“We have this saying. If you ask, ‘Do you know that guy?’ and someone says, ‘Yes’, then ask, ‘Did you try him?’, and if they say ‘No’, then say, ‘You don’t know him’. This is a way of saying you cannot judge people for their look or through their religion or through their background. You judge people by who they are, for how they treat you.”
An audio clip from this interview with Wally Ibrahim:
So, what is a typical day like for you?
A typical day: I wake up in the morning, have my cup of coffee and get myself ready to go to work, start my day at work here [WI Building Services] and finish it exhausted, and then head back home to my wife and the kids, where I am with them, entertain them and live with them for the next four or five hours of my life, and then I go to sleep. So, this has been my day basically every day for the last three years of my life.
So, have you always lived in Australia?
Not fully. I arrived in Australia in 1996 and since 1996 I’ve lived in Australia at least 21 years.
Where did you live before that?
I lived in Jordan, in Amman, and then before that I was living in Kuwait. I had been living in Kuwait 25 years.
So, were you born in Kuwait?
No, I was born in Palestine and then we moved to Kuwait
How old were you when you moved to Kuwait?
I was two years old and because of the 1967 Arab Israeli war, I moved, with my parents of course. They moved to Kuwait and then I stayed there until the other war, the Gulf War between Iraq and Kuwait, and then we had to move to Jordan. And I stayed there from 1991 until 95. Then I moved to Australia.
Do you have any memories of Palestine?
Not really, not really. I was just two years old.
So, what about Kuwait? What was life like in Kuwait?
Yeah, I have many memories for Kuwait: beautiful memories, the teenager stage and life there. Everything was beautiful there. I call Kuwait my first country because although I was born in Palestine I lived in Kuwait. Kuwait is the place I have lived longest and where I had the most beautiful time. I was there until I was 25 years of age and then unfortunately we had to leave Kuwait. So, I feel like Kuwait was my first country, not Palestine or Jordan, and then with that war, life changed.
What was life like in Jordan, Amman?
Amman life was good. It wasn’t that bad in Amman, but we were there during a war time and we had lost everything from our business in Kuwait and we had to start from zero. That was hard for us, growing again. We had a comfortable business in Kuwait, so when we moved to Jordan we had almost nothing and then we had to start again from nothing. So, that’s one of the reasons where I didn’t see a future for myself in Jordan and that’s why I decided to come to Australia.
I was going to ask what brought you to Australia?
Well, my sister was living here, and one of the reasons was that she was lonely. She asked and I applied to come to Australia. I came here and met my ex when I first visited Australia, and we were married and I moved to Australia in 1996.
You’ve been here a while. How is life here?
Yes, well I love it. I went to America in 2004 to visit my brother and when he asked me, “Where would you would prefer to live, Australia or America?”, I said, “I love Australia, I love Melbourne, and it feels like it is my home now”. I love Australia and the life in Australia and even when I go on holiday back home to Jordan, to see my family, I just go for four or five weeks, and I never feel like I’ve missed Jordan a lot or would go back to live there. I love Australia and especially Melbourne. For me it’s my country now. My home.
What do you love about it?
Well look, I think it’s the people, the lifestyle and everything is more organized. How do I express this? Everyone respects the rules here. In general, people don’t deliberately offend others. That is why I chose to live in Australia and felt like this was where I could grow if I had a family. It is a safe and good place; I think Australia is the most safe place on the earth. And that’s one of the things that makes me love Australia, and especially Melbourne. I went to Perth and I went to Sydney but I still I loved Melbourne more. I love it the most.
Something about Melbourne?
Look it’s as I said. When I first lived in Australia I saw that people were so simple and easy to communicate with. I didn’t feel like I was in other country. They made me feel like I was at home. And regardless of who they were, what sort of background, who they were, what they were, what ethnic background they were, or what religion, I never felt, “Oh I am here and not in my country”. So, this is how I feel about Australia and especially Melbourne; I feel like I’m so happy. It is so safe here and there is a lot of nature. I love it. The lifestyle is so good. I think the older we get the more we need our roots somewhere and mine are in this city. And now if they gave me a choice of living in Sydney or Brisbane, for example, I would say no. I love Melbourne. These are the things that keep me here, the people and how I feel here. I feel like I’m back home when I’m here in Melbourne.
How is life different here than how it was back home? And do you mean Kuwait? What do you mean when you say back home?
