RAIF LATIF

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This is Raif Latif’s story as told by his son Ramadan

Raif Latif was born on the 9th of April, 1927 in a small village called Perlepnica in Kosova, Albania. He was born to Shaban & Meryem Latif. His Mother died when Raif was only 15 years old. He had a brother, Mustafa who was 10 years older than him. 

Around 1940 during the start of WW-II when Raif was about 13, his father feared that he would be conscripted into the army like his older son. Raif’s father ordered him to flee from Kosovo, formally known as Communist Yugoslavia, to reside in Egypt.  Fortunately, Raif had a cousin in Cairo where they both studied at the Al-Azhar University. Raif spent approximately 13 years studying Islam before graduating as an Imam. Being studious by nature, Raif attended night classes in order to learn English, French, Turkish and Italian. Raif could speak a total of seven languages which became very useful throughout his life journey.

Although Raif missed his family and home immensely, he realised that the retribution would be horrendous if he returned to Kosovo. Instead, in 1953 Raif decided to migrate to Australia in search of a better future.  At the same time, the small township of Mareeba was flourishing with a vast number of multi-cultural immigrants. Mareeba had a growing Albanian-Muslim community who were in need of a religious leader. After recieving their request for an Imam, Raif began his journey from Cairo to Sydney by ship. Raif recalls being offered 1 pound by a kind, unknown man allowing him to purchase his ticket to Australia. He remembers being excited, as it was an adventure, not knowing what to expect, but also very nervous and a little afraid as he was alone.

Raif eventually repaid his loan, but once he arrived in Mareeba, the funds the Albanian community had offered were not forthcoming, as many of them were struggling financially themselves. Raif was forced to seek work to support himself.  He worked in the tobacco fields, the channel construction of the Tinaroo Irrigation Scheme, the corn fields and the Peanut Factory in Tolga.  Particularly during the channel construction, he found himself working alongside and interacting with Italians and Australians.  One major cultural difference Raif noticed whilst interacting with Australians was ‘nicknaming’, something he had never experienced. He wasn’t fond of the practice and would deliberately ignore requests from fellow workers who referred to him with a nickname. Life was hard life during this time, as it was for many immigrants who were trying to become financially stable. Raif teamed up with young Italians, Albanians and Australians to share farm tobacco and built many lifelong friendships. As accommodation was shared, they were all exposed to different cultures, foods and traditions.

As Raif could not afford a car, a push bike was his only mode of transport. He would often ride his bike from Mareeba to Atherton and Dimbulah, to visit fellow Albanian friends. Any excess money he did make, Raif would send home to help support his family in Kosovo.

In 1959, at the age of 32, Raif decided to move on to the next stage of his life. As he was not allowed to re-enter Kosovo, he travelled to Junina in Greece and met his future wife, 20-year-old Rechiye Metou.  Rechiye’s grandparents had crossed the border into Albania some years before she was born and she grew up speaking Greek with a few words of Albanian picked up from her grandparents. Raif and Rechiye were married in Junina on the 18th of May, 1959, a short time before Raif received the devastating news that his father had passed away in Kosovo. For Raif and Rechiye, married life presented its own challenges as Raif could not speak Greek and Rechive had only a few words of Albanian.  Over the next couple of years Rechiya picked up more Albanian from her husband and friends in Australia and is also able to speak English.

Soon after their return to Australia, Raif and Rechiye’s first child, Fatmira was born in 1960. They were allocated a property in Dimbulah on Leafgold Road, through a lottery system administered by the Tinaroo Resource scheme.  In October 1962, Rechiye gave birth to her second child, Shaban.  In the December of 1965, they were blessed with twins, Ramadan and Meryem.

Over the years Raif and Rechiye struggled to develop their farm, surviving crop damage from floods, hail and fires. Money was tight and they were both physically and mentally exhausted.  In December 1972, Raif decided to take a break from tobacco farming for a year. He employed a share farmer and arranged an overseas holiday for his family. Knowing it was finally safe enough, he returned to Kosovo for an emotional family reunion and introduced his new family to his relatives. He made a number of overseas visits with his wife to re-unite with relatives over the ensuing years.

In April 1983, Raif decided to retire from farming and moved into Royes Street, Mareeba where he built a corner convenience store and the family home.  For the next 20 years Raif continued his Imam duties including translating the Koran into Albanian.  As Imam, Raif would deliver his sermons in Arabic, as required, then he would repeat them in English for the Australian speaking members and also Albanian for the significant Albanian speaking portion of the congregation   

As the years went by, Raif’s children grew, married and had their own children.  Raif has eight grandchildren- Besim, Halima, Sabria, Deen, Mateen, Adem, Jarad and Aaron.  In February 2002, Raif fell victim to ill health as a result of a stroke.  He retired from his Imam duties, and currently enjoys his family and watching his grandchildren grow.

Raif dearly missed his family and his country of birth and suffered many hardships after emigrating to Australia. Despite this, he will often say that he praises God that he was fortunate enough to have been granted the opportunity to immigrate to such a safe and accepting country. He is very proud to call Australia Home.

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.

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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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