Language no barrier for northern suburbs volunteer teacher

Eddy Abraham has not been invited to high tea with the Queen, but he has been on her birthday list. The retired Bundoora teacher is an Order of Australia recipient and has been a guest at Government House three times, most recently last month.

He took refreshments with the Governor-General Quentin Bryce as part of the 27th National Annual Conference of the Order of Australia Association in February.

Wearing a cap with an Australian flag on the top he chatted to Ms Bryce, who noted his slight French accent. “I am from Mauritius. I speak French,” he says. He also speaks Mauritian Creole, which has elements of African, English and Asian languages.

It was his love of languages and teaching that scored him a “gong” in the Queen’s Birthday honours in 2007 but officially it was for his “service to the community through migrant assistance, multicultural media programs and activities supporting senior citizens”. 

Behind the bureaucratic-speak it was for helping migrants like himself: average Joes who came to Australia for a better life without the command of English. It was also for sharing his love of French with others, like mature students at the University of the Third Age (U3A), and for setting up a Mauritian program on the ethnic community radio station 3ZZZ.

Abraham enjoys his work. “[I was teaching English as a second language] when a migrant woman who at the start could not speak any English, came up to me [later in the course] and said she had never been to school,” Abraham says. 

“It was back in the early 1990s and she had been in the textile, footwear and clothing industry, which was closing down and the government paid people to be retrained. She was a mature woman, a grandmother, and after a while she was so happy that she had learnt to read and write English. She wrote to her relatives in Italy for the first time in her life.”

Abraham’s own life started off the African east coast in Madagascar, where he was born before his family moved to Mauritius. But when the newly married Abraham saw Mauritius cut its ties with Britain in 1968 and declare independence, he packed his wife and toddler son up to move to Australia in 1971. “Australia was opening its doors at the time for people of different origins, and now I want to pay back what Australia has done for me.” 

Abraham taught English as a second language before retiring in 2003. He has continued as a volunteer in the northern suburbs, teaching at the Lalor Living and Learning Centre twice a week.

Does he dream of meeting Queen Elizabeth for a cuppa? “I won’t say no, if she asks.” 

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