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Foresight and Perseverance

Reading the pages of this remarkable memoir there is far more here than a journey from oppression to a new life; it is also a story of hope, of challenge, of life in times that were very uncertain and also a reflection on a society which has changed so very much over the past fifty or more years.

This is a story which is being repeated over and over again in modern times with the tremendous amount of refugees fleeing from oppressive regimes, as they did when Sylvia’s family trekked across Europe in search of a future free from trouble.

By writing this memoir at this time in history she has given an insight into what it is like to be a refugee from her perspective as a child to that of an older adult having overcome the many challenges to make a good life.

She draws attention to the hardship faced by her family as they said goodbye to their country yet again as they made their way slowly, by foot, away from Estonia, only to discover that this initial effort was to be repeated many times over, allowing them to remain one step ahead of the Russians, as well as the Germans during the Second World War and the times immediately after, when although the war had come to a conclusion, the world around them was still very unstable.

This in itself was remarkable, as when Sylvia looks back to those times she realised they were indeed one of the lucky families as others fared far worse; this was largely due to her father’s ability to be able to read the political situation and act accordingly.

When they were eventually granted immigration rights to Australia, it was just in time as the long wait for their documents to be processed, the lack of work in Heidelberg, their time in the DP Camp at Butzbach and the lack of any form of income, saw the family living from hand to mouth with starvation a very real issue.

The trip out to Australia on the ‘Fairsea’ has been well documented, as has her arrival in this very different country to the one she left, life in the  Bonegilla Migrant Camp and the settling in process required for all new immigrants to Australia.

This is a wonderful look at immigrant life that is still as real today as it was more than 60 years ago, with the same challenges facing new arrivals to this country, that of culture, language and societal barriers. This is a story of making the most of the opportunities offered, working hard and finally discovering that fitting in is something that comes along gradually.

There is a wonderful collection of photographs which add another dimension to this family story as well as a very detailed Family Tree which, while confusing to the non-family member, makes for an interesting skeleton of the who’s who throughout the book.

Wonderful, warm and very well written this is one family history, which once commenced is very hard to put to one side until finished, as we can all look back and reflect on the years of our growing up, not just from a personal perspective but that of the growth of young, innocent and somewhat naïve country which so very many now call Home!

AuthorSylvia McNeall
PublisherShort Stop Press