Finding their own way

Malak Abdou's story: From Egypt to Tasmania

The Abdou household is full of laughter.

With cream weatherboards, children's bicycles in the front yard and a concrete path leading to the front door Malak Abdou was lucky to find the Railton house for his recently arrived family.

Malak arrived in Australia with his wife, Shery, and their three children Angela, Jacoub and Gabriela 10 months ago.

A veterinary surgeon of 20 years in Egypt, Malak migrated to Tasmania with a general skilled migrant visa, hopeful of finding work in his field or as a farm manager.

“When I came here I said, ‘Okay, I don’t need anything from the government, I need a job, a chance,” he said.

“I sent my resume to everywhere in Australia and they said ‘No, no’ … I got 100 refusals so I was afraid, I have my family with me and I could not find [a job].”

Malak came to Hobart ahead of his family, who stayed with his sister in Western Australia, to find work so he could provide them a home.

After weeks of searching all Malak could find, despite his experience, was work as a kitchen hand. He applied for everything he could, and was even rejected for jobs as a cleaner.

“I found everyday advertisements for vacant [farm manager] jobs and they refuse me, so what is the reason? I am a qualified veterinary surgeon, I did a lot of veterinary examinations, I did a lot of dairy farm managing,” he said.

“I told them, ‘Okay, I am happy to work as a farm hand, I found tens of advertisements you need this job’.

“They told me, ‘Farmers don't need any and the milk price is very low and there are no jobs after the floods last year, our advice is leave Tasmania you will not find any job, Tasmania has a very low rate of jobs.”

Desperate to start his life in Tasmania and to provide for his family Malak turned to different community organisations to seek help with employment.

“They told me, ‘If you're a refugee you are welcome, we can give you a job, money, a place to settle in, but you are not refugee so we can't give you anything,” Malak said.

Shery, Gabriela, Angela, Malak and Jacoub Abdou.

With no job on the horizon Malak went to Tafe to enrol in an English language course to improve his already fluent, but accented, English in the hope of improving his job prospects only to be told again they were not able to help him.

“They told me, ‘No you're overqualified we can’t give you any courses … we can't help you, you have to find your own way’,” he said.

Malak was told again and again by different people and organisations there would be no work for him in Tasmania, but his visa stipulated he must find work in the state and remain for at least two years.

Finally, Malak wrote up his resume on Gumtree in the hope “Maybe someone will find me because I can’t find someone”.

This proved to be the break Malak needed, he took a call offering him work as a farm hand in Railton.

Malak with his son, Jacoub.

Malak with his son, Jacoub.

Despite warnings of cold and early mornings, hard work and modest pay Malak jumped at the opportunity.

“She told me ... many backpackers weren’t stubborn [enough] to live like this with the hard work and I thought ‘No I have no choice I have to’ and after that in October I got my family with me,” Malak said.

“It is really hard [work] but it is a step, I am lucky … I don’t depend on the government and we succeed to find our way.”

Malak said the welcome they got from the community in Railton was heart warming.

The community helped him secure a house and furniture and settle in.

“Everyone came and one was vacuuming, one was, they were very lovely people here,” he said.

“In our culture it is different, we have to serve all of you not let all of you serve us, but they did.”

The family is now settled in the quiet countryside, worlds away from the rush of Egypt.

Alexandria on the coast of Egypt

Alexandria on the coast of Egypt

“We are coming from a very big country in Egypt, 100 million population so it is four times all of Australia ... Alexandria has [a] 20 million population, it is one city,” Malak said.

“Here is beautiful, here is a better lifestyle because competition is not hard like Egypt and the Middle East because [of the] competition there; 100 million people compete for food, for education, for jobs, but here all Australia is 30 million, competition is less.”

"Here is beautiful, here is a better lifestyle because competition is not hard like Egypt and the Middle East"

Malak and Shery Abdou

The family loves their new life in Tasmania, and are enthusiastic in their praise of their new country.

Malak now works full time as a farm hand and volunteers on the weekends at a vet clinic in Sheffield, he has thrown himself in boots and all to Tasmanian society.

There were many things that surprised Malak when he came to Tasmania, international ideas of Australia differed from his experience.

“In the Middle East we see Australia as a Christian country … when I came here I found Christians are the minority and ungodly persons are the majority and ungodly persons are very good people,” Malak said, adding he admires them for their honesty and truthfulness.

“I have a lot of friends now, mates and workers.”

As Coptic Christians in Egypt the family suffered under the Muslim rule, which did not respect the religious choices of others.

The diversity of Australia was also something new to the Abdous

“We [in Egypt] are not multi-ethnic community, we are not a migrated country, we lived in this land since 8000 years ago and no one comes as a migrant to this country so we know each other, we speak one language, we look like each other,” Malak said.

“Our culture is very rich and our history is very rich in Egypt, Egypt is a very old country. I noticed here I found heritage building ... from 1882. When you go the pyramids you will see [something from] 5000 years ago.”

But Malak said despite all the differences, “Something in common is that people are people everywhere.”

“Something in common is that people are people everywhere.”