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Date:Jun 30, 2006; Section: Classifieds; Page Number:42

Helping hand for Goan migrants


Born: Nairobi, May 1931 Died: Perth, May 2006

WA is home to about 400 families from Goa — now part of India but once a Portuguese colony — and few were not helped by Victor Mendonca in one way or another.

Arriving in a strange, new country is never easy and Victor was no different from most when he came to Australia in 1972. Aware of the problems he faced, he was instrumental in setting up the Goan Overseas Association of WA.

“A major part of its existence is to assimilate newcomers in the country to feel part of the society,” prominent member Francis Lobo said. “Victor was always very prominent.”

It was no surprise to Francis that Victor had been so determined to help arrivals. “He was always a very generous man,” he said.

Yet it was intolerance that forced Victor to Australia. His wife, Hazel, said: “They were not good days in Kenya. It was a very nervy time. Farmers were being driven off their land and when you see your friends disappear . . . ”

Victor and Hazel were in government quarters “with huge steel grills all round and we were scared to go out at night,” said Hazel. “I was in India at the time of independence (when there were riots) and swore ‘never again’.”

Victor Camillo Mendonca was born in Nairobi, Kenya, on May 8, 1931 to Joaquim, a public servant, and Menervinha. He had four sisters, Clara, Anne, Lydia and Zelia, and the family moved — through Joaquim’s work — to Goa, where Victor went to school.

What was later to become a welldeveloped sense of humour and practical jokes was not always seen as that and, for misbehaviour, he was sent to an all-girl school. He stayed there until his parents returned to Mombasa, in Kenya, and he completed his schooling. He then became an accountant.

The Mendonca family was from Goa but in the early part of the 20th century Kenya, much as Australia did in the mid 20th century, encouraged immigration to staff mines, railways and public service positions and Joaquim accepted the challenge.

In 1956, Victor decided to go to Goa on a holiday to see his people’s homeland. With three mates he set off but they had problems getting visas for Goa, which is on the north-east coast, so they went to Bangalore, in India’s centre instead.

He said later that they thought about going to Bombay (now Mumbai) but switched when they heard that city was “dry”, whereas they could get alcohol in Bangalore.

He met Hazel Netscher, of German background, but third-generation Indian, and quickly asked her parents for permission to marry. Victor went back to Kenya and the romance was conducted by mail.

His parents were strict Portuguese Goans and of high caste. Marriage to a white “outsider” was not what they had planned and Victor did not tell them until two days before the December 28, 1957, wedding.

The pair returned to Kenya and, in Nairobi, Veronica and Brenda were born. Victor had a promotion, which meant them moving to Nakuru, about 100km north where their final child, a son, Savio, was born.

Victor’s love of sport found its greatest expression there and he excelled at hockey. But even then his insistence on helping was strong. Francis Loba’s brother Chappi, who lives in Perth but was born in Uganda, remembered that they used to meet when he took Ugandan teams to Kenya for big events.

“He hosted the Ugandan teams,” Francis said. “He was always having teams stay at his home. They then had a rest and a shower and went on to the tournaments refreshed.”

But the ongoing unrest, which followed independence from Britain in 1963, left the Mendoncas frightened and they thought of emigration. An Australian judge, who had been appointed to the Kenya High Court, made up their minds about which destination they would try.

“His name was Simpson,” Hazel said. “I was working at the court and we had been told he was arriving. We were all dressed up in our finest — then Judge Simpson walked in and he was wearing an open shirt, shorts and thongs on his feet.

“Immediately, I said, ‘I want to go to Australia. I like the style.’”

Hazel’s brother, who had emigrated earlier, sponsored them and the family arrived in 1972. Victor did not find work easy to get but, in 1974, he got a position with the State Treasury, then Veterans Affairs, where he stayed until he retired in 1991.

But his experiences when he arrived in a foreign land saw him, Steve de Souza, Cappi Lobo and others set up the Goan Overseas Association of WA in 1979. He never missed a function and he never let newcomers arrive in WA without going out of his way to help.

Every two years, Victor went back to Goa to see his mother but in 1995 he slipped and broke three lower vertebrae and had two further falls in 1997 and 2001. In 2003 he had a knee replacement and in 2004 he gave up the cigarettes he so loved (along with beer) before a cancer operation.

He had a form of leukaemia and needed a blood transfusion every six weeks. He died on May 17, leaving Hazel, their three children, three grandsons, three grand-daughters and a great grandson.

And he leaves the Goan Overseas Association, which now has its own radio program on community radio station 6EBA, strong youth and seniors groups, and hundreds of people whose arrival in Australia was made that bit easier by his generosity.

Len Findlay

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