Panel 6: Growing Up Quickly
Over the years hundreds of children lived at Enterprise. During that time many had to assume adult responsibilities, often becoming the interpreter for their parents and extended families. Older children became responsible for their siblings and other children.
The children arriving in 1970 were sent immediately to the local schools. But in 1971 formal English classes commenced at the hostel. The children received one month’s tuition before being sent to local primary or secondary schools in Springvale or Westall. This introduction into English language was better than nothing, but in reality was barely enough time for them to learn even a few basic words.
In 1973, 48 welfare officers, employed by the Immigration Department, were trained to work in communities with high migrant populations. One of these officers, Juan Santa Isabel, developed close strong working relationships with the staff at Springvale Primary School. He assisted Spanish-speaking parents with the enrolment of their children, developed culturally appropriate teaching methods and taught the teachers Spanish. Juan’s pioneering efforts led to the eventual establishment of the state-wide Ethnic Teachers’ Aide Program.
In 1980 special language schools were established and children were given six months’ intensive language tuition before joining mainstream schools.
While these children faced many challenges, there was still time to play, form friendships and have fun. There were teachers, family members and community people to help the children manage, despite the difficult and varied demands made of them.
“When the mothers were taken away for questioning I, being 16 years old, was left to take up the reins.” - Anon, aged 16 years
“I was responsible for getting the Chilean children to school even though I didn’t speak English, because I was the oldest one of the group.” - Tony Medina, Chile, aged 11 years
“Because I was the only one to speak English the Immigration people gave me the official papers of all the Cambodian people on the flight. I was responsible for everyone.” - Hieng Ung, Cambodia, aged 16 years
Problems at School
“There was a geography class. The teacher came around and asked why the boys were not copying what was on the board. The teacher did not know we did not speak English or that my friends were illiterate.” - Jose, East Timor, Year 7
“The teachers complained that the children were uneducated because they couldn’t do maths that didn’t require a knowledge of English I explained that the system used in maths was different in Spain to that used in Australia.” - Juan Santa Isabel, Welfare Officer
“At lunchtime the bell rang and the children all got out their lunches and began to eat. I couldn’t do that because in Chile you respect your classroom and you don’t eat in it. Everyone started to wave their hands around trying to tell me to eat but I thought I had done something wrong. The second bell went and everyone went outside except me because the teacher insisted I eat. I cried.” - Tony Medina, Chile 11 years old
“Westall High was a good experience. There were only two ‘Aussie’ kids at the school at the time. Most children were Vietnamese, Yugoslav or South American.” - John Dickie, England 12 years old
A Time to Play
“There were trees with black seeds and we collected them and played games with them.” - Anon, England
“Some older kids went outside the gate and came back with rainbow socks on. They told us that they had been to the rainbow and had got rainbow socks.” - Anon, England
“For us it was like a big party.. it was pretty good, I felt comfortable, most of the people were from a Latin background, so we shared sporting interests, table-tennis etc.” - Jose, East Timor
Top Left: School holiday programs were always available in the recreation room.
Top Right: Christmas toys from The Sun Toy Fund were distributed by St Vincent de Paul.
Bottom: Sports competitions were regularly organised.