How lucky are we? Not only to live in a country such as Australia, but more specifically in Newcastle and the Hunter Valley. My recent visit to celebrations marking the Greta Army 80th and Greta Migrant Camp 70th anniversaries only cemented this further for me.
My connection with the camp is my mum, Anna Adnum (nee Anika Nedelko), who arrived there in 1950 as an immigrant fleeing war-ravaged Ukraine. This connection inspired me to personally record the day last Saturday and, with the help of editor Adam Stephens, produce a video marking the occasion.
The Greta site is privately owned and due to be developed, so this is the last time such an event will occur on the ground deemed sacred by so many armed forces personnel and immigrants. The Governor-General's speech on the day resonated deeply with me, so I've called on those words in the video.
When World War II reached Ukraine my grandfather was taken to fight and never seen again, leaving my grandmother alone with four children under 12. German trucks lined their suburban street and they were given 15 minutes to take what they could before being taken to labour camps. The elderly were left behind with the promise their families would return, but my mother never saw her grandmother again.
For the next seven years, my grandmother and her children hid in air raid bunkers, dodged bullets and lived in refugee camps across Europe before boarding a ship bound for Australia.
They arrived with thousands of other "wogs, balts and dagos" as they were referred to at that time. Today, Mum and I proudly embrace the term "wog" as a badge of resilience, hard work and achievement. Back then, it was nothing of the sort. Imagine you've just lost your home and most of your family and you're in another country where you're not wanted, don't know the language, have nothing to your name and you're being ridiculed. Perhaps that's something we should consider when welcoming new people to our country today.
Now comes the bit I love. Yes, it was extremely tough - every immigrant will tell you that - but the flip side was, no one was shooting at you. They embraced and appreciated all Australia and Newcastle had to offer. They worked very hard and helped fill roles at the steelworks and became labourers or waitstaff. My grandmother worked at the original Northern Star Café in Hamilton and became confused when people asked for a "works" burger. To her "works" meant gears and cogs - how the hell was she supposed to deliver that in a burger?
Mum, then eight years old, worked diligently to achieve good grades and learn English. She was later invited to be one of the first women to speak at a Newcastle "naturalisation" ceremony. She eventually started working at the Lampworks where she met her husband, a plumber's son from Mayfield, who was an auditor for Price Waterhouse. Later they made my brother and me.
Through all this, they dug in, made the most of the opportunity they'd been given and didn't complain.
Since then, Mum and I have lost both Dad and my brother Nigel. We miss them dearly, but Mum still shows a loving resilience and incredible work ethic. It was a joy to share the day at Greta with her and her friends. Mum's story is by no means unique, she's just one of over 100,000 that came through the camp.
From all of this I think I've learnt to have a different perspective on what matters in life. To work hard and not whinge, to respect other cultures and to realise just how bloody good we have it here in Newcastle, Australia.
P.S. I'm eating salami and drinking Tyrrells while I write this. Such is the joy of being a "new" Australian.