In 1975 at the age of 15, Maria-Lourdes (Noonee) Doronila migrated with her family to Australia from the Philippines, where her father had been persecuted for his work as a political journalist. Noonee is a playwright whose works explore Australia’s diverse cultures, stories, and connections with the land. She has also been involved in advocacy for multicultural women and for the prevention of domestic violence.
My parents were never people who thought that we would be migrating to any country.
My father was one of the well-known journalists in the Philippines. He was a political journalist, but because of martial law he was detained, he was imprisoned for 3 months. And he couldn't practice journalism in the country, unless he would work for the government newspaper. And he refused to do that.
It was a weird period of time I think, if you can say that. Your speech is controlled. Everything is controlled ... You just don't talk to anyone basically. You start getting scared about seeing people who have military uniforms, you know. Because we also had curfews so, you know, there's this whole sense of threat.
We already had a permanent residency waiting for us from the Australian government because he applied like a year before. But we were just waiting for the release permission from the Philippine government for our family to leave and ... it wasn't coming.
[Intertitle: In 1975 Prime Minister Whitlam asked Philippines President Marcos to allow Noonee’s father to take a job at the Melbourne Age newspaper.]
And, suddenly, you know, dad said 'We just have to pack up.' We were leaving in about a month.
He didn't want to compromise his ... political views and his ... ideas of freedom and independence. You know, if he stayed in the Philippines. He did not want to compromise that. And up to today I feel that's really been a strong part of who I am as a person and the way my family is, as they are and my brothers as well.
Australia. All I knew about Australia was, was koalas and kangaroos and nothing really much. Oh butter! You know all the foods like meat and all that stuff comes from Australia. But nothing ... Not such a big impression of the place.
I was 15 and we arrived in Melbourne in 1975. When we first got off the plane. Well one, the airport was like almost bare. It's not like in the Philippines where the airport is packed with people. Obviously we're talking about different populations here.
The way they spoke English, the customs officers. They were really like you couldn't, I couldn't catch half the words they were saying. I mean, I spoke English quite well. But we couldn't catch some of the ... the words that they were talking about.
And then that day it was like it was foggy, so it was really cold. You know when you're feeling cold you don't feel that there's any warmth around you. In other words like psychologically. People weren't warm, the people who greeted us like, you know the officials. They had to do their jobs obviously. But yeah, you feel this sense like from me coming from a very warm climate and family and sort of some safety. Feelings of safety for family and protection you come to somewhere where oh, this is really foreign to me.
Each morning, it was just like white, you know, it's just freezing and I'm, it didn't snow but it was like feeling, looking and feeling desolate.
We had to find out where we could get certain food. And then some of the ingredients we weren't able to get it yet. There are Filipino ingredients, like certain, um ... sort of fish sauce, a fish sauce that you would use for particular cooking, you know, they didn't have it then. So you just had to revise things quite a lot.
I realized when we arrived in Australia, that there were quite a number of Filipinos who have actually migrated to Australia in Melbourne, who were nurses, tradesmen, you know? So they came through ... there was a particular scheme that the Australian government had. Assisted passage scheme. Yeah, so there quite a number of nurses who were working there and we got to know them quite well.
I started writing when I was pregnant with my first child. One of my biggest plays was called Manila Takeaway. It's about the Filipino women who live in Mount Isa who are married to the miners there.
I was just amazed by the remoteness. Again it's the whole theme of you are alone in a place. And they were like ... They would have felt so much more alone than I have in such a remote area. And their husbands, usually some of them are, you know, Australian born. But a lot of them weren't. They were actually coming from another country. Eastern European country or I don't know, from somewhere in the world who came to Mt. Isa to mine.
I had such an amazing time because they invited me to their homes. They wanted to tell their stories. The whole sense of coming together … of working through their own ... their own experiences in life. Their, their grief, their sorrow, their happiness and the sense of resilience that they've had.
[Male actor: 'Where is my breakfast? And I don't want any of that stinking food either'.]
It resonates with me because I feel it's just like my story in a different way, in a different path. It's about adaptation, it's about, you know, reviewing your own identity again. For the 6 days I learned so much about what is it being an Australian.
We're not the only Australians here. The real Australians are the indigenous people but their connection's straight to their land and their country and their soil. But the sense of sharing this land and country and soil was really important to me as well.
My first husband he, he's Australian background and it's very interesting that I myself, I didn't feel like I wanted to get married to someone with a Filipino background. And that's very telling for me, because it means probably most likely that I have moved in my sense of who I am. Understanding nuances and cultures, that I felt that I could move from one culture to another. So my children are Australian Filipinos.
I feel every time I go back there now. I feel very, very comfortable in reintegrating with the day-to-day that's happening with my family there. It's like I just left yesterday, and I've come back and again straightaway I'm in their daily routine.
So, you know I intend to work with the public community projects there. Because my background is social work, so you know, do those sorts of work because I feel I'm still Filipino. That's my other, my background, my base background and if I can be of assistance to my own people, I will. Because it's still part of me.
I did very well academically, but I think by year 11 ... I just had this, it's like a, a shock thing. Suddenly it's caught up with me. Life was easy. I could adapt to some things. But suddenly there's this ... I decided I didn't want to go to school very often at Year 11. And my teachers were really concerned, and my family, and I had these physical symptoms as well of just feeling general unwellness … and it's like I, if I look back, I think probably I had some depression. Just, just the things that I used to be used to aren't there anymore. Now, I've realised it. After 2 years or a year. So it takes about you know ...
I just reckon you know that whole period that whole year I had to just, like I had to review everything that was normal to me as a 15 year old 16 or 17 by then. About who my friends were. You know about the sense of, oh it's looking like we're not going back to the Philippines at all to live. That whole sense of ... I can't think that this is just a temporary situation.
We couldn't go back straightaway. Because my relatives said, ah it's still martial law here. My dad couldn't go back to the Philippines for 10 years. Just because my relatives kept on saying look don't come back because you might get rearrested.
My mom. We had to go back because her mom died like a year or 2 after. You know, after we arrived in Australia, and initially my relatives said don't come back for the funeral. It was really a tragic time for my mother. She felt, she was absolutely grief-stricken. For that whole year.
But anyway when we were able to go back 2 years later. Yes, I felt, I felt like a foreigner coming back. I was only 17 at that time or 18. It felt like, ah ... Well one day a dress is different slightly different just different, and then my accent sort of changed a bit. I couldn't get in contact straightaway with my high school friends or my other friends because we weren't staying in the house where I grew up in.
The place was familiar. But to feel a sense of 'Oh, I don't know how to get to these places anymore.' Was a bit of a revelation to myself. I think it was again another changing point though to say No, no ... I am actually you know ... adapting or absorbing ... my environment in Australia, in Melbourne.
Since I've come to Australia when I was 15, I've become more and more curious about knowing about my culture historically. I value that. That would be my base where I start from but I value also the fact that I have all these other influences from diverse cultures and from you know from what we call Australian sense of humour. The Australian, I don't know if that's the case, that sense of freedom and independence. The sense of really the warmth, you know. That, when I first came to Australia I didn't think of. I felt here I didn't have that, but I mean that's, that's just an impression.
Because now I've got a really wider community of friends and family who both come from both cultures, and other cultures. It's like you can love what you have and still be open to other ... other experiences.