Celebrating 50 years of Turkish migration

Gazing at the black and white photograph from her parents’ wedding day in 1966, Hale Adasal says, ‘My mother Şükran looks very young and beautiful in her 1960s gown. My father Halit is sporting a handsome moustache and looks every bit like a Turkish gentleman. My grandmother Sultan looks so sad at the edge of the photo, as my mother leans forward to sign the papers. From that point on, her daughter would be looked after by another family.’

Dudus Şükran Salman was born in 1950 and grew up in Küçük Çamizağli Köy (meaning ‘small water buffalo village’), in the agricultural province of Adana in southern Anatolia. She went by her middle name of Şükran, which means ‘gratitude’ in Arabic, as she regarded her first name as old-fashioned. Şükran’s father Hüseyin Salman was the Ağha (landlord) of Küçük Çamizağli Köy and was born in Salonica, the same city in which the founder of the Republic of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal (later Atatürk, meaning ‘Father of the Turks’), was born. When Hüseyin died of complications from pneumonia in 1962, his widow Sultan Salman was left to raise 12-year-old Şükran and her four younger siblings on her own.

At the time, it was mandatory for Turkish children to attend primary school, but not high school. Şükran, however, was fortunate to receive a secondary education thanks to the support of her grandmother, Gülfiyet Yildirim. Gülfiyet had survived the devastation of the First World War, which would bring an end to 600 years of Ottoman rule. She appreciated the value of a woman’s education, having not been able to provide the opportunity to her own daughters. Consequently Şükran became the first girl from her village to attend high school, some 90 kilometres away in the rural town of Çeyhan, where she met Halit Adasal.

Halit was the younger of two sons, born in Adana in 1945 to Hüseyin Adasal and his wife, Emine. Halit’s grandfather Mehmet Atlas, a soldier in the Turkish Army during World War I, was killed at Gallipoli in 1915. When his father died of asthma in 1963, Halit took over the running of the family’s repair shop in Çeyhan, while his brother Nahit completed his compulsory military service. 

Halit often noticed Şükran passing by his shop on her way to meet friends after school, and eventually he caught her eye. Over the next few months, Halit and Şükran conducted their courtship through letter writing, using Halit’s shop assistant Ahmet as their middleman. In 1966, when Halit received his conscription notice, the young couple married at the Adana local government office with the consent of their mothers.

Şükran and Halit Adasal signing their marriage documents, with Şükran’s mother Sultan Salman at far right, Adana, Turkey, 1966. Reproduced courtesy Hale Adasal.
Şükran and Halit Adasal signing their marriage documents, with Şükran’s mother Sultan Salman at far right, Adana, Turkey, 1966. Reproduced courtesy Hale Adasal.

In 1968 Halit came across an advertisement in the Çeyhan Weekly that read, ‘Australia would like to offer second citizenship to Young Turks.’ In October 1967, the Australian and Turkish governments had signed a bilateral agreement to provide assisted passage to Turkish migrants, to help build Australia’s population and expand the workforce. Migrants were required to work in Australia for a minimum of two years in return for assistance with their travel and initial accommodation. The Turkish government, meanwhile, encouraged emigration to resolve issues of overcrowding and unemployment. The Australia-Turkey Migration Agreement – Australia’s inaugural agreement with a nation beyond Western Europe – enabled the first major Muslim community to settle in the country, and thus represented a significant step in the gradual dismantling of the White Australia policy. 

Having now concluded his military service, Halit saw few opportunities remaining for him in Turkey. His older brother Nahit had taken over the family business and transformed it into a retail outlet selling Adasal logo sporting goods. Migration to Australia would provide Halit with a chance to assume ownership of his destiny, while Şükran, who had never left Adana, considered it as the adventure of a lifetime. Like many who travelled under the scheme, the intention was to work hard in Australia and save enough money to return to Turkey in two years’ time to start a business and buy a house. 

Halit and Şükran submitted their application and within three months they were on their way to Australia, with just one suitcase and US$20 between them. Their journey began in early 1969 with a winding bus ride through the mountainous Anatolian countryside to the Turkish capital, Ankara. Şükran wore her favourite black and white striped dress, while Halit donned a stylish brown suit. In Ankara they boarded a Qantas plane bound for Melbourne, Şükran’s eyes still swollen from the tears she had shed on the bus from Adana.

The Qantas flight carried hundreds of hopeful young Turkish couples and families who were overwhelmed with both fear and excitement. Halit barely ate any food on board, his nerves filling his stomach with knots. Şükran, on the other hand, enjoyed the breakfast of sausage, poached eggs and a hash brown, and was amused by the small portions of food separated into compartments.

Halit and Şükran landed in Melbourne 24 hours later, welcomed by the scorching dry heat of an Australian summer, and were transported to the Broadmeadows immigration centre in the city’s north. After six weeks, the couple moved into a rental property in the inner suburb of Collingwood. Halit found employment in the nearby Carlton & United Breweries, while Şükran worked from home, caring for neighbourhood children as well as her own two daughters, Hale (born 1970) and Funda (born 1971). In the early 1970s, when Hale and Funda were toddlers, Halit and Şükran made a return visit to Turkey, but determined that they could no longer live in their homeland. They decided to relocate the family from Melbourne to Sydney to make a fresh start. 

In Sydney both Şükran and Halit worked at the Hoover factory in Meadowbank. Şükran took the day shift and Halit the night, so that one parent would always be at home with the children. In the early 1990s the Adasal family opened the first Turkish function centre in Australia, the Bosphorus Function Centre, in the western Sydney suburb of Auburn. Named after the waterway and bridge that connects Europe and Asia, Bosphorus fittingly catered for all types of events and weddings, from Turkish to Asian and European. Following more than a decade managing Bosphorus, Halit and Şükran moved on to operate a number of smaller Turkish restaurants in Auburn and then the Central Coast region of New South Wales, where they are now enjoying their retirement. 

The Australia–Turkey Migration Agreement enabled the first major Muslim community to settle in the country.

Throughout their success with the Bosphorus Function Centre, Halit and Şükran provided generous support to local Turkish community groups and Australian charities. They taught their daughters to integrate into Australian culture, while also keeping in touch with their Turkish heritage through language, folk dancing and traditional music. Hale believes that she and her sister Funda experienced the best of both worlds, and credits the example set by her parents as her inspiration to volunteer with non-governmental organisations such as Amnesty International. Hale has completed studies in anthropology and sociology at Sydney’s Macquarie University, while Funda studied fine arts at the Australian National University in Canberra and now has one daughter, Yasemin. 

The Adasal family with staff at their Bosphorus Function Centre in Auburn, 1990s. Şükran, Halit and Hale are at far left, with Funda in the centre. Reproduced courtesy Hale Adasal.
The Adasal family with staff at their Bosphorus Function Centre in Auburn, 1990s. Şükran, Halit and Hale are at far left, with Funda in the centre. Reproduced courtesy Hale Adasal.

Like many second-generation migrants, Hale and Funda grappled with questions of identity and their sense of belonging to two cultures. In 2012 Hale published her first book, Gavur: a journey to belong, which recorded the stories of her parents, great-grandparents and ancient Turkic ancestors’ journeys from the Altai Mountains of southern Siberia to modern-day Turkey. 

In 1989 Hale and Funda made their first trip to their motherland with their parents, to meet with their large extended family. Hale was 19 years old – the same age as her mother Şükran when she migrated to Australia in 1969. Hale remembers visiting Anzac Cove on the Gallipoli peninsula on a bitterly cold day, and the conflicting emotions she felt for the young lives lost on both the Australian and Turkish sides. She was deeply moved by the memorial dedicated to all the foreign soldiers who died at Gallipoli, inscribed with the famous words attributed to Atatürk in 1934: 

Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives ... You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours ... You, the mothers, who sent their sons from far away countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.

Teenaged sisters Hale (left) and Funda Adasal visit Anzac Cove, Gallipoli, Turkey, 1989. Reproduced courtesy Hale Adasal.
Teenaged sisters Hale (left) and Funda Adasal visit Anzac Cove, Gallipoli, Turkey, 1989. Reproduced courtesy Hale Adasal.

Hale recalls how ‘the plaque meant more to me because I was an Australian-Turk,’ and she reflects on the mutual spirit of friendship and peace that also allows her great-grandfather, Mehmet Atlas, to be remembered on Anzac Day in the so-called enemy’s country that she and her family now call home. On behalf of her family, Hale registered Halit and Şükran Adasal on the Welcome Wall to honour ‘my parents who left all that they knew for a better life with hope and courage. Their migration planted the seeds of their family roots in Australia for future generations of our family. Australia really has been the lucky country for us.’

Şükran and Halit Adasal with their newborn granddaughter Yasemin, 2000. Reproduced courtesy Hale Adasal.
Şükran and Halit Adasal with their newborn granddaughter Yasemin, 2000. Reproduced courtesy Hale Adasal.

 

This article originally appeared in Signals Magazine (Issue #120).

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Kim Tao

Kim is the curator of post-Federation immigration at the Australian National Maritime Museum.

Posted in: Welcome Wall , Migration