A young Thai girl who arrived in Bangkok in the early 1980s. Today is the matriarch of a large family in Australia who lays down the law.
This is a story of a Thai women in Australia who is the exception to the rule. A recent government investigation in Australia found no basis for popular media claims about the abuse of Thai
women. There are now, according to Australian government estimates, 35,000 Thai women living in Australia. Most of the women are Thai wives or partners to Australian men. In fact, as in
numerous European countries, Australian Thai relationships are found to be remarkable successful. However there is a concern in Australia for Thai women with limited English skills. Up to 20%
have difficulty with the language. The numbers of Thai women in low paid work is disproportionately too high and there is also concern about social inclusion with some information suggesting
that, even though miniscule, minor levels of abuse may be on the rise. One Thai researcher is also concerned about the negative stereotyping of Thai women in the Australian media.
A Thai woman who has made her life a success in Melbourne
Aom is one of Melbourne's most successful business women. George, her Australian husband for nearly thirty years, says his Thai wife never ceases to amaze him with strength and sense of
purpose. The Australian says he was surprised recently that that is Thai wife became so adamant that she will not retire to Thailand once the couple retires in four or five years time. George
Parker and his Thai wife Aom were married in Australia during the 1980s before the advent of internet dating or the recent huge surge in Australian Thai relationships. 'I went to Thailand on a
holiday and I met this lovely chatty girl in a department store. Since then that lovely chatty girl has become the matriarch of our family and the driving force behind everything I do,' he says.
Thai girl from Nong Khai got up early to make her life in Australia
His Thai wife, Aom, arrived in Melbourne, Australia in 1988 and even though initially Aom was shocked at the change of culture, she wasted no time in finding other Thai friends and Australian
contacts. 'I didn't have to tell her to do this,' says George. I remember waking up one morning and she was gone out. At first I was terrified that she had gone back home to Thailand, I had heard
stories like that about Thai women. But No, Aom was determined to find her own way and meet her own friends. I don't know how she found them but she had established what contacts to make
in Melbourne and back then there wasn't such an awful lot of Thai people living in Melbourne.'
Thai woman who prefers western food to Thai food
Aom's life in Australia has been an undoubted success. With her husband she now has three sons and four daughters and also a chain of fashion outlets across Melbourne. George tells us
that his Thai wife has no interest whatsoever in returning to Thailand. 'I mean she still likes to visit Thailand and see family but everytime she goes back, I notice she loves to find fault and point out
all the things that are wrong in Thailand. Aom doesn't even like Thai food so much anymore. I'd say maybe once a week she will seek out a Thai dish but most of the time she is more partial to
Thai wife set out to find a foreign lifestyle from her days in Bangkok
Aom tells us that her success in Australia was really no accident. 'When I first arrived from Nong Khai province to work in Bangkok, my plan was to meet men who spoke English and to find a
job where I could meet farang,' she says. Farang is the colloquial term in Thailand for foreigners. Aom recalls that most of her friends in Bangkok, when she met her Australian husband there,
were male and were foreigners. 'But I was never some sort of sexy girl for sale, I had a dream to find a new life in a foreign country and I always thought about Australia,' Aom tells us. 'It was difficult
living and working in Bangkok. Some foreign guys thought all pretty Thai girls were sexy women or prostitutes but most of the ones I met were gentlemen. People will treat you well if you treat
yourself well, I think. I had no problem with dating guys who bought me drinks and took me to nice places, but I had respect for myself.'
Family friend in Australia helped Thai woman make her way
Aom had another key advantage in her quest to become settled and established in Australia. She had an older cousin who was married and lived in Brisbane. It didn't take her long to make
contact with her by telephone. 'I remember I did not even have an address for my cousin when I first arrived in Australia this was not like it is now with the internet but it wasn't too difficult to get a
telephone number.' Aom attributes her success to a number of factors including:
- Her ability to speak English which she had honed in three to four years working in Bangkok in a department store frequented by international customers.
