3 May 2024

Unexpected lives celebrate Canberra's migrant women

| Sally Hopman
Start the conversation
Eight migrant women

Women featured in Vesna Cvjetićanin’s new book, (back) Oon-Ying Chin, Edith Fuenzalida Palacios, Akka Ballenger Constantin, Anca Costin, (front) Slobodanka Bobby Graham, Violeta Andrić, Vesna Cvjetićanin and Romaine Rutnam. Other contributors to the book were: Elizabeta Ziakas, Delcy Lagones De Anglim, Lydia Mensah and Sara Khalidi. Photo: Supplied.

Vesna Cvjetićanin came to Canberra with her family in 1990 to visit her grandmother. The plan was to stay in Australia “until times got better” in her native Serbia where, just months after they left, war broke out.

More than 30 years later, she’s still here – albeit with a few trips back and forth. “But we love it here so we stayed,” Vesna said, describing it as “a gentle push by destiny”.

She knew a little about Australia when she first came. Her grandmother, who moved here in 1972, returned to Serbia to see her family, taking little gifts such as toy koalas or drawings of eucalyptus trees.

“It did raise my interest and curiosity in Australia,” Vesna said, “but I never thought I would leave my country.”

But war has a way of changing plans – and lives.

Today, Vesna is celebrating the publication of her book, An Unexpected Life: Celebrating the stories of 12 of Canberra’s Migrant Women. The stories tell of women, including Vesna, who came here from somewhere else – Peru, Chile, Ghana, South Africa, the Balkans, Bosnia, Serbia, Macedonia, Romania, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Malaysia. It is an anthology chronicling the extraordinary journeys of these Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) women in Canberra.

READ ALSO Canberra women work to help war-torn Gaza family settle safely here

“I am one of these 12 women,” she said, “women who are friends of mine, women who have all come here from somewhere else. I wanted to tell the stories of how they came here. They are women who mean something to me and me to them.

“I started with my story and how I got here, and then I interviewed all of them.

“I wanted to show how difficult it is when you first come here, regardless of your circumstances. How you need a level of strength and determination, physical and emotional.

“Most of us were young mothers when we came here. I wanted to tell the stories of what it was like on the personal and professional side, about the challenges they faced, like having an accent and potentially being devalued because of that need to work harder to drive yourself – to achieve the same as everyone else.”

Vesna Cvjetićanin with a copy of her new book

Vesna Cvjetićanin with a copy of her new book which celebrates the lives of Canberra’s migrant women. Photo: Supplied.

All the women ended up in Canberra and most of them still live here today. They gathered recently for the launch of the book at Gorman House.

“We were all different,” Vesna said. “All the stories are different, they’re about life before Australia and about life here in Australia when you’re trying to establish yourself.

“I had to do law for the second time when we came to Australia … who does that?”

The other women include a vet, who can’t work in her profession because her qualifications aren’t recognised in Australia and an economist who works in a bank branch.

Vesna said they were all successful women in their own way, “women who haven’t stayed in their corners and cried. We fought for our rights.”

An Unexpected Life: Celebrating the stories of 12 of Canberra’s Migrant Women is published by Samantha Jansen Publishing.

Start the conversation

Daily Digest

Want the best Canberra news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riotact stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.