First Day: The Turkish migrant devoted to feeding late-night revellers and loyal customers

0:00

Fatima Bozoglu has been serving kebabs to hungry masses in Sydney for decades. But the chaos and adrenaline of fast-food restaurants is a long way from the Turkish village she grew up in.

When Fatima Bozoglu arrived in Sydney with her mother and sister in 1977, she hadn't seen her father for more than two years.

He had moved to Australia in 1974 and Ms Bozoglu, then 14, couldn’t wait to be reunited.

"I ran upstairs and I knocked on the door," she recalls. "My father was very skinny in Turkey and then I knocked on the door and a big fat man came out with a singlet."

"I hugged him all over - he was my dad."

But the move was harder for Ms Bozoglu’s mother, who locked herself in the car until relatives could convince her to come up to the house.

"She put her scarf on her face and she said, 'I'm not going to stay here. I'm going, I'm going,' Ms Bozoglu recalls. "And I was so scared that she was really going to go because I didn't want to go back to the village."

The next morning however Ms Bozoglu woke up to find her mother in the kitchen.

"She looked happier," she recalls.

"I said, 'Are we going?' And she said, 'No, no, no, we are going to stay here.'"

Fast food

Moving to Australia was the start of a busy working life for Fatima Bozoglu.

Standing behind the counter at a busy takeaway restaurant today, she holds a large spoon in one hand and a plate in another.

"You like homemade chilli?" she asks the customer across from her, scooping it onto the plate and moving down the line.

The restaurant is owned by Ms Bozoglu’s son, Ufuk, and serves pizzas, kebabs, burgers and sandwiches every day except Sunday.

Were you born overseas? We'd love to hear about your first impression of Australia as a new migrant. Contact us on sbsnews@sbs.com.au or via Twitter @SBSNews using the hashtag #FirstDaySBS

Now 52, Ms Bozoglu and her husband recently sold their own popular takeaway restaurant "Oz Turk" in Sydney’s CBD after 14 years but she still likes to lend a hand to her son where she can. In 2015, the family appeared in the SBS series, Kebab Kings.

But it wasn't always Ms Bozoglu’s plan to become fast-food royalty.

After arriving in Sydney, she got straight to work in a clothing factory and stayed in that industry for a number of years. Her father didn't want to send her to school, believing girls didn't need to.

"I used to do the buttons and they used to pay me 60 dollars," she says of her first job. "I used to work six days a week."

Ms Bozoglu opened her first takeaway business in 1982 after her brother spotted a premises for sale in Leichhardt and her father offered to front up the money needed.

"I used to make hamburgers and I used to do hotdogs and I used to do sausage rolls," she says.

Still learning English day to day, when a customer came in asking for a steak sandwich she was stumped.

"I didn't understand him and then I opened the dictionary and I couldn't find steak sandwich," she says.

"Then next day he came with a packet in his hand and he said to me, 'Move'. It was a little shop - narrow - and he walked in and he put the steak on the grill, he put some onion on, he put the toast under and then he said to me - 'Steak sandwich'. That's how I learned. He taught me."

Over the next two decades Ms Bozoglu and her second husband Nafi - she married for the first time at 16 and the marriage lasted 10 years - opened a string of kebab shops and worked tirelessly to keep them afloat, often spending years working alternate hours. The couple also had two children, joining two children from Fatima's previous marriage.

'Australia gave me money'

The intensity of running a busy takeaway business while raising four children might sound punishing to some people but Ms Bozoglu isn't one of them.

She speaks fondly of the many customers she has served over the years and she says she is grateful to have been given the opportunity to prosper.

"Australia gave me lots of things," she says. "Australia gave me money. Australia gave me happiness."

Perhaps not far from her mind, memories of the small Turkish village she grew up in where money was tight and the family had to make do with what they had.

"We had a happy life but we were not rich," she says. 'We used to work in a farm and we used to make our money that way." 

Even after the births of her children, Ms Bozoglu didn't take much time off before getting back to work. "I didn't want my shop to go down," she says.

But she has slowed down in recent years after a string of health issues, including a heart condition, forced her to give up her business in 2014.

Acceptance

Ms Bozoglu, a Muslim, says she has experienced some discrimination in Australia and decided to stop wearing a headscarf shortly after she arrived because of harassment. 

"People used to open the door and say, 'Bloody wogs, f---ing wogs,'" she says.

But she attributes the shop she closed in 2014 with helping her build a community in her new country and embracing the many different people who walked through the doors.

"I got used to different people," she says. "I got wiser and I opened up."

She still watches Turkish news regularly at her home in Sydney but says the unfolding refugee crisis has been difficult to witness.

"I cant watch too much news like that because I get very upset, I cry," she says. "My heart doesn't take it."

"Especially the little kids. I don't know what is happening."

"We are very lucky we are here, you know?

"That's what I tell my kids."

This story was produced as part of the SBS series, First Day, airing on SBS World News throughout January.

Stay up to date with SBS NEWS

  • App
  • Subscribe
  • Follow
  • Listen
  • Watch