An assisted passenger
In 1969 Mehmet Musa Mehcur, his wife Hayriye, and their three small children finally reached Australia under the Assisted Passage Scheme for Turkish migrants. Mehmet's long journey, to what would become his permanent home, began at the age of six in Turkistan in Central Asia. After the establishment of the Soviet Union, communists purged Turkistan of wealthy landowning ethnic Uzbeks, forcing Mehmet's father to flee the country. The family was reunited in Afghanistan, and lived as refugees for 17 years, enduring terrible hardship.
Mehmet Musa Mehcur, his wife Hayriye, and their their children, Saliha, Semiha and baby Seyfi, c. 1969
Courtesy of Kuranda Seyit
In 1952 Turkey permitted the entry of Turkistani refugees, and Mehmet seized the opportunity. He had always regarded Turkey as his motherland. He became a human rights activist speaking out against human rights abuses in the Soviet Union. He also formed a co-op with some fellow Uzbekis, which unfortunately went bankrupt in 1967. Although many Turks of Uzbeki ethnicity eventually chose to emigrate to the United States, Mehmet, by 1969 a married man with children, set his sights on Australia.
Australia/Turkey Assisted Passage Scheme selection report for Mehmet Musa Mehcur, 17 March 1969
NAA: A2559, 1969/S/89-93
On arrival, the family lived in a hostel at Villawood. Soon they moved to Redfern, and later to Newtown. Life was difficult: Mehmet was employed at the Leyland car manufacturing plant, while his wife Hayriye worked in a cigarette factory. Mehmet's last job before retiring was as a cleaner in Royal Prince Alfred Hospital.
New housing units at the Villawood migrant hostel, 1969
NAA: A12111, 1/1969/22/26
When the first planeload of Turks arrived, very few men had sufficient religious knowledge to guide their community. Religious studies were not encouraged by the then secular Turkish government. From his years in Afghanistan, Mehmet had acquired a strong background in religious learning, which he put to good use in Australia. On several occasions he was asked to lead prayers at Sydney's first Turkish mosque, established in Erskineville in 1975.
This led to him being affectionately called 'Musa Hodja' or teacher. Later he taught the Qur'an and Arabic at the Mt Druitt mosque, and was active in fundraising activities for the Auburn mosque.
Photographs of Mehmet Musa Mehcur's children supplied with his application under the Australian/Turkish Assisted Passage Scheme, 1969
NAA: A2559, 1969/S/89-93
Musa's son Seyfi, as he is called by his many friends, is a leading figure in Muslim community affairs and interfaith activities in Sydney. As a child, he survived the 'wog' taunts to finally become accepted by his mainly Anglo schoolmates. After completing a degree in theatre and archaeology, he embarked on a life-changing journey: following the Silk Road through Iran, Pakistan, India, Tibet, Uzbekistan, Eastern Turkistan, and through to Syria, Palestine and Egypt. Along the way he rediscovered his faith. On his return to Australia he began working at a Muslim school, met his wife and married.
Today, he is the editor of a Muslim English-language monthly newspaper, the Forum on Australian Islamic Relations (FAIR). He serves on numerous committees, and is the architect of the 'Goodness and Kindness' project, which involves a Muslim, Jew and Christian visiting schools to dispel stereotypes and myths. His great love is making documentary films.