Anne Wiberg – Chair of MusicSA, Adelaide Festival Associate Producer and DJ – moved from Helsinki to country South Australia on her 14th birthday back in 1977.
“If I ever write a biography it’s going to be called Helsinki to Hell,” Wiberg begins. “Partly because it was minus-25 degrees the day we left and two days later in Adelaide it was 35 degrees. This was the middle of February on my 14th birthday. So, of course, I hated my family for having me suffer on my birthday. “When we first arrived in Adelaide, I thought, ‘What is this place? It’s dusty, hot and horrible’. Then my new stepfather, who I’d known for six weeks, said ‘No, no we’re not staying here. We’re going to Loxton.’ It turned out to be a crazy couple of weeks at the age of 14, when I had to leave all my family, friends and everybody behind. The hell period lasted for about a year and after that it turned into an amazing experience.” The catalyst for Wiberg’s Australian move was when her mother became pen friends with a Finnish man living in Loxton. “My mum was a single parent for five years and as a joke decided to become pen friends with a Finnish man who was living in Australia. It started by, ‘Okay I’ll just start writing to this man’. Anyway, he came to visit my mum, my sister and I in Helsinki and the day they met they got engaged. They were married within four weeks, and six weeks later we were living in Loxton. “There was no internet. The only way I could communicate with my family was aerograms, so they took three weeks to get to Finland and another three weeks to come back. It took at least four or five weeks to hear back and have that communication with your friends – very different now. My sister, who is two years younger than me, and I sort of looked after each other, but the isolation was the hardest. “I’d decided that I would never ever stay in Australia, ‘I hate this place. The people are terrible. I can’t handle the weather’. The Australian government had a deal with the Finnish government in those days that if you stay in Australia for two years you get permanent residency. So that was the minimum period. We were the last planeload from Helsinki to Australia – it was the last lot of Fins that came here on that deal. By the end of the two years we realised, ‘Hang on a minute, the two years is over and life is not too bad’.” Wiberg moved to Adelaide immediately after school but she says her Riverland experience taught her a lot. “Probably the most multicultural experience I ever had in my entire life was working in a pizza/Chinese restaurant in Loxton. It was owned by a Chilean man, the chef was from Vietnam with a Finnish waitress in Loxton, South Australia. I thought, ‘Wow, I love that this can happen in a small country town. You can get all these different cultured people working together in a crazy restaurant environment. It taught me a lot. “The rest of my family has gone back to Finland. I stayed. I went back when I was 22. I lasted 15 months. I couldn’t wait to come back to Australia. So I moved here on my own. I had $200 in my pocket. I borrowed the money from my friends here to come back to Australia on a one-way ticket. I said goodbye to my family again. I went, ‘That’s it. I’ve got to stay here’.” musicsa.com.au adelaidefestival.com.au