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HAVING learned English at school and being married to an Australian marine engineer, Shirley Manutanga found it easier than most to migrate to Townsville, more than 30 years ago.
Sri Lanka was then enmeshed in civil war and emigrating with their two children kept the family together, as her husband was sometimes away for months in his job with Curtain Brothers Shipping. In 1991, after settling in Townsville, Shirley began volunteering with the Ethnic Women's Group which in 1993 grew into the Townsville Multicultural Support Group Inc. She recalls the group's office under a high-set house as very small, and their band of helpers as small too.
"At that time I was looking to do something, so someone told me that there's a place you can go to volunteer, but I was not there for very long," she recalled when interviewed earlier this year.
Shirley wasted no time in finding a job. After volunteering with TMSG for a few months, she landed a full-time administration position with the Migrant Resource Centre. As can be expected, full-time work and motherhood kept her extremely busy. Unfortunately, this meant she gradually became detached from the TMSG community until recently, when on one of her regular Sunday trips to the Cotters Markets, a brightly coloured stall caught her attention.
She recalled: "I was at the Cotters Market and there was this stall, so I went to the two ladies there and they had mobile cases and little bags. I asked, 'who's doing these things?' and they said, 'it is from the migrants, we are helping them to make these bags. They bring them to the Cotters Market and they sell them'. So, I said I would like to donate something, and the lady told me, 'we need machines', so I thought I'd donate my machine, and now they are doing something useful with it.
"It's nice to meet people of different cultures, and this is how I came back into contact with the TMSG group."
Now retired, she visits TMSG regularly to engage with other migrants and people of different cultural backgrounds.
Shirley knew about the Australian way of life long before migrating, through her husband and her brother now also living in Townsville. But she sees many other newcomers struggling with the transition and credits TMSG for making newcomers feel more at home in Australia.
"They are teaching migrants English it's a good thing, because it's very hard to communicate for them. I'm really happy TMSG is doing such a good job for the migrants."
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