The following story is contributed by George Said, who has been living in Altona since 1962. I met him at the Altona Homestead when he was presenting his personal video of Altona in the 60s. I hope he will continue to share with us his stories which I believe are both entertaining and inspirational for they offer an insight of what Altona and Melbourne were like in the older days.
My name is George Said. I was born in Egypt to Greek parents and have a Maltese surname through my father’s ancestors. When I was young, my parents spoke to me in Greek. As I lived in Egypt, I learnt to speak Arabic. I went to an English school and also learnt French because it was the commercial/international language at that time. When I completed my studies at the English school, I wanted to study engineering. The only engineering college available was in Italian and that is how I learnt my fifth language.
I was 29 years old when I arrived in Altona in 1962 and have been here ever since. At one stage of my life, I worked for the Footscray Council as a Community Development Officer and was very involved in establishing the Footscray Migrant Resource Centre (MRC). When I moved on to another job, I remained involved and became President for a few years.
Although there are hundreds of stories to tell about my experiences with the MRC, there is one which stuck in my mind. I received a call from the Royal Park Psychiatric Hospital and I was asked to visit a psychiatric patient. He had been picked up from a gutter somewhere in the city and kept overnight in jail for being drunk and disorderly. When he did not sober up in the morning and was uncooperative, the police took him to Royal Park as being “out of control”. The man had in fact had a few drinks, suffered a heart attack and collapsed in the street and did not speak English.
Someone heard about my ability to speak languages and thought that I would be able to talk to this man who perhaps did not understand English. My visit was brief as I tried all my languages and had no success whatsoever. I could have given up but instead I tried something else. I went home, got an atlas of the world and went back for a second visit. The poor man on seeing the atlas immediately pointed his finger to Bulgaria and was making excited noises.
Photo by Nabi Yücel
It did not take me long to track down a Bulgarian lady who also happened to be a qualified social worker. She was pleased to assist and I took her to see this man. Needless to say, there were tears flowing when she spoke to him in Bulgarian.
I moved on knowing that I had done my part and that he was going to be looked after; he was in good hands.