Change can occur in many different forms, one of the most powerful being a change in perspective. It can alter images of people, place, and even their paths in life. The poems “Crossing the Red Sea”, “Migrant Hostel”, and “10 Mary Street”, by Peter Shrzynecki, show migrant families change in perspective of Australia as their experiences grow. The use of language has allowed their thoughts and emotions associated with their migration and new homeland, to be explored. Similes, religious symbolism, and bird imagery are just some of the techniques used to further the reader’s understanding of this traumatic journey in a family’s life.
The journey to Australia and the anticipation of a new home is the main theme in “Crossing the Red Sea”. This poem deals with the varying emotions that the migrants face as they “watch a sunset they would never see again”. There is a sense of nostalgia between these people of different backgrounds who were once enemies “Patches and shreds of dialogue Hung from fingertips”.
Religious imagery is used throughout the poem to show the belief these people have that a higher being will help them to make a fresh start “Who was saying a prayer in thanksgiving For miracles”. The poem refers to “Lazarus” who was the brother of Mary and Martha as well as a friend of Jesus. Jesus went to the tomb of Lazarus and brought him back to life. This displays their sense of hopefulness and anticipation that God will help them to leave their war-torn lives behind and begin again.
The contrast between night and day is also used as symbolism in this poem. “All night” they feel more confident to speak out and share their emotions. The night gives them protection and allows them to be comfortable. However, “Daybreak took away the magic of dreams”, showing that with daybreak comes the return of reality. At night they can’t be seen and so can’t be singled out for voicing their opinion but this can not be done in the daytime. Daylight is supposed to bring hope but the oxymoron, “A blood rimmed horizon”, displays that their hope is burdened as they are carrying the burden of war and its scars.
In “Crossing the Red Sea”, although the lives of the migrants have been traumatic, they are looking toward the future in the hopes that their new life will be much better than their last and they may finally live in peace.
“Migrant Hostel” looks at the first place the Shrzyneckis stayed when they arrived in Australia. It deals with the hardships and restrictions they faced “A barrier at the main gate Sealed off the highway” and the sense of disappointment they have as they had high hopes for their life in Australia.
Throughout this poem, bird imagery is used to show their feeling of being in a temporary life. The simile “We lived like birds of passage” shows their belief that they have no home; they feel as though they are constantly moving. “Like a homing pigeon circling to get its bearings” gives the impression that they are trying to understand where they are and what’s going on with their lives. They were never quite sure when they would leave or where they would go.
There are many symbols used in this poem to show the restrictions placed on the Shrzyneckis. “A barrier at the main gate” symbolizes the restrictions they encounter. They needed “its sanction” or [permission to do anything. They are powerless to fight it and the “reprimand” of the barrier makes them feel they are being treated like children. They were “partitioned off at night” which meant they were constantly separated and were often left “Wondering” if they would ever be free. Many of these migrants escaped camps in Europe, to come to the land of freedom, only to end up in another camp.
In this poem, Shrzynecki’s perspective is different from “Crossing the Red Sea”. Their anticipation and hope for a new life are dying because they are stuck in the hostel. But while they are trying to begin their new life, their old life is dying. If both lives die, they will end up with nothing, “To pass in and out of lives that had only begun or were dying”. Their hope has now turned to despair and their anticipation is now disappointment.
The first house the Shrzynecki’s lived in is the subject of the poem “10 Mary Street”. They worked so long and hard to achieve their dream of freedom and now they have it. However, their home is being threatened “(The whole block has been gazetted for the industry)” and they face their dreams being destroyed once more.
The imagery of keys is used throughout this poem. The simile “Each morning, shut the house Like a well-oiled lock” shows that they are proud of their first house in Australia and they want to keep it secure. “Hid the key” symbolizes power and control. They own the house and no one can take it from them. “Inheritors of a key” is illustrative of unity and reorientation. It is their key to the country and if their house is pulled down, they will have nothing. It shows a sense of despair surrounded by a sense of love and hope.
The irony of this poem is that, while their lives have completely changed, they are seeking to keep a sameness. They use their house as a fortress to pretend they never left their homeland, “Kept prewar Europe alive with photographs and letters, Heated discussions And embracing Gestures”. The symbolism throughout the poem shows the difficulty for Peter, as he is now partly Australian. He is torn between two cultures “drank Raw vodka or cherry brandy And smoked like A dozen puffing Billies”. This representation shows how change can affect people differently, even if they are in the same situation.
Shrzynecki’s perspective has once again changed in this poem. They are now happy and contented with their new life “For nineteen years We departed/ to school and work” and upset at the fact that it might be destroyed. They have progressed from their feelings of excitement and anticipation as they traveled to Australia, to feelings of resentment when they were restricted in the migrant hostel and now they are happy that they have a new home of their own and a life that they control.
Peter Shrzynecki’s poems show a variety of changes in perspectives. Through the use of language techniques, he has been able to allow a common audience to understand the hardships his family faced. He has shown how powerful changing a person’s perspective can be, it can even change their whole attitude towards life.