Boxing Day

Yesterday, the whole family was around. David joined us in spirit. It felt good to have our gathering of friends and family on Christmas Day.

It’s Boxing Day today. David’s third year of passing. Life goes on. Rebecca, my sister and I decided to meet at Circular Quay to catch a ferry to Taronga Zoo. I was day-dreaming that the Taronga Zoo permanent residents wanted us, people to watch and listen to their story sharing.

“Don’t you just love my summer fashion statement, and I didn’t buy it from David Jones!”


And now, her turtle friend lifted his head from the water, “Hello, Fashionista!”

turtle swimming.jpg

Mr crested Fijian Iguana wanted a space in the Boxing Day gallery space too.

crested Fijian Iguana.jpg

“Sorry you can only see my bottom,” said Mrs Hippotamus, “I’m rather shy.”Hippo's bottom 1.jpg

Perched on his rock, Mr Seal called everyone to stand in attention.

seal on rock.jpg

“I want to have a say. My voice needs to be heard too,”their friend, the Pelican interjected.


Ms Python replies, “go ahead, talk, equal participation is our primary rule so we all get on and have ever lasting peace!”

pythons 1.jpg

Mr Seal began the meeting with a special performance, jumping off the water, to include people in the circle, and he cried whilst somersaulting,”This is how we show you people how to be inclusive!”seal's performance.jpgAnd from then on, we found ourselves all living in Paradise!

When I woke up, I found myself at our small park in Wilson street, Newtown, welcoming me back home.




Refugees welcome here!

Refugees WElcome).jpg

I took a picture of this poster  pasted on a wall in Newtown where I live.  Chalk messages next to the poster to ‘Close Manus’ and to ‘Close Nauru’ are voices on the ground from people who want our government to take notice. People like me who do not want to be an accessory to the inhumane treatment of our fellow human beings.  I wrote a poem sometime this year entitled, Navel-gazing on a seat of comfort. Part of that poem seems apt for the theme of my photo:

‘…while refugees in Manus face a bleak future after outliving the challenges of the open seas and being detained onshore by wily officials determined to zip close tight state border security, leaving survivors with no end on sight, condemned to live inside their heads, their hope flickering out like a dying candle, their lips sewn in, some lives prematurely snuffed out in self-immolation while governments take their time, wait and see, play with chess pieces of human lives. In Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria, peace remains illusory while hospitals and welfare aid workers become new targets for exploding new technological devices. Oh how cheap life has become!…

And then, I finished off with:

‘But it is hard to pontificate from my armchair of comfort in Sydney’s inner west while sipping latte at a shopping complex, flicking through magazines that sell dreams of fashion, latest style and culinary delights inaccessible no doubt to our fellow brothers and sisters who are struggling to escape the insanity that has befallen our fractured state of being…apart from navel-gazing.’

Early this month at a conference in Fremantle, I heard a poet speak of his experience in one of these cells, the new Gulag. I’m no longer navel-gazing. This man, was fleshing out his thoughts based on his woeful experience even though he still faces an uncertain future, holding onto nothing but a bridging visa. His voice moved my spirit. His spirit could not rest until his fellow prisoners are released.

And how is it that we can rest?

I quote extracts from his poem, My dreams are dying

My life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly. I cannot breathe freely…I am like a caged bird…My wings clipped and my feet tired. I sing of my freedom but no one hears my dry voice. I am tired but I still try to sing of freedom.

And from his other poem, Who knows?

…Who knows my heart?

Who knows I ache with suffering?

Who knows my loneliness?

Who knows I am tired of being tired?

Who can comfort me?

My heart is searching for peace – still I cannot find it.

Who knows my heartache?

When wings are broken can a bird fly?

When there is a big storm, can the boat survive?

Who knows my heartache?…

Indeed, who knows?  We (the State that represents our people) have broken his wings. Why can’t we let him fly. If we are free to fly, so should he. Sometime ago, I have taken this picture of the flight of a bird at Coogee beach. We are all gifted with the freedom to realize our potential. Like this bird, we all want to fly, and let our dreams come true. We have to let this man heal his broken wings.


In another poem, Weeping and Mourning, he wrote:

When shall my eyes

be brightened

by the wonder of happiness?

When shall my heart overflow, and laugh

as a free full life

in a beautiful world

is offered it

at last?

Until then I’m weeping and mourning


Remember me.

Your refugee.










It’s Christmas once again. We think of others on Christmas. What to share with them, what gifts to give them. Every year, we say, ‘no presents please!’ And every year, we buy presents! The gathering of family and friends, that’s the tradition we want to keep. Not the presents we feel we are obliged to give. It’s a minefield wracking our brain thinking what will they want or appreciate. MONEY. Life in a fast lane has shrunk our time and the rising cost of living has eaten away our meagre resources. Some feel they are in a pressure cooker. Still what we want is to enter a world where everyone is happy. That surely is the bottom line.

So back to Christmas.  The Christmas tradition is Christian.  Love, in principle, is at the core of that tradition. Love God above all else and love your neighbour as you love yourself. Simple. But guess what? It is we who complicate this simple maxim.  Who or what is God? What is ‘love’ exactly? Who is our ‘neighbour’? In what way does God relate to us? How on earth did we come to exist? When we die, is it the end of everything for us? What is ‘eternity’? Does eternity really exist?