- Her ability to get up early in the morning and find employment. 'While living in Chiang Rai I lived with my aunt who taught me the importance of working hard,' she recalls.
- Aom had a keen eye and sense of fashion. 'I always had an eye for what looked good on women, other women and it was not so difficult for me. Once I had my husband's cooperation to open
my own shop.'
Thai wife opens business after only nine months in Australia
Aom opened her first store only nine months after arriving in Australia. At first it was in her husband's name. Within six months of opening her store she had her first child a baby boy but over the
years she also did not find balancing her role as a mother, wife and business person as an insurmountable challenge. 'I wanted to make my way in Australia and somehow having children with my
husband made me more Australian and I liked that. I can never forget I am Thai, it's my identity but now I regard myself truly as an Australian also.'
Thai wife convinces Australian husband not to retire to Thailand
George and Aom began discussing their retirement plans some years ago and although it is four or five years off, George has now been convinced by his wife that their plan firmly is not to
relocate to Thailand. Aom explains: 'Australia has been so good to us. This is where we have made money, I am the kind of person that does not really like to go backwards.'
George admits that while he has been convinced by his wife's argument, he was rather taken with the idea of retiring to Thailand. 'I know many friends who now live in Thailand and seem to
have a wonderful lifestyle there but I must accept that my wife's arguments hold water and I have learned over the years to trust her judgment,' he says diplomatically.
Thai wife challenges advice about Thai community and networking
Aom at first seems to counteract the prevailing view that Thai women living in Australia should become actively involved in thai community and seek out an extended Thai network. But she
really means that the quality of Thai friends is more important than quantity for Thai women finding their feet. She also believes that Thai women must find a broader network of friends across the
Australian communities in which they live.
Thai girls coming to Australia must make Australian friends
'I have very few Thai friends in Australia, I do have maybe two or three and these are very close friends. But for the most part most of my friends in Australia are Australian women just like me
and men also.' Aom feels that becoming too involved in the Thai community in Australia could turn out to be a negative factor for many Thai women. 'There are many reasons why Thai women
seek a new life outside of Thailand. Yes, Thai culture is a wonderful thing, I bring my husband to many Buddhist ceremonies but there are many things in Thailand that are not so wonderful. Thai
people tend borrow money, tend to be superstitious, there are many negative traits that you can associate with the Thai character. In Australia I've learned to speak honestly what's on my mind. I
think Thai women coming to Australia just must be ready to become Australian, it can be hard here if you are not tough enough. I am sorry if this may offend some people, maybe I am sounding
like a disloyal Thai woman for talking like this but it is quite important for younger Thai women and Thai girls coming. Australia is a wonderful country and wonderful to those who come here with
the right attitude. Yes, it can be a good thing for some Thai women to meet Thai friends in a Thai network, this is how I started myself, but it is more important that they meet Australian friends and
learn to become Australian, this is what I believe.'
Thai woman now sees her family as Australian with a Thai heritage
Aom highlights her view by explaining to us that out of the staff of thirty people working in her five stores only two are Thai women. Aom also confirmed that she extend her philosophy to her
children. While she teaches them the rudiments of Thai culture and in particular the importance of politeness, she would prefer that when her children return with her to Thailand that they are
seen as Australian first with a Thai heritage.
Thai Australian mother won't let sons holiday in Thailand alone
She also reveals that she would be distinctly uncomfortable with anyone of her sons or daughters staying in Thailand for an extended period. 'I want my children to live happy and productive
lives, the last thing I want is to hear one of them has become lost in Thailand. Thailand is my mother country, I will always be Thai but it is very easy for someone to get stuck in Thailand and this
can be very attractive to foreigners or farang from a country like Australia where people are expected to work hard and make something of life. So yes, I will be concerned when my children visit
Thailand without me, it is too easy to sit back in Thailand and relax, for my sons especially.'