Latin Stories Australia's 'Nuestras Voices' - Mario Rodriguez
Mario Rodriguez was responsible for teaching and training technicians and engineers about the railway control systems in the 1980s. He also spent many years working on large transport projects that have changed Victoria and Melbourne for the better. Some examples of these projects include the first computerised railway control centre in Melbourne, the Regional Fast Rail, Regional Rail Link and the beginnings of the Melbourne Metro Tunnel. He is now a proud grandfather whose legacy lives on with his family.
TELL US YOUR STORY
When you are young you have a strong desire to explore the world, to adventure. For me, my wife and daughter, our adventure started in 1980 when we decided to come to Australia for two years. I was lucky to be born in the multicultural society of Buenos Aires where I received a good education. My education proved helpful in providing opportunities for me to emigrate to Australia, which accepted us with open arms. We obtained permanent residency, and the Government provided us with accommodation, as well as the right to work in Australia for at least two years. It was a big decision but it was the right decision. Arriving in Melbourne was like arriving in a completely different place to home because in Buenos Aires the city was always alive, full of food, music and culture whereas in Melbourne, everything was closed by 5pm.
I spent the first few years studying hard because I knew that economic wellbeing was going to be important to be able to provide financial security for my family, I knew that English would be key to opening that door. I dedicated my first couple of years to studying English. My family was a tremendous support throughout this Australian adventure. Particularly at the beginning, those first five years were perhaps the most challenging. Communication with the family back in Argentina was done through letters and cassettes, as calling was very expensive, one minute cost two dollars. Therefore, letters were the best way to communicate because they only took one month to arrive. We would record our lives onto cassette so that our family in Argentina could, in some way, continue to be involved. We had conversations about our daily lives, work, school, health, and celebrations. We did what we could to keep in touch but at the same time we were lucky to create another family with our new friends in Australia, friends who eventually replaced those left in Argentina.
My mother was Spanish, and she had emigrated to Argentina, my father was Argentinian, and he had always lived in migrant neighbourhoods where there was a particular way to go about life. When I arrived in Australia, I was surprised by the fact that the Argentinians and other Spanish speaking people that were here were living in the same way as my grandparents lived in Argentina; with austerity, with a sense of community and togetherness. The only way to survive was to join those who came from your country or spoke the same language as you. We were lucky to find new generous friends.
In my professional career I worked hard to be regarded as a rail industry professional. I gained extensive project management experience and expertise working in Malaysia and Victoria in varied roles and within the following signalling disciplines: train control, CBTC, signal power supplies, cabling systems, infrastructure; standards, safety systems and elements of train radio and communications. As a project engineer, I had the responsibility to manage all aspects of railway signalling systems. I worked on large transport projects that have changed Victoria and Melbourne. For example, the first computerised railway control centre in Melbourne, the Regional Fast Rail, Regional Rail Link and the beginnings of the Melbourne Metro Tunnel.
I have been on Community Radio for 30 years hosting a program in Spanish called “Proyeccion Sur”, it’s on every week for two hours and we broadcast all things Latin American and relevant for the Spanish speaking community. For me, to be an Australian today is to have responsibilities and rights, to live in peace, to have good health and social supports, to enjoy mutual respect and equality and to relish in the many and varied cultural traditions present in Australia. Mario training graduates as part of his role with the Department of Transport
Feeling Uprooted - Being young you have the desire and energy to do something different, you believe that everything will be wonderful and amazing, a great adventure. You never think that you will have difficult moments. Upon arrival I found that although some things were better, there were some things which were not. Adjusting to all this new life was tiring yet exciting at the same time.
Starting again - Initially I worked in occupations that were not related to my professional field, as I had to find some way to provide for my family. The first three years were a time of many sacrifices and it wasn’t easy. I will never forget the first time I had to travel by myself from where I was living to the English language school, I could not understand the announcements that the public transport operator was saying.
Loneliness - Loneliness was a strong emotion we experienced here as the streets were empty and the conversations with neighbours and work colleagues were few and far between.
CONTRASTS & SIMILARITIES
Private life - I found that work colleagues never talked about their families, only ever about sport. Respect and discipline made people seem cold, it’s a tough thing to adjust to coming from the Latin American culture.
Cultural barriers - The Australian society has changed a lot and now people are more open, the barriers are not as big as when we immigrated. I think it is vital to understand and accept the cultural barriers in order to be able to overcome them.
Different cities - Upon first impression the cities seemed small, the trains were old and made of wood and there was a lack of international food options, the coffee was instant ‘Nescafe’ with boiling water. Now, this adds character and charm but back then that was difficult to see. There were also some positives I appreciated including: the open spaces, the greenery, and the friendliness of the people.
PIECE OF ADVICE
Pass your legacy on – The wisdom and lessons that I learnt from my parents and grandparents were what we taught to our children, and they have applied them well. They are all successful professionals and in doing so, I feel I have passed my legacy onto my children. My grandchildren have a good quality of life and a variety of different skill sets of which I feel very proud.
Be open to other cultures – The diverse backgrounds in our multicultural family has taught me to be patient, that each new family member brings something new for us to learn from one another. You can also be an excellent ambassador for your country of origin working and living honestly and respecting and cooperating with all members of the community that host us, especially the Aboriginal people of Australia.
Never forget where you come from – Feel very proud of the great countries where you come from, your people and your traditions. Try not to forget your roots, your culture, your traditions, the education received by your relatives and the schooling acquired in your country. All of this is the basis of who you are and must be respected and valued. If you can, teach your language to your children and grandchildren.
IN THE NEXT FEW YEARS…
Mario would like to go around Australia in his caravan and to reach the farthest corners of the country. He thinks the beauty of the people and the landscape is exquisite. He would also like to visit Europe and continue to explore Argentina as well as to spend three months with his friends camping on the Mornington Peninsula.
Mario's story is part of “Nuestras Voces” project. Learn more about this project here.