There goes bust the idea of Christmas, if we cannot ask what Christmas means!

Hang on. When we are at liberty to ask questions, we are not compelled to believe. We are not nailed to the ground given no ability to think and to voice our thoughts. We are free. Even if we pepper our brain with questions that we cannot answer, we know that we experience ‘love’ at one-time or another.This feeling must come from somewhere or must mean something to us.

To discover Truth is not exclusive of any faith and has nothing to do with being a Christian or of celebrating Christmas! Something out there makes us feel good, or makes us feel loved!


The 21st century challenges our sense of security when people of conviction blow themselves up to harm other people. Where is ‘love’ of neighbour, of self, or of the mystery we call God or, what is ‘nature’ that speaks of creation to Indigenous people so profoundly.


And because evil does exist, we blame ‘God’ for the hurt we inflict on our neighbour or even on ourselves when we decide life is not worth living because we no longer find meaning in our existence.  The glimmer of hope we have erased. Dark emptiness, unbearable despair, loss of faith in the meaning of life, we find ourselves in a vacuum where there seems to be no way out!  Who is responsible for us ending up in this space?

Where is that thing we call ‘love’?

Perhaps we need to go back to basics. Peel off the layers of myths some people have constructed to wholly embrace realpolitik, a so-called ‘truth’ that justifies the power to enslave others and to excise a substantial proportion of the earth’s resources for the sole use of a minority. Greed, violence, injustice, selfishness disempower. They  steal the sense of good and good will and meaning in the other.

We then tend to forget that through no effort on our part, we have found ourselves gifted with the breath of life.

Love is grace from the giver of life that we share with nature all around us, and we are privileged to have been gifted with the power to question, to choose life or death and to find our own path in the maze of mystery we call ‘life’.

It’s Christmas again. In Australia’s secular society, Christmas has become a time for the gathering of families, a time for catching up with friends, a time for reuniting with each other over a meal, a time for giving or receiving gifts. Retail shops are buzzing with shoppers entangled with the culture of gift giving on Christmas Day! We have commercialised Christmas, and have replaced needs with wants.

Nevertheless, we still cling on to the thought of being with one another, of making each other happy. And when through no fault of our own, we are denied that time of being with the people we love, our heart is filled with sadness.

Surely the bottom line is: we were ‘loved’ first. This, I believe.

Personally, I would like to keep that culture of ‘loving’ going, not the measure of how much the gift is worth or whether one had the money to spend to buy a gift at all. For me, I’m happy to follow the teaching of caring and sharing, whether or not it’s Christmas.

Indigenous Australians of Filipino descent trace their relatives across the seas

“If they ask me who I am, I always describe myself as an Aboriginal first because this is the country that I have been born in. This is the country of the Aboriginal people, but I also say that I have other backgrounds in me. I am proud to have those backgrounds because would I be around today if they didn’t come? No! Those people came here. They came for a reason. They mixed in a way with the Aboriginal people…” 


Kevin Puertollano

The publication of Re-imagining Australia: Voices of Indigenous Australians of Filipino descent, the new release book I wrote with Dr Christine Choo, was the catalyst that prompted Kevin Puertollano, his sister and his first cousin to go to Manila and attend our book launch on 18 October 2016.

Commemorating the 70th anniversary of the diplomatic ties between Australia and the Philippines, the Australian Embassy and the Cultural Center of the Philippines hosted the book launch and the exhibit that showcased the little known historical link between Filipinos and Australians.

ccp-launch-aL-R: Roma Puertollano, Patricia Davidson, Deborah Ruiz Wall, Kevin Puertollano, Ambassador Amanda Gorely, Peter Sabatino, Josephine David Petero and Dr Raul Sunico

Tomás Puertollano, Kevin’s forebear was born in Sta Cruz, Marinduque in 1867. It was 127 years ago since Tomás arrived in Australia on the schooner, S.S. Australind from Singapore in 1889. He never returned to his homeland. In 1898, he married Agnes Guilwill Bryan, a ‘half-caste’ (of White and Aboriginal descent) in Beagle Bay. In 2014 after attending a family wedding in the Philippines, Roma Puertollano and Patricia Davidson made a quick visit to Marinduque to see what they can find about the story of Tomás. They met Fr Martin Puertollano, a parish priest in Sta Cruz, Marinduque. Fr Martin promised to help them look for baptismal and other relevant records.

In 2016, Kevin Puertollano, Roma Puertollano, and Patricia Davidson decided to attend the book launch in Manila and afterwards look for their Filipino relatives. They booked Dewey Hotel in Sta Cruz, Marinduque and made contact with Fr Martin. On 24 October 2016, Fr Martin  organised a Puertollano gathering at the hotel followed by a walk to the Sta Cruz church archives to find out more about their common ancestral connection.The following day, Fr Martin’s father invited local Puertollano families at his home in Suha where a big feast of local cuisine was served and speeches given by family representatives detailing how they are related.


