SisterWorks Blog #4 – Starting a new life in Australia


This personal blog was written six years ago by Luz Restrepo, founder of SisterWorks. As a political refugee, she arrived in Australia in 2010, with her life in tatters and unable to speak English. At the age of 45, as a medical doctor and a communication expert, she left behind everything in Colombia. She felt like a nobody: frightened, isolated and disempowered. In this chapter, Luz explains about how she started a new life in Australia.

One day Sergio arrived home happy.  We had been offered a small unit in Mornington that was affordable on our small budget. He collected me and we went to look at it from the outside. The garden was neglected and messy. The windows and doors were old, the paint crumbling and peeling.  Through the window, we only managed to see a small kitchen come dining room, all very confined.

According to Sergio, the size of the entire unit was about the same as the garage of our house in Bogota.  

However, this did not matter. There was room for the three of us, close to Lucrecia’s school and it would be our first real house in Australia. Nevertheless, a big job was waiting - to clean and use our creativity to decorate. With effort, we knew space could be welcoming. Without further thought, we went straight to the real estate agent and signed the contract.  

The next day Cate came with me to help clean it. In her eyes, it was a dirty, old and uninhabitable space. She tried to hide her thoughts and joined in cleaning the bathroom, while I, warrior-like, confronted the abundant grease that was all over the kitchen.  By midday, she could bear it no longer and she called her husband to come and to try to convince us that it was an unacceptable place to live.  

When he arrived, he was in complete agreement.  He called Sergio and then spoke to the real estate to get them to at least paint and clean the carpet. But there was nothing to be done. The contract was signed and the conditions had been accepted.  

Still, Sergio and I were happy.  We longed for our own space and we urgently needed a home.  So we moved in the next weekend with our few pieces of second-hand furniture and began the slow process of organising things.   

I exchanged the computer for a rag and a broom to devote myself to routine cleaning and cooking like I never had before.  For the first time in Australia, Sergio and Lucrecia could look forward to varied and hot meals.  For the first time, they could also unpack their bags and put their clothes in a closet because before that they had not had the space to do so. And so began a daily routine for the three of us that we had not experienced for two long years.

But my new life was not without difficulties. I am a woman who has worked outside the home all my life.  Previously I had never really been a housewife.  Someone had always helped me.  In this new role as a housewife in Australia, I damaged lots of clothes learning to use the washing machine, and my culinary exploits were not always well received.  And while an experienced person could finish household jobs quickly, I took hours with the vacuum cleaner and a rag to remove dust and dirt.  

Along with this dramatic role change, and the lack of English communication skills, came feelings of impotence, growing dependency, fear, and anger. So I dedicated myself to cleaning, cleaning and more cleaning, nagging and chastising my family for untidiness, for not helping or not doing what I wanted, even though even I didn’t know what that was.