Sunenna Bella Sharma, photo: Paul Jeffers
A combination of factors brought me to Australia from Fiji 30 years ago. My first marriage was deteriorating and I recognised I wasn’t going to be able to provide the best education and opportunities for my three children. Some of my siblings were already established in Australia and they encouraged me to join them.
I was introduced to my second husband by a mutual friend. I was already separated from my first husband when she came to visit me in Fiji. She wanted me to meet this ‘wonderful’ person she was sharing a flat with and who was looking for a partner. When she went back to Australia, she told him about me and we started communicating. He was very charming and witty and I soon found myself falling in love with the idea of him. I moved to Australia with my three daughters to start our new life and to be with the person who I thought was the man of my dreams. We were married soon after.
He was very charming and witty and I soon found myself falling in love with the idea of him.
After only four months of marriage, I noticed some troubling behaviour. He was not only borrowing money from me, but also from my family, his family and his friends. He always promised to pay it back, but this never happened. Things started to go missing from the house, such as my gold jewellery, which was not only valuable but also had enormous sentimental value. Money disappeared from bank accounts, including the one belonging to my live-in nanny. One day I returned home to find our car was gone.
An escalating situation
I didn’t know anything about gambling or the extent of its life-altering effects. It wasn’t until my husband’s daughter came to stay with us that I started to understand what was happening. She said to me, ‘He must be gambling’. I confronted my husband, but he wouldn’t admit to it, or was simply in denial. It was a shocking time, mentally and emotionally draining. We were always arguing and it was not only affecting me but also everyone around us, including my children. They couldn’t live a normal, happy life.
We were always arguing and it was not only affecting me but also everyone around us, including my children.
When my nanny decided to leave, I couldn’t find anyone to look after my daughters, so I had to stop working. I didn’t have any income. I was simply trying to survive for my children. It got to the stage where I couldn’t fix anything in my house. My husband was forging my signature on documents and I didn’t have any money. I was scared I would end up living on the streets. Eighteen months after my wedding, I had to leave.
The importance of finding support and telling our stories
I had sisters in Sydney and they came to see me from time to time and were supporting me. I had also made some very good friends and they were always there for me. But I was very new to the country and I didn’t know anything about the support services available.
The problems with my husband didn’t end when I left him. The situation escalated to family violence. He was stalking me, harassing me with constant phone calls and writing nasty letters to my family and friends. He blamed my sisters and their husbands for breaking up his marriage and taking us away from him. In the end, he was in my house with a knife. For six years I moved from suburb to suburb and interstate for our safety.
I was very new to the country and I didn’t know anything about the support services available.
The advice I give people who are experiencing something similar is to take a stand. Learn to say no. Don’t blame yourself. Talk to the person who is gambling and let them know a helping hand is always in reach. It’s also very important to find someone you can trust and to seek help for yourself. Share your stories with other people. It is amazing how many people think their story is unique, but there are lots of people fighting similar battles. We must be strong; love and respect ourselves and then we can cope with the difficulties we face in life.
Gambling harm in culturally and linguistically diverse communities
Last Tuesday, Sunenna told her story at a forum on preventing gambling harm in culturally and linguistically diverse communities. Hosted by the Multicultural Centre for Women’s Health and the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation, the forum was run as part of Responsible Gambling Awareness Week 2017.
In opening the forum, the Minister for Consumer Affairs, Gaming and Liquor Regulation, Marlene Kairouz, announced a new grants program to help prevent or reduce gambling harm in culturally and linguistically diverse communities. Offered by the foundation, the program aims to raise awareness about the harm associated with gambling, promote avenues for seeking help and provide alternative recreation activities.
Find out more about the prevention grants for culturally and linguistically diverse communities.