Alfonso in Bellevue Hill Sydney, 1973.
Alfonso in Bellevue Hill Sydney, 1973.

I am from Malaga, Andalucía. I worked and completed my military service in Madrid. I was in a group of 4 friends and we thought about coming to Australia. I was younger than them and therefore had to wait until I had finished my military service.

Unfortunately, towards the end of my military service I was hit by a car and had to spend four months in a military hospital. I could not move or communicate. In order to see people I had to use a mirror. I really wanted to finish my military service and to come to Australia. My mother helped me leave the hospital but I wasn’t in any condition to leave. I remember that they did millions of x-rays. I had problems with my coxa and shoulder and I could not walk.

After I was released, my mother helped to teach me how to walk again. I started very slowly shuffling millimetres at a time with my feet. It took two to three weeks before I started to begin to move. I had to wear a brace to help improve my walking. I was very determined and had many dreams of walking again. I went and stayed with some friends in the country who helped me a great deal. Although I was in pain, I began to improve and finally achieved my goal.

In 1973, I had all the papers to emigrate to Australia. The plane only carried immigrants that were heading to Australia via Rome where we picked up Italian migrants. None of us had ever flown before. The funny thing was that none of the aircrew spoke Spanish. I loved languages so I went around helping everyone put on their seat belts and showed them where the toilets were. It was interesting and I lost all of my nervousness. We arrived in Tehran where they were at war. There was a huge commotion and we could not leave the plane. We could see the bombs falling. After about 7 hours we were able to leave Tehran airport. The journey took 37 hours and we were all very scared. We landed at Brisbane where a Spanish priest waited to greet us. It was the 3rd of June 1973.

They divided us into groups according to our migrant applications. I had put Sydney, so I was transferred like a normal passenger. The pilot had flown us over Sydney so we could see it and we were all very appreciative as we could all see it was a beautiful city. My friend Jose was waiting for me. I was going to live with him at his house in Beverley Hills. He took me there via Vaucluse and Watsons Bay as he wanted to show me some of the sights of Sydney. It was very pleasant, but after 37 hours flying without sleep all I wanted to do was get home and have a coffee (Alfonso smiles).

I found Sydney very interesting and I adapted quickly. I was fascinated that it was June yet it was sunny and hot. The apartment was a high-rise and I could see the asphalt streets that were so hot there was a vapour after it rained. I was fascinated. I started to establish my life here. In the beginning I watched television to improve my English. The programmes I watched were American, but they helped me get a sense of the language. Initially there were four of us, Manolo, Luis, Ana and me. We would organise get-togethers with the people that we already knew and go out for dinner and meet more people.

My friend Jose had a jewellery business. I began to work with him, but of course he was just starting out and so I helped him. Since I could not afford to live on my own with what I earned I wanted to find extra work. Everyone told me that I should be a model. So I went to an agency and I began to do some photo shoots. The first photos I had taken were in 1973 when I had long hair. It was great money but as it wasn’t a regular income I looked for additional work. My friends helped me find work as a cleaner at night cleaning offices, that way I had they day free.

One of the funny things that happened to me was on my first day of work. Everyone went to a deli at lunch time. There were no cafes here in those times, where you could sit and eat your sandwich. In the deli there was a fridge with Coke and Fanta, and as I am Spanish I was used to having a beer with my lunch. I read “beer” on a bottle and so bought it. We all sat down to eat and I opened my beer and started to skull it. I spat it all out, because my can of beer was in fact “ginger beer”. I had no idea that beer was not sold in shops as it was in Spain. Since that day I have never had ginger beer or anything related to ginger. Everyone had a good laugh (Alfonso smiles).

I registered with a hospitality recruitment agent that hired staff for restaurants and clubs with live music. My first job was in a restaurant where they asked me to take a plate of green peas to each table. I was very nervous, and I forgot that there were three stairs leading down from the kitchen. I fell with all the peas (Alfonso smiles). Someone came straight away to help me and they said “Well go and collect the glasses over there”. They didn’t sack me and in fact they gave me lots of opportunities. I learned the skills of silver service and began to get more work through the agency. I ended up doing a lot of work in functions and hotels.

In 1976, I traveled around the world with a group of friends. We left Sydney for New Zealand. From there to we flew onto Tahiti and then Honolulu, New York, San Francisco and Europe. We lived in London for four months. At this point my money was running out. Because I was not an Australian citizen I couldn’t work in London, so I stayed home and cooked dinner whilst my friends worked. And of course as I had no money I could only afford to cook sausages. I learned how to cook sausages in a thousand ways! London was very expensive. We lived in an apartment where we paid £10 each week. There were seven of us including a couple that lived in the cupboard. The owner had split the house in half and there were some stairs going up to nowhere and some going down to nowhere. It was very interesting. I was able to explore England, and I loved it until my money ran out and I had to return to Sydney.

I also traveled around Australia quite a bit. Once I traveled to a town relatively close to here and I really liked it. The government had purchased an old school house and they were reforming it into a beautiful home. I was fascinated by the town and wondered if there is anything else for sale that I could buy. I was shown a house that was once a hospital for pregnant woman and mothers. I fell in love with it. I quickly said yes and bought it, and have had it ever since. Little by little I am fixing it up. I have two Merino sheep that help keep the grass down. I shear them from time to time and my neighbour uses the wool to make jumpers. I like Australia a lot. If I won the lottery, I would like to live six months here and six months in Spain.
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