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roaring nineties

Azra Hodgkinson

Azra Hodgkinson is a 91-year-old Pakistani woman from Lahore. She reflects on the many changes in her life, many of which were out of her hands. Azra is a charitable woman and continues to live surrounded by loving family.

Roaring Nineties is a series of stories from our elders collected throughout 2018. This collection of stories features the memories of yesteryear; accounts of war, racism, technological triumph, assimilation, and social change. These storytellers have lived long lives, and plan to live many more. Experience makes us wise and we should take time to listen.

Azra Hodgkinson is a 91-year-old Pakistani woman from Lahore. She reflects on the many changes in her life, many of which were out of her hands. Azra is a charitable woman and continues to live surrounded by loving family.

A young Azra

Image courtesy of Tammy Bux

Copyright © 2018 Azra Hodgkinson

This story and corresponding images have been licensed to the Centre for Stories by the Storyteller. For reproduction and distribution of this story/image please contact the Centre for Stories.

This story was collected in October 2018. Images courtesy of Tammy Bux.

View Story Transcript

My name is Azra, I’m 91 years old. I was born in Lahore Pakistan. I was educated in Pakistan and there was a lot of trouble between India and Pakistan, so I went with the people to help. We used to see lots of people cut up—it was terrible to see them—I tried to help them.

Even in those days, her family supported the education of women.

The main thing was that we were quite good going to school and going to the college. Although it wasn’t bad for us, it was quite hard for lots of other people. But we were lucky that we had a bit of status, or whatever, so it was good. My life was very good. I went to the school and I went to college in Pakistan.

I had a Bachelor of Arts when I got married. Until you get married you are just studying! The marriage was arranged. I didn’t know my husband beforehand. But that’s how it was.

When I was married? It was a little bit strange, you know? Not knowing the person. But you learned to expect that. But it was okay, I suppose—a bit hard. You’ve been brought up in this way, so I didn’t find it strange. I suppose that was expected. You get used to it.

Azra shared her memories of moving from Pakistan to Perth.

I came from Lahore to Perth, I think it was. That took a long time because we had to stop somewhere in another country, and then from there, we took another plane and got to Perth. So it was quite a long journey. It was hard for me coming from Lahore to a place like Perth. But you get used to it.

I didn’t know anything [about Australia] to tell you the truth. Whatever they said, I went along with that. I could speak English but not so fluently, because we never spoke English in our [house] we just spoke Panjabi or Urdu. Once or twice I made some mistakes in speaking English and one of the boys who was working for my husband was laughing like anything.

Although Azra was provided care from her Uncle and his family, this didn’t stop her from making friends with an Australian couple.

The thing is, my uncle was here and when I came and so I stayed with him. And then there was another couple of Muslim families. So just mixing with them or them coming to help me—it was alright. It was hard [to move to Australia] but I had to accept that. But my uncle was very good. He actually used to do the cooking because I didn’t know how in the beginning. The people were very good. Especially one family, they were really nice with me. I used to call the mother—mum and dad. My husband used to drop me there. They were Aussies. They were very good people. We didn’t have any Pakistani family at that time here. I can’t remember that. But those, I used to call mummy and daddy because they were so good to me. I got along with them well. They had a daughter called Lulu, but she had arthritis, or whatever, and her hand was in a certain way—but she was so talented with her hands like that. She used to do such nice work. It was nice to see her doing that. She was very sweet. So I enjoyed their company and I felt good with them.

Azra shared her experiences with adapting to the Australian way of life.

In Australia my grandfather and my family—some of my family came to Australia. They just asked me about the person I was going to marry. I said, “Well I don’t know anything. If you think he is alright, then he must be alright.” So that was it. He [husband] was in the drapery business. He had about four or five people who used to take things around and sell them. They were on the time-payment. I didn’t do anything there, just went and had a look around at all of the clothes. Sometimes I used to get one or two nice clothes. My husband eventually said that we all should wear [western] dress, so it was a bit hard to wear a dress when you are used to salwar kameez. But you get used to it. It was a bit hard, sort of. He has his ideas and I had my ideas. Sometimes we had a little bit of, not agreeing with each other. He said that it’s better to be like everybody else instead of wearing my clothes. So it wasn’t sticking out. That’s what he wanted me to do, so I had to do it. It was a bit hard because I had never showed my legs and then I had to.

I didn’t experience any ‘White Australia’ [racism], people just welcomed me. I never had that.

Being in Australia, I had to do everything myself. When Seth was born, I had to put him on the kitchen table with the mattress and do the cooking—so it was very hard to manage that. But then you get used to all these things. But Seth, when he was a little baby, once he did drop on the floor—but then he was alright!

When my husband passed away that was very sad. He had this heart trouble and he couldn’t lay down. So, I had to put a chair behind him so he could just sit up. I used to sit with him. But when I— I must have dozed off or something because when I woke up, he had already gone. And that was terrible. He was a few years older than me, about 10 or 12 years older.

I stayed in this house and then the brother-in-law came—his brother. I didn’t like him at all. He was not very nice to my children. He just came because his brother passed off. I think he came because he probably wanted to marry me or something—I wouldn’t want to do that. I didn’t want to marry him. Then my father came to me and gave me about £3000 at the time. So I got my own place with my two children and we were quite happy in this time.

In Pakistan, Azra helped many victims of the Indian Pakistan Partition.

I was [helping] yes. They had a lot of people living in one place so I used to go down and try and do whatever I could. Then we gave them some blankets and things. Whatever was needed. Very difficult, it was. Because the people coming from the other side they were all, you know, cut—their heads, their body.

They used to have sometimes these little worms and we had to pull them out with the tweezers. It was a very hard time. Yes it was very hard for people to go from one state to another. They had a lot of problems. People were getting killed and slaughtered, you know? It was a terrible time, that time. Muslims were coming here and the other religion, the Hindus, were going back there. It was very hard for those people because they were leaving everything—their homes and everything. Just coming with themselves and few clothes on.

Azra’s charitable work continued in Australia. 

I always wanted to help others. I didn’t mind doing that. One was Dar Al Shifa wasn’t it? Dar Al Shifa means Place of Healing. We used to go help ladies. We used to distribute some blankets. Yes, to Muslim women, to help them. But anyone who needed help. So, we used to go and take some blanket and things and just give it to them.

Yeah, Meals on Wheels I did that too. I used to deliver it. I did a few things like that. I actually quite like it. It’s nice to help others and that helps yourself too.

We asked Azra if she noticed changes in Pakistan when she returned many years later.

Yes. I think it did, because for the families like us, it was alright. But it was very hard for people who couldn’t afford things. It became very hard. I think everything has changed for the best. We are more independent. We can do what we like, and my family, they are all so loving. So, I don’t feel anything which is bothering me. Everything is good for me. I love it. I love my family and it’s good to have them. Children are very independent now. They do what they want to do. I suppose that’s okay. It’s not the same when we were young. But, I think it has to change as well.

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