Blowflies and vast plains

In the lead up to Harmony Day, Megan Turnbull shares her grandmother's story of being the first Asian family in Mangalo.

In November 1970, Hedwges ‘Vicki’ Garcia and two of her eight children, moved from Malacca, Malaysia, a bustling city by the coast, to Mangalo, a quiet rural farming community, and in 2011, her granddaughter Megan Garcia, now Turnbull, returned to the district her nanna called home.

Vicki Garcia was a young girl when Japan invaded Malaysia, and Mrs Turnbull said she had to live in tough conditions during the war.

“Nanna used to get dressed and disguise herself as a boy to avoid being ‘taken’ by Japanese soldiers, as she was a pretty little girl.

“During the war, she lived in tough conditions, everyone lived in one tiny house, and that includes friends.”

Her nanna went onto marry and have eight children in Malaysia but her husband passed away from tuberculosis, leaving her to look after the children on her own, until five years later she met David Burton while he was in the National Service.

With nine-year-old Benardo, Mrs Turnbull’s father, and seven-year old-Patsy, Mrs Burton flew out of Singapore and into Adelaide after her new husband returned to Australia and completed the paperwork.

Mrs Turnbull said the move was a big change for her family.

“It was scary for Nanna, Dad and Aunty Patsy, and the first thing they noticed was the blow flies.

“They had lived in a crowed city in Malaysia, so coming out here, the vastness really struck them.

“In Malacca, Nanna would see people every day but living on a farm 47 kilometres out of town, she got very homesick and lonely.”

Mrs Burton had to leave her six older children in Malaysia because she was unable to provide for them financially.

“Nanna worked on the farm to make money and she also would cook takeaways, like noodles, and sell them.”

The culture in Australia was also very different to what the Garcia family was used to in Malaysia, which created some difficulty when adjusting.

“They were the first non-Australian family living out here, where they had no family support.

“Dad would tell me that some people would look down on them because weren’t Australian and the Asian lifestyle was every different to Western culture.

“However, Nanna taught people how to eat noodles, chilli sauce and spiced Malaysian curries and she is often credited with introducing the Asian culture and food into Mangalo and Cowell.”

Mrs Burton had a daughter, Jo, after migrating to Mangalo, where she learnt to live on the farm and adjusted to Australian life.

While Benardo and Patsy no longer live in the area, Patsy regularly holidays at Lucky Bay, and her daughter, Ashley, moved back to Cowell earlier this year.