University of Melbourne Magazine

Through a child’s eyes

  • Professor Joy Damousi and her team of researchers (from left) Dr Alexandra Dellios, Niro Kandasamy, Anh Nguyen, Sarah Green, Samuel Malek, Dr Mary Tomsic, Dr Rachel Stevens and Dr Jordana Silverstein. (PICTURE: CHRIS HOPKINS)

    Professor Joy Damousi and her team of researchers (from left) Dr Alexandra Dellios, Niro Kandasamy, Anh Nguyen, Sarah Green, Samuel Malek, Dr Mary Tomsic, Dr Rachel Stevens and Dr Jordana Silverstein. (PICTURE: CHRIS HOPKINS)

    Damousi has explored an eclectic range of historical themes and periods throughout her academic career: Australian cultural history, feminist and women’s history, the history of the emotions and psychoanalysis, the history of democracy, speech and oratory, migration history, and the history of war and sound. She has even tackled football and popular culture.

    Her latest book, Memory and Migration in the Shadow of War: Australia’s Greek Immigrants after World War II and the Greek Civil War, will be published this year.

    She now moves on to explore the changing nature of Australian internationalism during the 20th and 21st centuries through a study of the history of child refugees and the campaigns undertaken on their behalf by relief agencies and humanitarian organisations.

    “One’s background can influence and shape the topics you pursue and the questions you ask of your research,” Damousi says. “This is not always the case but in this instance, clearly the experiences of some of the researchers on this project have directed them to focus on aspects derived from their personal histories.”

    One aspect of the research will be to consider the factors that have enhanced or limited the success of child refugees who have arrived from the 1970s onwards, using Vietnamese, Sudanese, Sri Lankan and Bosnian case studies.

    Of the eight scholars Damousi has enlisted to work on the research, three are former child refugees. All will be working on the project as PhD candidates.

    Niro Kandasamy was born in Point Pedro in Sri Lanka’s Jaffna District, the site of many battles between Sri Lankan forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam during the civil war that raged from 1983 to 2009.

    Niro Kandasamy was a toddler when she arrived in Australia.

    Niro Kandasamy was a toddler when she arrived in Australia.

    As the conflict escalated, many Tamils, including Kandasamy’s family, were forced to flee. A toddler when she arrived in Australia in 1992, Kandasamy grew up in Western Sydney, which she now calls home. Her thesis will explore the effects of long-term resettlement on Sri Lankan refugee children.

    Samuel Malak, from Sudan, will examine the settlement experiences and needs of young Sudanese migrants for their successful integration into Austra
    lian society. During the civil war in his home country, Samuel was forced to serve as a “child soldier” in the Sudan People’s Liberation Army.

    His arduous quest for safety ended with his arrival in Melbourne in 2003.

    Anh Nguyen was a Vietnamese child refugee raised in Texas. She was born 18 months after the fall of Saigon and six when her parents decided to flee their country in 1982. They were among 110 refugees packed on a boat safe for 45.

    It took more than a year for the family to reach safety in the US.

    Damousi believes the scholars’ knowledge and expertise will contribute to our understanding of the history of refugees in Australia.

    “It’s unusual, definitely rare, that as historians we find ourselves in a position where we can double as informants and informers,’’ she says. “In combining these roles, we hope to provide a detailed, insightful and instructive history that will benefit us all.”


    Learn more about the refugee researchers.