EMILE BENSOUSSAN – FRANCE
I am Emile Bensoussan, from France. I have a wife Marie and 2 grown children William 44 Ariane 39.
I was a photographer in Paris, and we came to Australia as assisted migrants, for $15, in 1969. We wanted a change in life, and to get away from the bad weather. We have never looked back. I stopped thinking as a migrant when I was naturalized after 3 years. We acted like Aussies and Australia was our home. Within a few months we were living on the Gold Coast. It was like a little village, only 45,000 people.
Our problem was that we couldn’t speak English. Maria was a top secretary in France and she swept the floors in Coles and was cleaning in a motel. At first we mixed with Italians and Greeks, other Latins, because we had no English. I was called a Frog, but never a Wog and never in a bad way. Culturally we were closer to the Latins, we spoke with our hands and ate different food.
I bought a Polaroid camera and started selling people photos. After 6 months I could speak a bit of English and I opened a photography studio. Marie bought some roses and put them in posies and sold them at restaurants, and she also sang in restaurants. She was making good money. My wife was a good cook, and there were no French restaurants here, so we rented very small premises for $35 per week in Surfers Paradise and started cooking. It was decorated like a French provincial restaurant, and could only seat 22 people. We called it Maria la Rose. It was very successful.
We sold it 2 years later and opened another one. Then a Mexican restaurant. We have had about 15 restaurants in 28 years. Some were good decisions, some not. I was the Maitre ‘d. I was quite good, very open, and I had a French accent, which was terrific at this time. For many years it was good to have a French accent, they like it, especially the women.
In 1985 I was putting spoons on my face to entertain my customers, it took me 2 years to balance 25 spoons on my face. Maybe it is a world record.
Australians then were more laid back, but the ethnics who came here worked harder, to prove themselves and to make money.
I have had about 20 businesses (a cruise boat business, a pizza factory, Pate, restaurants, garlic bread).
Once I had 5 or 6 businesses at the same time. You can’t do that. I see something and I think “That could work.” But you can’t do everything.
There were no real bad times, we always had work and a home for the kids. If you were ready for work there was always work to do.