Reconnection with Puertollano relatives from Marinduque; Fr Martin in yellow shirt

Adobo was a Filipino dish passed down to the descendants. Fr Martin asked Kevin to cook his Aboriginal Australian version of adobo and compare the result with his own local Marinduque version.

Kevin cooking adobo in Marinduque.jpgKevin’s Adobo: Aboriginal Broome version

The ‘cook-off’ test was judged by documentary film GMA I-Witness host, Howie Severino who with GMA film crew covered the Puertollano family reunion in Marinduque. It was a ‘tie’. Both versions were delicious but unique to the chefs. Australian Embassy staff members, Willa Santiago and Risa Rigets also went to Marinduque to witness this historic family event.

Willa Santiago,Roma Puertollano, Patricia Davidson & Nisa Rigets.jpg

L-R: Willa Santiago, Roma Puertollano, Patricia Davidson, Risa Rigets

New enquiries about Filipino family links from Torres Strait Islanders

Two Torres Strait Islanders – Peter Sabatino and Josephine David-Petero whose stories were featured in the book, also attended the book launch in Manila. After the launch, Peter went to Iloilo in the Visayas to look for clues about his forebear, Nicholas Sabatino who was born there in 1871. He needed more time to follow up leads so he planned to return and stay there for a month next year. Josephine also plans to return to the Philippines to find her paternal great grandfather’s relatives in Santos, Ilocos Sur. Agostin Cadawas, her Filipino forebear, was born in Santos in 1865 and arrived in Torres Strait in the late 1800s or early 1900s.

A brief historical background

Pearl divers from the Philippines came to work in Australia during the pearling industry boom of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Labour was scarce for the emerging pearling industry so some entrepreneurs engaged in blackbirding or kidnapping of Aboriginal workers and Pacific Islanders to fill their labour needs. This practice led to the passage of Pacific Islanders Protection Act 1872 – Imperial, Polynesian Labourers Act 1868 – Queensland, Pearlshell Fishing Regulation Act 1871, 1873 – Western Australia prohibiting the employment of Aboriginal women to protect them from gross abuses and  to regulate the industry more closely. Work opportunities opened for Asian workers who were recruited from the British ports of Singapore, Hong Kong and Colombo. Foreign shipping interests also recruited other men at ports in the Philippines.

At that time, the Philippines and Australia were not independent nations. Spanish Philippines and British Australia were in power. Until the first half of the 19th century, borders around the world were relatively porous and not centrally controlled. Between 1875 and 1882, ports along the northern coast of Australia were free ports and immigration policies were non-existent. Spain faced a serious challenge to its 300-year colonial rule over the islands. Some of the pearl diver recruits in Australia were likely self-exiled patriots or refugees fleeing the political turbulence in their country.

While overseas, there were those who provided support for the independence movement in the Philippines such as pearl divers, Valeriano Dalida and Albino Rabarta. Valeriano and Albino donated their savings of 1,000 pesos towards the purchase of a printing press in Hong Kong to be used for propaganda purposes. Two others: Candido Iban and Francisco del Castillo arrived in Australia to work as pearl divers in the late 1880s or early 1890s. Upon their return to the Philippines, Candido and Francisco became actively involved in the Filipino revolutionary struggle against Spain.


Our book preserved the descendants’ own voice, that is, their own style of storytelling. Subsequent sections in our book put these stories into a broader historical context.

A film crew from I-Witness, an award winning national TV program from GMA, a commercial Filipino TV network in the Philippines, followed the Puertollanos in Marinduque to film their homecoming (Balikbayan) and to document the realization of their dream of a reunion with family after one hundred twenty seven years. GMA continued filming in Australia after the Puertollanos returned home.

Interview with Howie Severino.jpg

Howie Severino interviews Deborah Ruiz Wall at the book launch

Kevin Puertollano and local Aboriginal media, Gollari Media Enterprises (GME) took the GMA film crew to Beagle Bay in the Kimberley, Western Australia where Tomás was buried and to Chile Creek, Lombadina. Tomás built one of the first churches in Lombadina and donated his own house to the Sisters of St John of God.

See GMA’s documentary web link:

Book launches completed in 2016

29 September  2016, St John of God Heritage Centre in Broome, Western Australia

18 October 2016, Cultural Center of the Philippines co-host with the Australian Embassy

10 November 2016,  Sydney University hosted by Sydney Southeast Asian Centre and the Philippine Consulate

28 November 2016, National Film and Sound Archive, Canberra hosted by the Philippine Embassy and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Book availability

The book sells for AUD $30 and can be purchased in Sydney from Gleebooks in Glebe, Sydney (Ph 02 95522526); UNSW Bookshop Quadrangle Building, College Road, Kensington NSW  (Ph 02 93856622) or from Deborah Ruiz Wall, Indigenous Australian Filipino Link in Sydney (; in Queensland, Keeaira Press online (; in Western Australia, New Edition Bookshop, 41 High St, Fremantle (Ph 08 93353272); in the Philippines, Solidaridad Bookshop, 531 Padre Faura, Ermita, Manila, and Loyola Schools Bookstore, Ateneo de Manila University, Loyola Heights Campus, Katipunan Ave, Quezon City.