Settling in stories

Pat and Kester Thomas
After the children moved out, Pat and Kester Thomas downsized to a Melbourne-style chattel house! The fretwork and sound of the rainfall on the tin roof especially reminded them of their house in the West Indies.
Source: Museum Victoria Caribbean Community Photographic Collection

The West Indians who came to Australia had different experiences from those who joined established immigrant communities in the UK, USA or Canada.

These migrants chose Australia because the lifestyle and culture sounded familiar: a beautiful country with plenty of outdoor space and sporty, ‘laid-back’ people. Many wanted to avoid cold climates and competitive, urban ‘rat race’ existences. Some were also fearful of the racial tensions prevalent in many English and North American cities in the 1960s. Melbourne was a popular destination because jobs were readily available.

Early West Indian migrants faced extreme isolation, in what sometimes felt like a clean, pleasant and efficient, but slightly dull and parochial place. Victoria also proved unexpectedly cold. Even small cultural differences required some adjustment: the ‘footy’ obsession; ‘bring-a-plate’ entertaining culture; casual dress codes; lack of domestic help or extended families; and outdoor toilets in the 1960s and 1970s!

Later, migrants from more diverse social backgrounds also found these cultural differences challenging. Discrimination was also an issue, sometimes resulting in different experiences for members of the same community – or even family – depending on their physical appearance.

Despite these problems, West Indians generally felt welcomed and accepted, and were able to build productive and comfortable new lives in Victoria. Although we are deeply nostalgic for what we left behind, we also celebrate our Australian identities.

Image Gallery

Lloyd Watson-Jones at Guyana airport, 1974 The DeFreitas and Thomas brothers, 1999 West Indian community’s annual Australia Day Cricket Lime, 2009 Rodney and Ingrid Jarvis celebrating their wedding Celebrating a double christening at the Jarvis home, 1983 Gordon Veerasawmy receiving his Australian citizenship in 2001 Limbo dance, Victoria, 2007