‘Every day you have new friends, from everywhere’
Mr Ah Bah Oh, known to everyone as Baba, has lived in the 32-storey public housing tower Turanga, in Waterloo, for the past 11 years. Due to family circumstances, he moved in as a single man 11 years ago and in December he will turn 75.
When asked about the redevelopment of the Waterloo area, Baba laughs uproariously as he says that he’s happy to move wherever there’s a seaside and a train and a bus, no worries! He points out that he does not work, therefore it does not matter where he lives, as long as the house or unit is nice.
He said that if he were a home owner he would want to stay, but he points out that the land is government land, it is near the city and close to public transport which makes it very expensive.
He also says that the buildings in the redevelopment area are over 40 years old and they probably need to be upgraded. He said, “You want to make nice, you must change.”
He loves Waterloo and the many friends he has there. He loves the multicultural nature of the area and the proximity to public transport and the city. He likes the fact that Australia welcomes people from all countries and he is very appreciative of Australia’s welfare system; the number of services in place to help people like himself, including the telephone translator service, and the letters sent to ensure that people have medical check-ups, dental check-ups, bowel and cancer screening.
Nineteen-year-old Baba worked as a kitchenhand in a hospital on the island of Penang where, as a child and teenager, he had been fascinated by ships and the idea of seeing the world. He wondered how he was going to manage that? Well, he learned to cook and from 1971 to 1981 worked as a cook on cargo ships, the first a Malaysian ship and the last a German ship.
He loved seeing the world and earning money. One of the countries he visited while working as a ship’s cook was Australia. He fell in love with the birds and the places, especially Manly with its million-dollar houses.
“Oh, my God, so much bird. Colour one. Bibi baba, bibi baba,” he describes with joy the sounds they made.
So, in 1982, he migrated here with his wife and two children.
In Australia he worked as a kitchenhand in a factory, then at Manly hospital and then finally at the Army Barracks in North Head for 13 years. When the army moved to Pakapunyal, Baba left.
In 2002 he opened a restaurant serving Malaysian, Singaporean and Thai food in George Street, Redfern for two-and-a-half years, but when TJ Hickey died in 2004 his business suffered as people stopped coming to Redfern.
Baba says that as a pensioner you don’t want to stay home every day. He has done a lot of volunteer work, winning the NSW Seniors Week Education/Lifelong Learning Volunteer Award in March 2010 for his outreach work as a chef.
He said: “Every time you can cook, you talk to people, you teach people. Your heart very happy. Every day you have new friends, from everywhere, some from Nepal.”