Migrants driving force behind taxi industry

(Transcript from World News Radio)

Inspired by her father’s story, one Melbourne artist has found the journey doesn’t always end with the fare.

佛山桑拿

Ella Archibald-Binge reports.

(Click on the audio tab above to hear the full report)

Tansa Eid knows the streets of Melbourne better than most – and he should: he toured the city for 30 years – as a taxi driver.

Arriving from Lebanon in 1966, Tansa worried he was behind the times – so decided to get behind the wheel.

“Sometimes when you come from other countries everything’s different… I’m a young man I want to talk to the girls… It doesn’t work like this. I have to change. I have to take off the suit, I have to mingle with everyone, so it works with me.”

After three decades in the industry, he remembers one customer more than most – an older woman who became one of his regulars.

“She used to tell me when to pick her up and all this. She used to have a little glass of whiskey with her and nip on it all the way. She was a lovely lady, you know…”

When Tansa’s daughter was born, his favourite passenger came to the Christening.

It’s a story his daughter, Christine, loves to tell.

“My dad told her that I was born and so she actually hand-knitted a cardigan for me, and she actually came along to my christening and gave me a babushka. And it was actually my most treasured possession for many, many years.”

Christine Eid has always been fascinated with the taxi industry.

“My dad and two of my uncles drove taxis and so on Sundays we used to visit one and other. And often my dad and my uncles would be sitting around exchanging stories, and as children we’ be listening in on those stories. And sometimes we’d be quite entertained by some of the drama in the cab, sometimes we were bored by the repetition of the stories, and other times we would be quite concerned for their welfare because of some of the stories that we heard.”

Now an artist, Christine’s latest exhibition, Hellow Yellow, explores the unique relationship between driver and passenger.

“The relationship is quite interesting between the driver and the passenger, because essentially you have strangers that are thrust in this confined space, and trust plays a big part of the negotiation between the driver and the passenger, and it’s so easy for there to be misunderstanding. So things like the way that one might look at one and other, there might be an intonation of voice, can very easily throw off the relationship between the driver and the passenger. You know we all come to a cab with, you know, baggage.”

Employment manager at the AMES migrant settlement agency, Samantha Halmoukas, says working as cab drivers can often help migrants engage with the Australian community.

“They understand the demographics of Melbourne, and also social participation – they’re out and about, so it increases their confidence. Also a lot of people go into pathways to other employment, so they look at the bus driving industry, they look at starting their own businesses…”

Samantha Halmoukas says over the past decade, the number of migrant taxi drivers has increased – now accounting for almost three-quarters of cab drivers across the country.

And with the right attitude, she says it’s not just drivers who stand to learn a thing or two on the daily commute.

“Don’t be afraid to ask the driver where they’ve come from, why they’re here, some of their background… Because the stories that they have can inspire us as Australians.”

The Hello Yellow exhibition is showing at the City Gallery in Melbourne until the 28th of July.