Olga Murphy of Mullewa  |  100x70cm Giclée Fine Photographic Print by Martine Perret (2024)

"My name is Olga Murphy, born in Sverdlovsk, USSR, right in the middle of Russia between Asia and Europe in the Urals – far away from here. I became a literature teacher after five years of higher education at the Pedagogical Institute.

I was a workaholic. I was trying to cover my government's needs in teachers because we had a shortage, especially Russian language teachers. I was ideologically oriented. I was from USSR, not from Russia. We were educated on Marxism, Leninism.

I worked from 7.30 in the morning until 7.40 in the evening. Sometimes I didn't even have my lunch as I was an altruist and was trying to pass my knowledge over to my students. It was not only lessons. I was a curator in class responsible for their attendance at school, for their health, for their success. I was working six days a week. The government then gave you a chance to take early retirement after 25 years. You could be a pensioner at 50. I used this chance and I picked up another chance to get married and be here.

My family asked me when I decided to migrate, did I feel like a betrayer? To leave such a wonderful and amazing place? You’re leaving for an exotic place, yes, but so far away from your motherland." It was seen as a conflict. People, including my students, would say to me: you betrayed your country.

My parents were children of war who did not eat properly and went through horrible things in their lives. I love them. I love my country that gave me a happy childhood and high education. Every time I am asked about life satisfaction I answer, I am happy. I had a loving family, I was popular with my students and colleagues. I was successful in all my projects and committed to my work. I was travelling a lot and made amazing friends. This perception of full happiness was given to me by previous generations who paid a tremendous price. They gave their lives in the name of a peaceful future for the next generations. They went through the Second World War. Many, many, families and people passed away. 25 million people died, but I reckon it would be more.

Marriage is why I am here. I migrated in 2010. I met Bobby through friends who introduced us. I did not dream to live abroad as I love my country so much but we were pen friends. We did not have technology in 1993 to meet online. One day Bobby dropped the word 'love'. We corresponded with letters and telephone. We treasured letters and I kept them all. I don’t have much but these are my true treasures.

One day Bobby organised a beautiful Christmas card and enclosed $50 inside and wrote "my only one lovely lady Olga, please go to the flower shop and buy a bunch of flowers for Christmas." I took that card to my school girls and they said "you can buy all the flowers in the shop with this!" Salaries were very low then.

Since 1993, we had been writing. In 1996, I thought we’d meet in Moscow but he could not as his parents passed away. Imagine how many tears. We were faithful to one another from 1993 until 2010. Bobby proposed to me, and I accepted.

In 2010 I landed in Perth, then onto Mullewa for a couple of weeks. Thanks to the photos and stories, it was not too much of a shock. It was so romantic. Bobby took me around, showed me the bush, we went everywhere. By then I was already in love.

Before I left, my mum kept asking me "are you sure you're making the correct decision – it's so far away, are you sure that man would not be playing a game on you?" Some things you feel and know, and love covers all. It's more than fact, more than money, it's much more.

We decided to play a 'game' for the future. I said to him please write down your wish and in ten years we will open the letters. Bobby had written "to be happy with my one and only lovely pretty lady Olga Murphy and to be healthy and happy for the rest of our lives."

I was accepted by Bobby's family unconditionally from first appearance, it was amazing, and by the community – not instantly of course. Firstly you have to work on charisma and charisma will work on you. I was trying to find my place. My accent and my way of talking was probably destabilising people. "She is so strange" they would think. I felt like a very strong outsider. But my optimism and pedagogical experience are my base to accept people and understand. Of course, I am strange and of course, I am an outsider! It would be odd if I was not like that.

I decided to go out to do things for people. No one asked me to come here so I said to myself, go and do something for the community. I could not work initially, and my English was not great. I was self-taught. I was a literature teacher in Russia and was a popular teacher. It was a great contrast to be very popular there and zero here at my age.

I have been working in aged care from 2014 not long after I came to Mullewa. It's my small part here in this community to look after elderly. Some of them are very lonely and single. They need your support – social support, physical support, communication. But they give me back much more – their wisdom, point of view, their own lessons of life. It's wonderful. My colleagues are nurses form Congo, South Africa, Kenya.

Our Russian writer Tolstoi wrote, "there is no sincerity where there is no kindness, simplicity and truth." I am trying to follow this motto. When you demonstrate all these qualities of your personality, people are reliant on you and people trust you.

I would be a Russian teacher on a pension if I was back home, and thanks to Bobby I am here. If not in Mullewa, I would not be standing in one row with ANZAC veterans of war battles. I would not be introduced to the local farmers who have their own battles with droughts or other natural disasters to produce grain, veggies and meat. Here in Mullewa, I feel myself as part of a generous and very diverse society with its own history where destinies of Aboriginal people is binded with people born here and migrants who gave their hearts to this land.

This society has issues but it does not matter where you live, it would still be similar issues.

All we need is peace. And then love. Without love to my Bobby I would not be here."


Click below to view the full portrait and read each story from the Act Belong Commit exhibition Women of the Hinterlands