyprus, 1970. My dad made a deal with my older brother Sermen, “ I will send you to Australia first and in exchange, you will pay part of your sister and brother’s flight there” he said. Sermen, at the age of eighteen and only two years older than I, packed up and left for Melbourne, Australia to stay at our cousin’s (from Poli, Paphos), home in Doncaster.
My sister Tülen followed a year later, then myself a few months after. Our parents’ home was empty at 50 Mahmut Pasha Street, Nicosia,
Mum and Dad were devastated by their suddenly emptied nest. They were to follow two years later during dad’s planned retirement; however the war began in 1974 and delayed their plans for another three to five years. My enquiry to immigrate to Australia was fast tracked, however, by the Cypriot government.
On the morning of August 13th 1972, my mum boiled a bucket of hot water; we didn’t have running hot water in the house. I quickly washed myself with a soapy sponge and was bundled into an old green Austin taxi, my mother emptied a bucket of water after the car to wish me well on my journey and for a safe return, this was a long standing tradition.
I headed to the checkpoint at Famagusta gate, Nicosia next to the Bastions. It was approximately 6:00am and the boy on duty was a friend of mine so he knew the score (I will write about him another time). I crossed the border to the Greek side without a hitch and waited for my flight at the travel agent’s office until midnight, Sabena Airlines flight with a DC 9, Nicosia to Singapore then a transfer to Melbourne with Singapore Airlines.
My dad joined me for part of the wait in the afternoon. He needed to be home before nightfall so he kissed me goodbye, teary-eyed, got onto his bicycle and pedalled away. Mum and dad couldn’t come to the airport to send me off due to not wanting to create suspicion with Turkish border officials. My travel agent, his wife and a few of their friends took me to their house to play cards while I waited for the midnight flight.
The game turned into poker, a game in which sixteen-year-old me wasn’t very familiar. Suddenly, I was down by two Cyprus pounds, I only had ten to my name. I tried to cash in but Mr. Travel agent wasn’t impressed. He threatened to not take me to the airport if I didn’t continue playing. Not long after, I was bundled into another car and taken to Nicosia airport at about 9:00pm, he showed me where to check in and that was that. He did his job as promised to my Dad. By now, I hadn’t slept in over 24 hours and had the biggest headache from the day’s affairs, plus it upset me deeply to see my parents so deeply distressed. As I was checking in, there was a Turkish family sending a girl about my age to Sydney. They asked if I could help her. I said yes, despite perhaps needing some care-taking myself. I carried her bulky radio cassette player for her.
The headache got even worse while we waited to board, so I went to look for some painkillers. I saw two officers close by and asked in half Greek and half English if I could purchase tablets nearby. Till this day, I’ll never forget the officer’s reply, “Fiye re shilioTurkomemuerkisbiso etc..etc..” which loosely translated to “Piss off you Turkish dog and never come back to this country”.
I didn’t know what to do but go back to the waiting area and sit by this girl. I didn’t move a muscle until it was time to board. As we took off, I remember looking out of the window and saying under my breath, “Goodbye Cyprus, place of my birth only God knows when will I see you again”. Needless to say, I was motion sick all the way to Singapore. I had never flown before. Thankfully there was an overnight stay at The Mandarin Hotel of Singapore where I slept off the dizziness, it was a shared room with another passenger.
The guy I was sharing with brought back a ladyfriend, I hesitantly stayed in the room out of fear of getting lost, the room had gold water taps and a city view I’d never seen before. They eventually took their rendezvous elsewhere and I never saw him again. I remember going down to breakfast the next morning but not eating as I assumed I couldn’t afford the meal, I wasn’t aware that breakfast was complimentary.
We were loaded into the airport shuttle bus shortly after. I said goodbye to the girl in my care who was headed for Sydney, she thanked me for carrying her radio. After an additional 9 hours flight I landed in Melbourne. First question I was asked by the customs was “Do you speak English? “ All I could remember was I said “Yes, a little.” And that I heard from the lady that was ahead of me. I did go to night school to learn English while in Cyprus but without practice it was hard to respond instantly without thinking.
My brother and sister welcomed me at Tullamarine Airport in Melbourne on the 14th of August 1972. We lived in a two bedroom flat in Lewisham street – Prahran. Five days later, I started working at the Red Tulip chocolate factory. As a result, I am proud to say I did manage to fund my own night classes and complete my high school education.
I will write more soon of my life in my new homeland and in the meanwhile you can read the life story of our family childhood on the following links: