In 2001, Mona Hussain (born 1969) left her family, friends and a successful career in London to begin a new life in Australia with her American-born husband Mark (Dexter) Duncan. Born in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, Mona moved to England at a young age after her father Kabir, an accountant in the Pakistan Army, was transferred for work.
Kabir Hussain was ahead of his time and went out of his way to ensure that Mona had equal rights to her older brother, including access to education. He instilled in his two children the ethos that ‘hard work is like a prayer’, doing his share of household chores and encouraging his daughter to pursue further study. Mona went on to complete a Bachelor degree in law (with honours) and a Masters degree in European law. She worked as a solicitor in London and became head of the immigration department for a high street firm of solicitors located in the city’s west.
Mona with her father at her Bachelors graduation. Reproduced courtesy Mona Hussain
In early 2000, Mona got to know Texan electrical engineering graduate Dexter Duncan, who worked as a marketing executive for the Canadian telecommunications company Nortel. At the time, Dexter was based in Australia, but he had previously lived in Singapore, where he had converted to Islam. Dexter and Mona corresponded for some time before finally meeting in person when Dexter was on holiday in the United Kingdom.
Despite their different backgrounds and locations, both Mona and Dexter felt the attraction and turned to their Muslim faith to help decide their future. They each performed Istikhara (an Islamic prayer of seeking guidance) and received signs that confirmed they were meant to be together. The couple married in England in early 2001 and by the time Mona arrived in Sydney in April, she was expecting her first child.
Dexter, Mona and six-week-old Aisha in their first home in Pyrmont, Sydney, 2002. Reproduced courtesy Mona Hussain
Mona’s first impressions of Australia were the colours of the sky and the abundance of nature. She quickly grew to love the Australian bush and beach culture, noting Australia has the best nature, flora and fauna. While homesick for her family and friends in England, Mona was grateful to remain connected to her faith through attending the Surry Hills Mosque near her home in Sydney. She settled in quickly after making friends in the community.
Mona gave birth to her first child, a daughter named Aisha, at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, followed by four sons. Aisha, who Mona describes as ‘the brains of the family’, is now studying social work at the University of New South Wales. Together Aisha and Mona volunteer to help the disabled, feed the homeless and assemble food packages for distribution to elderly members of the community. Mona has also volunteered for Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Royal Randwick Hospital and the Salvation Army, and taught English as a second language at Auburn Community Centre in western Sydney.
Mona Hussain with her mother and her newborn daughter Aisha in Sydney, 2002. Reproduced courtesy Mona Hussain
Mona acknowledges that one of the challenges she has faced in Australia is that people can sometimes judge a book by its cover. For instance, she has been asked if she can speak English and has to bite her tongue, given that she grew up in England and has a postgraduate degree. People also assume that because she wears a hijab (which she chose to wear from her mid-20s), she is of Middle Eastern origin rather than Pakistani. However Mona says the biggest challenge is the assumption that she is oppressed – an assumption that is far removed from the reality of her life with husband Dexter, who has always supported and encouraged her and daughter Aisha.
While Mona only expected to stay here for a few years, two decades and five children later, she feels blessed and proud to call Australia home. She reflects, ‘My parents led by example throughout their lives, working hard to look after the family. They were my example, so in a way they also migrated to the UK and left a good life back in Pakistan and I too have come here for a better life for the children mainly. Most migrants make these sacrifices – a bit like passing the baton on to future generations’.
Mona and Dexter registered their names on the Welcome Wall ‘to show future generations we’re Australian now’.
Header image: Mona Hussain with her daughter Aisha Duncan, 2020. Photography by Andrew Frolows