RAFET SHABAN

Contributed by

This is Rose’s story in her own words

My name is Rafet Shaban. I am called Rose.  I was the 4th of 15 children born on 22 November 1938 to Albanian parents taken to Greece as prisoners following a conflict in Albania with Greece.  Life in Greece was hard.  Only 4 of my siblings survived.  We were considered little more than slaves in Greece.  My father was forced to work in road gangs and my Mother to wash and clean for wealthy Greek families in return for meagre supplies of food. Once my mother cooked 6 eggs for us to eat but she had no food.  We asked her “Mum what about you”.  She said, “if you are full then I am full”.  Each of us cut some of our food and put it on a plate for her.

Albanian children could not attend school in Greece and I have never been to school but my family background was not poor.  My Grandmother had been a Princess in Albania but after the war with Greece we had nothing.  I was close to her but she was always crying.  I asked her why she cried but no-one would tell me.  Eventually she said she had lost a son.  I questioned my mother who told me her brother had drowned when he was 21.

When I was 12 years old, a 45-year-old Albanian man from Australia came to Greece and married my sister.  She was 19.  He told my father he had a brother in Australia and his brother would marry me so they agreed I should go to Australia with my sister. My Grandmother begged me not to go.  She told me if I went she would die and she did die not long after I was in Australia.  It took 6 months to get papers from the Greek government and approval from the Australian Government. 

I came to Australian by plane in 1950.  I remember it very clearly.  It was a plane with 4 propellers.  We took off from Athens and landed in Darwin.  I was so shocked by my first look at Australia.  There was nothing there!  From Darwin we flew to Brisbane, then took a train to Cairns. The train journey was awful. We were in a carriage without windows full of smoke and aboriginal people.  I had never seen dark people before. But I found them very kind and gentle.  At the Train Station in Cairns was my husband with his car – it was a little Prefex. My sister, my brother-in-law, an old lady and myself piled into the car and drove up the mountain.

When I arrived in Mareeba I could only speak Greek.  I had to learn Albanian.  Now I speak a little Italian and English and I taught myself to read.  But back then I was in the bush, in a strange country with snakes and dingo’s and nothing around me and no-one to talk too.  My brother-in-law told me not to open the door to anyone so when the butcher came with our meat and bread I was not allowed to open the door to him.  When my husband-to-be found out he told his older brother that this was not right and from then on I was allowed to take the deliveries.

When I was 14 I was married.  At 15 I had my first child and at 19 I had 3 children and was 9 months pregnant with my fourth.  At this time my husband became sick and died.  They said it was his gall bladder.  The next day I gave birth to my youngest daughter.  My brother-in-law expected that he would take over everything when my husband died but I refused to hand everything to him and live under his rule.  He told me I was under 21 so was not able to take control of anything.  A beautiful neighbour helped me.  She took me to the local Solicitor and in 3 months it was all cleared and I was able to take over our farm.

My husband was a beautiful man and although we were only married for 4 years I am still his wife.  One day my Grandson said to me “Hey Nanna, what if Grandad is married again where he is?” “Ha,” I said to him,” if he is married to another woman then I kill him again because I am still married to him”.  Everyone laughed but he was a beautify man and I am still his wife.

Our farm was on Ray Road just outside Mareeba.  To get to town I would walk on the railway tracks into Jack & Newell’s, buy my groceries and then walk home.  One day my brother-in-law broke his leg and had to be taken to hospital in Cairns.  Neither my sister nor I could drive.  One of the neighbouring farmers came to us and said “one of you ladies has to be able to drive”.  First my sister tried but she was very anxious.  I had driven tractors and had watched my husband drive so I said “I can do it”.  I prayed hard to God and then by his love I drove the car out and around the farm.  The neighbour said, “Yes that is good – you can drive”, so from then on, I drove to town.  That is how I began driving because no good Albanian woman could drive a car. It took a year before I got my license.  The next day my daughter burnt her foot and I had to take her into the hospital.  I was stopped by a policeman and had to show him my license. He looked at me when he saw the date and I said to him, “you know I have to tell the truth, I have been driving for a year”.  He said “Yes I know but you are a good driver”.

I tried to farm tobacco myself, but as a woman I was not treated equally with other famers and struggled to sell the tobacco.  In those days the buyers were not fair.  Eventually I had a sharefarmer for the tobacco and bought and grew my own food. Another beautiful neighbour gave me a small cow and I grew that cow and was able to milk it.  In this way I was able to feed my children.  Later I was able to buy cattle and I could sell cattle whenever my children needed things and was able to give them each a beautiful wedding.

I have been back to Greece and to Albania to visit my husband’s family. I was treated very well by them but when I got back I was so grateful to be home I kissed the ground.  Australia is the best country in the world – because of the people.  The people here are good. They will help you.

Janet Greenwood Operations Manager

Janet commenced work with the Mareeba Heritage Centre in July 2016. She had the vision to create this project and was instrumental in acquiring funds and putting the right people in place to bring this project together. Janet is passionate about community engagement and development.

Mick Hay Announcer (Mareeba 4AM & Innisfail 4KZ)

Mick has worked casually in radio for 30 years at a number of stations including 4LM, 4GC and 4KZ whilst also working for Telstra. He joined the 4AM team taking over the Breaky Show full time in July 2014. Mick enjoys living in tropical North Queensland after growing up in Innisfail and staying in areas like Thursday Island, Normanton, Mount Isa, Cairns and Mossman. In his spare time, Mick likes to go camping, do a bit of fishing and he enjoys the great outdoors.

Angela Musumeci Volunteer Project Officer

Angela was born in Mareeba but like most young people left to pursue a career in Corrections and then Community Services. On retirement, she returned to her home town and is happy to be contributing to progression and preservation.

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