Back in Jordan, Jordan, yes. Because we thought Kuwait was going to be our country but when the war happened there was a form of indirect pressure on all Palestinians to leave Kuwait. One of the reasons we left Kuwait was that we didn’t feel safe. Iraq were occupying Kuwait and then all the other international forces arrived. And there were a lot of promises made of revenge against Palestinians because our leader stood by the Iraq leader. That’s why we weren’t sure if it was safe for us. We were a big family, having three sisters, and we three boys, and my parents, and we weren’t sure if it was the right place to stay after the war was finished. That’s why we decided to leave and move to Jordan.
How is life different here in Australia from back in Jordan?
Totally. 180 degrees. Everything’s different. First of all, there is no such freedom of what you want to say. You cannot say anything over there. It’s politically like all other Middle Eastern countries. You cannot say what you want to say. In addition to those political issues, life is expensive. It’s a simple life. You know people don’t have a social security system, like the one in Australia if you are getting old. They have no such benefits from the government there. Because the Jordan government is poor and they don’t have much to support their own people. They relying help from outside, from other countries. There’s more entertainment there. But you have to be rich or to know powerful people. As they say, a lot of things go on under the table there and you have to know people to get ahead. Here in Australia, in Melbourne, there’s nothing like that. When you’re going to VicRoad, for example, it doesn’t matter how rich you are or how poor, you still have to go and take a number. Over there, even if you know a little guy at VicRoad, for example, you don’t have to do anything. You will be seated in the boss’s office, and they will do everything for you. There is no fair organization in government departments over there. This is one of things I really didn’t like about living there. When I came to Australia this is one of the reasons I said, “Oh everything is different”, and I said, “Wow, you know, this is the place I would love to be”. I mean maybe in the future they will be the same but for me Australia was one of the most beautiful places I had seen. And I’d like to be here until the last day of my life. I don’t know when that will be but I really love it here.
Tell me, if someone who didn’t know you saw you in a street what would they be surprised to know about you?
Maybe who I am, because I’m someone who doesn’t treat people differently based on who you are or how much you have or how much you have in your bank account or something. I’m a simple guy, helping everyone, supporting everyone if I can. And if someone needs help I always want help. It doesn’t matter what background they are. Even when I wasn’t working I was always helping every person I could help or doing anything in my power to help.
This is something they wouldn’t guess about you?
No, no. We have this saying. If you ask, “Do you know that guy?” and someone says, “Yes”, then ask, “Did you try him?”, and if they say “No”, then say, “You don’t know him”. This is a way of saying you cannot judge people for their look or through their religion or through their background. You judge people by who they are, for the way they treat you. Since we were kids I’ve followed this principle: if someone respects you, respect him and if someone does not respect you, do not respect him. And we should respect everyone regardless how old, or how young, because we like to be treated in the same way. Our parents taught us that if you want to be treated with respect you need to always respect others. I do this regardless of where I am, or who they are. I like to respect people and this is how I want others to treat people, with respect, regardless of what they are or who they are. Respect them. It doesn’t matter if they are poor or rich or they are black or white, or whoever they.
Tell me, is there anything else that you would like the readers of this site to know about you?
I love Australia. I will always be loyal to this country, regardless of where I am. I love Australia, so even when I was overseas on holiday I was always following Australian news to find out what was going on and what was happening. This is a part of me. I would like people to know never judge people because of their look or because of their background or because of their religion or something like that. These things shouldn’t be knots or between people or a wall. When we were growing up overseas we never considered what ethnic background or religion people were, such as Sunni, Shia, Catholic, Orthodox. We never thought about this. We were friends. It didn’t matter. My friend is Christian. The same with other religions, people from India and people with no religion: we never thought he has no religion, we cannot trust him. No, we were always the same. And that’s why then I came to Australia, I didn’t make a difference between Muslim and Christian, because our parents raised us and taught us this way. Even our religion tells there are no differences between humans, including between Muslims and Christians. I always keep this in mind, that Muslims and Christians are the same, and I never take sides because he is Muslim or he is Christian. I always try to be fair and judge things as much as I can, in my own way, regardless of what they are or who they are. I like being this way and I would like others to be this way. That is my attitude and when my kids grow up I will teach them the same — my values: respect people, love people, don’t let their religion or ethnic background determine if you like them or you don’t. Be guided by the person they are and how they are and not by their background. That’s what I would like people to know about me.
Thank you very much.
This interview is part of the This Is Us Australia project. If you are interested in taking part, and would like to find out what is involved, please use our CONTACT page or email us at thisisusaustralia at gmail.com.