Refugee?s story one that had to be told
By UTE SCHULENBERG
JAY Higson-Coleing was 11 years old when she wrote her story about Cambodian refugee Allan Tan and entered it in a nationwide writing competition run by Australians Against Racism Incorporated in 2002.
At that time she had a pen pal in detention but as they were not allowed to talk on the phone, she had to look elsewhere for her subject.
"Allan lived in Darwin and was my grandmother's hairdresser," Jay said.
"He had told her about his escape from Cambodia 20 years ago and she suggested I talk to him.
"I rang him and he told me his story."
Jay's work recounts Mr Tan's tale of persecution by the Khmer Rouge when he was a young child, including the murder of his parents when he was four.
It tells how he and his young siblings made their way to a refugee camp in Thailand and eventually to the safety of Australia.
"I felt really sad hearing how he had no parents when he was so little and was sleeping on the side of the road," Jay said.
"Living like that would have been bad and very scary ? the landmines, the bodies.
"It made me think how lucky I am."
At the time the story won Jay a 'highly commended' award and a cheque for $50.
Then last year Jay was invited to attend the Young Australians Forum in Canberra to meet some of the winners and hear them read their stories.
"Some of the young people there were new arrivals and had written their own stories of escape and being in the detention centres.
"It was lovely seeing how happy they are now."
Now her story, along with other stories by young writers, aged from eight to 21, has been published in a recently launched book 'No Place Like Home'.