My name is Erzsebet Katai. I was born in 1965, when Hungary was under a Communist regime. It was a challenging lifestyle in many ways, for many people. Soon after I become a married woman, my husband and I decided to look for a better standard of living with better opportunities. We learned from people that our neighbour country in Austria was operating as a transit country for refugees fleeing Communist regimes, so we started organising ourselves to leave our country in the hope that, one day we would be able to come back to visit our families.
As we lived so close to the Austrian border, our area was patrolled regularly by the army. We had to be very careful not say anything to anybody about our plan of leaving the country, because the consequences could bring problems for people. One of the hardest days came when a taxi arrived and we had to leave our small flat. We packed our 22 years into three suitcases. I looked back as the taxi was pulling away but my ex husband encouraged me not to do that because that would make leaving harder.
Before we reached the Austrian border our taxi driver sensed our intention and kindly offered his help to take us back free of charge, but we declined. At the border we were very lucky because the army person was called away for a phone call before he could finish searching our baggage.
We found ourselves alone in the foreign country without support from our family and friends. Without speaking the German language it was difficult to make ourselves understood. Shortly after we arrived to Austria we managed to get to a huge building where thousands of refugees from Eastern and central Europe were seeking refugee status between 1945-1989. The first two weeks was the hardest because on our arrival we were checked over like criminals. Later on, we learnt some of these checks were necessary for Interpol.
We received a blanket, a cutlery set and a plate then we were shown to our room where eight man resided. For our own safety we decided to take in turns who is sleeping and when. Most of the time we had to line up before we could get to the showers. Usually it was a cold shower and we had to hold a door in front of each other for a little privacy. We received three meals per day, but only a few people could gone downstairs to bring our food up. It was like when a sheep paddock is opened up with everybody trying to get out first.
After two weeks because I was married we transferred out to motels where we have been provided with a basic everyday necessities. The food what we received often was not enjoyable, the cheese had mould and the milk and jam were made runny with lots of water. When we reported it to the Hotel Manager the answer was very simple, if you don’t like it, go back were you come from, special food for special people. There was a padlock placed on the heating system, so when winter arrived the room temperature could be kept on the minimum. Many of us bought a cheap heating source to keep warm. But that never stayed with us for too long, because we had unexpected room checks and it was confiscated from us.
Finally, we had an opportunity to write a letter to our family back in Hungary to explain where we were and what the aim is. Some people were supportive but some were sceptical about our future. After three months we were called for a interview at Vienna, where lots of question were asked about why we left our country and what is our expectation for the future. For a long time we dreamed about making Australia our new home, because we learnt so many great things about this country that we had fallen in love with it. After almost two years of waiting for our refugee status, our visa finally arrived. It was time to say good bye to the friends we made at the camp. Saying good bye is never an easy thing to do.
For a few days afterwards, buses came and transported us to the Vienna airport. At the airport I met the lady who is now my best friend and her family. Then we began a long journey to Australia. After many hours of flying and crossing continents, oceans, countries and deserts we arrived to the Western Australian capital city, Perth. Luckily, a Hungarian translator was waiting for us at the airport with a mini bus .We were very relieved that finally we arrived to our new home country. We received a three bedroom flat at Tuart Hill. lt was huge compared to the home we had left behind in Hungary.
After two weeks we received our first unemployment so we could pay for our power usage and other expenses. We had free English lessons and a fridge stocked right up to the top with different kind of foods and some of them we had never seen before. We were given three months to stand on our own feet and also move out of the hostel. Shortly after we arrived to Australia we found a job and bought our first Datsun car and moved out from the hostel. Over a year, we slowly made our way to Port Hedland and it become my home from 1989.
Since then we raised our two girls but our marriage came to an end five year ago. One of our daughters lives with my ex husband in Cairns and my other daughter stayed with me here at South Hedland. We are still on friendly terms and I hope it stays this way for our daughters benefit and for the sake of the history we shared together for 22 years.
As a community member I was involved with our Well Women’s Centre and the Living Together project. With my kids growing up I was involved with their school life by helping out in their classes. After they went to the High School, I completed my Teachers Assistant certificate so I was able to support them further. I am very proud of my girls in every way and enjoyed every moment of them growing up. For over three years I am involved in a new relationship and it seems like I have found my soul mate in Frank. I love my work at the airport in the last six years and I enjoy the lifestyle that the Pilbara can offer. We definitely made the best decision to immigrate to Australia. I just learnt to love Port Hedland. Port Hedland means to me, home, more than home, everything. The freedom we were expecting was small, but now, the country has given us much more than what we were expecting.