Lunar New Year celebrations are in full swing, but for many of our early Asian migrants, there wasn’t time or opportunity to celebrate when they first arrived.
It was the cold weather that struck Cheong Loong the most when he arrived in Perth in the middle of June 1964.
And the loneliness.
The 36-year-old Chinese-Malay left behind a wife and six children in Kualu Lumpur to make the family’s fortune in the west of a foreign land. It would be about 12 years before his youngest son joined the rest of the family.
Cheong Loong said his early years in Australia were tough, and celebrating Lunar New Year was far from his mind.
“When I first arrived, the most valuable thing was letters from home,” the 86-year-old told SBS. “I would be very happy when I received letters from home.
“I couldn’t call home because telephone calls were very expensive - two pounds a minute. Telephone calls were so expensive that I needed to work two or three days before I could make a call for a minute. I only made two phone calls over a period of seven years. I made a phone call when my daughter was born.”
Mr Loong worked in one of a handful of Chinese restaurants in Perth.
At that time there were relatively few Asian people in Perth, so many locals assumed he must have been one of the owners of the restaurant and treated him like he was a small business owner.
In reality he was working in the kitchen.
“You needed to work hard,” he said. “You also needed to handle personal relationship. Back then, I could speak three languages at work - Polish, Italian and English. Now I forgot all these.
“We were allocated different kinds of work: many involved food preparation like cutting vegetables. Unlike the westerners, there were many Polish, Italians working together. We all spoke English, but now after so many years, I forgot.”
It would be years before Mr Loong would be reunited with his wife and children, many of whom lived with their maternal grandmother in Malaysia.
Michael Loong was only a few months old when his father left them to seek the family’s fortune.
“Now that I’m 50, I realise what he sacrificed for us,” he said. “We didn’t realise. We just thought he was there working and sending money home to us.”
But Mr Loong was also working to re-unite the family. He could only afford one plane ticket a year, but eventually, one by one, he brought his family to Australia.
By 1971, the Loongs started their own Chinese restaurant with the help of a local business partner.
Mr Loong says Perth’s appetite began to broaden, but it helped that his restaurant was up the road from the University of Western Australia.
“They accepted Chinese food,” he said. “We sold Malaysia food. It was a bit different. Malaysia food was more popular, like chicken rice. Our chicken rice was very famous. Many university students came to eat at my place.
“If not for the university students, I wouldn’t be so famous. The students also introduced people to come here.”
Mr Loong stayed in the restaurant business until 1991.
Now, after so much hard work, with little time for anything else, Cheong Loong and his wife Nyet Hin are reaping the rewards of their sacrifice.
Lunar New Year is well and truly celebrated with a big family that even includes a great grandchild.
The tables that the big family gathers around groan with the weight of Chinese and Malaysian dishes. The laughter and conversations are loud.
In the middle, a husband and wife sit content that a decision made about 50 years ago has well and truly been worth it.