Tanya McLeod-Yu, her mother Odette and daughter Jessica are the final Notable West Indians featured in 2016. The stories of those featured will be told in the form of an interview.
The three generations of Odette, Tanya and Jessica are bound by love with a faith in God that propels them into community activities. So let’s hear the story of these women, as told by Tanya.
Where were you born?
My Mum Odette was born in Trinidad while I and my daughter Jessica were born in Australia. I was born in Queensland then travelled to Trinidad via Europe as an infant. I spent most of my formative years in Trinidad although I did go to boarding school in Canada as a teenager.
When did you arrive in Australia?
Mum first came to Australia in 1960. She married my Dad Bruce in April but didn’t get to Australia until December because of her work commitment. Mum described her arrival in Fremantle at a time when no one knew where Trinidad and Tobago was. So she sat in the immigration office for what seemed like days, of course it was just hours. Mum returned to Trinidad during the depression in 1963 and returned permanently to Australia in 1986.
I returned to Australia in July 1984, got married here and had my daughter Jessica.
What features of the West Indian life could benefit Australia?
For Odette it is the assimilation of the various cultures.
For me it is the unforgettable memory of swimming in the Caribbean Sea. I wish that swimming in the Pacific was as enjoyable as I remember swimming in the bath water warm waters surrounding Trinidad.
We’ve tried to share Trini life with Jessica as much as possible. It used to be that she was so picky not wanting to try various fruits because she wouldn’t like it. Now…. I can barely get my share of mangoes or roti. She enjoys Mum’s cooking especially the Trini dishes and identifies with Trinidad in a way I can’t describe.
What features of Australian life could benefit the West Indies?
Mum was of the opinion that while Trinidadians loved the sea and visited the sea often she felt that they were not encouraged to learn to swim as kids in Australia. She felt it was important that the people swimming in Trinidad waters should have the same opportunities that others internationally enjoyed. With this conviction in the 1980’s Mum got Amoco Trinidad to sponsor the Trinidad and Tobago Surf Life Saving Society. The sponsorship included a small motorised life boat that came to Trinidad when the Australian Surf Life Saving Society was visiting.
When people describe “Trini time” that’s how I seem to roll. Really there is no disrespect intended. I always have to give myself extra time or trick myself by setting multiple alarms if I need to do something in a timely manner. I wish that I was able to be more punctual not for only important things.
Jessica hopes to visit Trinidad one day to experience the way of life that we’ve tried to share with her.
Any funny stories of cross cultural differences especially noticeable in your first years here?
Mum describes her first years in Australia as absolutely beautiful. She met many people who were generous and kind and because of this she felt that her assimilation in Australia was a very happy time.
When I came to Sydney in 1984 so many people commented on my accent. Now in 2016 they still comment on my accent.
Jessica is thrilled that people don’t guess that she is Australian. She gets people asking where she is from. We attribute that to the fact that she hears our accents regularly.
What are some of your sporting related achievements?
As a young woman Mum played tennis, basketball, netball, badminton, baseball, cricket, swimming, boating and athletics which was her passion. Mum was always good at whatever she attempted and even today she can still speak with great enthusiasm about the various cricket teams and hold a strong conversation about byes and LBW’s and six’s. Me, I’d switch off after the first ten minutes.
As a child I was always a strong swimmer and for a time I was a life guard. I even trained at Mayaro Beach, Trinidad with the Trinidad and Tobago Surf Life Saving Society and subsequently with the visiting Australian Surf Life Saving Society. Sadly I don’t swim much anymore because the water is just too cold in Sydney for me to enjoy it. Bike riding and lots of walking prepared me for my next enjoyment – soccer. I played defence and goalie well into my 20’s.
Jessica is accomplished in Tai Kwon Do, currently a “black tip”. She also enjoys exhibition Latin Dancing and loves Salsa and Bhachata! She definitely has some groove! Mum has some moves as well; but sadly I have the two left feet! Jessica was part of an ensemble which performed in the Gold Coast and Canberra earlier this year. Another of Jessica’s loves is travel and languages. She visited China, Hong Kong and London; immersed herself and studied in Japan for over a year, also studied in Rome and Paris. She plans to travel the Europe during this coming year to further her career as an animator.
The ties that bind us are our love for each other and our strong faith that propels us to serve our parish for many years in various capacities.
Our hope is for each generation to be better than the last. Jessica and I were on our way to visit with my Dad Bruce when she decided to go back to the University of Newcastle to the Honours program. Jessica had an idea brewing within her for some time and she decided that the time had come. Unfortunately he never knew because when we got there Dad had already passed. Dad was a great champion for Jessica despite half the time he didn’t understand what she was about.
Jessica’s idea was to use her artistic ability to describe what it is like to have depression.
She noticed that depression was described by doctors and lawmakers and policemen and everyone who felt they knew someone with depression. She noticed that friends and family would often say “snap out of it”; but there was no description of what it felt like inside. So this year Jessica created a 5½ minute hand drawn animated film with the aim of uplifting other sufferers and know that with the right support system things can get better. Jessica also wanted family and friends to have a glimpse into the mind of what it means to be depressed.
You asked earlier what binds us? Well… we had to be there for each other through thick and thin. We had to encourage each other no matter what. We had to love each other in spite of. It was the way Mum brought me up and it was the only way I knew to bring Jessica up. Being West Indian is in our blood. We have other ways of doing things but we choose a way that speaks volumes about who we are and our heritage! In December Jessica had her work viewed in the Watt Gallery in Newcastle also the Maitland Regional Art Gallery until the end of February 2017.
We encourage you to view and share Jessica’s video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wjS3Vmlsx8Y&sns=em