Our parents’ stories of migrating to Australia

» Read the Spanish version of this story

Author: Elisa and Amy Perez
Storyteller: Manuela Rubio Vocal & Isidro Perez Amaya
Community Language School: Wollongong Spanish School
Main School: Warilla High School

A story of migration from Spain to Wollongong .

The story of Manuel Rubio Vocal

Manuela Rubio Vocal, my mother, lived in Algeciras (Spain) during the first seven years of her life. She lived with her family in a small white unit. It had three bedrooms, one bathroom, one kitchen, which was also part of the lounge, and a big backyard that had a play area for the kids. Each unit had a door that went out into the backyard. Every day, after breakfast, the kids went out to play.
In my mother’s family there are five people; my grandmother Manuela, my grandfather Francisco, my uncle Paco, my mother Manoli and my aunt Geli. My mother was the middle child of the three, my uncle the eldest and my aunty the youngest. When my mother lived in Algeciras it was a beautiful city and had a vibrant atmosphere.

There wasn’t much poverty, but there were not many rich people either. In the town the houses were built close together and the streets were very narrow. They lived close to the beach and on some afternoons, they went for a swim with their parents, uncles and cousins.

They were always dancing and singing or telling jokes. My mother loved Spanish music. Her favourite singers were: Lola Flores, Isabel Pantoja, El Fari and Manolo Escobar, and she loved to dance the “sevillanas”. But the funniest thing of all was to dance “bulerias” and the rumba. Spaniards, especially the ones from the South, knew how to dance the Rumba. “The dance expresses the culture and the personality of the Spaniards and they danced these dances with any music or with the beat of clapping.”

The story of Isidro Perez Amaya

Isidro Perez Amaya, my father, lived in Madrid with his parents, brothers and sisters. When he was young they were always moving house. The house they were living in had three bedrooms, one bathroom, a kitchen and no yard at all. The houses were made of brick. There were lots of flats, and the people didn’t have much money.
There were lots of gypsies and many of them lived in bad conditions. The streets were wide and there were parks on every corner. My dad’s family consisted of seven people; my grandfather Luis, my grandmother Aurora, my aunty Aurorina, my aunty Carmen, my uncle Rodolfo and my uncle José, and my dad Isidro. My dad was the youngest. At the tender age of 12, my dad worked in a bakery. His family didn’t have a car and my grandfather went to the war when my dad was young.

My dad went hunting a lot and caught a lot of rabbits. He loved going hunting until he got lost in the fields one day, for three nights. Helicopters and police went looking for him.

My mother’s journey to Australia

My mum came to Australia with her family on an aeroplane in 1965. The kids on the plane stayed quiet eating lollies, lollipops… and my mum carried her jewellery with her because she loved it. But most importantly she carried all the charms of the Virgin Rocío and the Virgin Carmen. With her family came the González family, with whom they were very good friends.
The trip was very interesting for my mum because she met Antonio, the son of the González family. They came to look for work. My mum came when she was seven and she didn’t know much about the town where she was going to be living. Months before, uncles and cousins of the Rey family had come to Australia.

The kids were very young and they didn’t bring much with them. They brought four suitcases for five people. The bags were full of sheets and blankets. None of my mum’s family knew how to speak, write or read English.

The first Christmas that my mum and her family spent in Australia was in a very small house in Warrawong, near Port Kembla Hospital. It had just been built. Five families lived in the one house. The kids stole a Christmas tree and they decorated it with decorations that shops had put in the rubbish.

My mother went to Warrawong Primary School for two years. Then they moved to Warilla where my grandparents bought a house. While they were living there, my grandparents had another child, my uncle José Guillermo. My mother went to Warilla North Primary School and then she went on to Warilla High School. When she finished studying, she found a job as a hairdresser in a hair salon in Dapto.

My father’s journey to Australia

My father came to Australia with my grandmother and my uncle José. The only money they had with them was $20. Not knowing the distance between Sydney and Wollongong, they caught a taxi from the airport thinking that it would only take ten minutes to get there. The taxi driver charged them $29 (which is now like $290) and my dad had to borrow $9 off my other uncle. My father was only 18 years old. When they arrived, they lived with my uncle Fito. He was already living in Australia with his family in a flat. The flat was very small and only had two bedrooms.
After living in Australia a short time my father found a job. At nights he would go to English school to learn how to read, write and speak. It took him two years to learn the language well. He didn’t have a driver’s licence. He had to wait six months to get it. The first car my father bought was a Holden which cost him $500 and it was green.


My parents met two years after my dad arrived in Australia. They got married a year later. They rented a house in Warrawong for two years until they bought a house in Warilla.
After being married a year they had their first son David. Four years later they had their first daughter Amy. Four years after that they had another daughter Elisa, and 10 years later they had their last son Daniel. They still live in the same town, the same street and the same house after 23 years.


During the first few years of being in Australia, my grandfather had a lot of animals: pigs, cows, sheep, dogs, rabbits, horses and donkeys. Because my mother was the eldest daughter, she had to help look after the animals. This would make her get angry, and now she has got it stuck in her head that animals are to hard too look after. Now every time we talk about getting an animal she will tell us about her memories from when she was young.
My grandparents spent a lot of the time during the first few years telling stories. A lot of the stories they told were about my grandparents’ life in Spain: how they lived in the fields, got lost in the forests when they went hunting…They were the most popular stories when my mother was born. They also told stories about death and war, and how they worked instead of going to school.

Now the memories that my mother has from Spain are the ones when she and her friends would play games such as “elastics” and “hide and seek”.

Visiting Spain

The best thing about having a mother who was born in Spain is that every time we go on a holiday, we always go to the town where she used to live and most of her family still lives.
Every time I go to my mother’s birth town, Algeciras, I fall in love with it, its people and lifestyle. By going there I have had the opportunity to experience what my mother told me about Spain.