By Angela Ostojic
Umit Bali is flying the nest with his latest comedy skit Flight Plan, which had its premiere at the Sydney Fringe Festival. Following the success of Umit’s previous skit Coming to Australia, his new work looks at life in Australia after arrival. “Flight Plan is about my experiences, trying to gain permanent residency, living with parents who are ethnic, and then trying to move out, leave the nest,” he says.
As Umit says, many Fijians moved there as indentured labourers to work on the sugar cane plantations. “I always find it funny how black people were forced into slavery and we Indians signed up for it, too,” he says, explaining that in Australia he will change his cultural identity as the situation requires, “When I’m trying to pick up girls, I’m Fijian, but when I’m trying to get a job, I’m Indian.”
When Umit and his family landed in Sydney in 1998, they went from Sydney Airport straight to Mount Druitt, “mounty-country”, as Umit calls it. Now, 15 years later, he is determined to enter a new phase of life. “I’m moving to the city in February. I’m going to be 29 soon. I would like to see what my directions are. My directions have always been my family. I’ve got to live my life now.”
Umit received permanent residency five years ago. He thinks the process quite laughable. “You apply, and then you get rejected, then you appeal and explain your change in circumstances in the appeal; this takes three years,” he says. And the cycle is repetitive until you get granted residence. It took Umit’s parents 14 years to gain residency; Umit got it a few years before they did.
“If you’re lucky you’ll get a bridging visa which at least allows you to work or study,” he says, “but if your visa runs out, then you’re illegal and you have to hide from immigration officers and find cash-in-hand work.”
During the times Umit was illegal and he was living with relatives, the Government had a $2000 reward for people who dobbed in illegal immigrants.
It was during this time, without a bridging visa, that Umit scored a chance to show his talent for comedy on Channel Seven’s The Big Arvo; since the gig was unpaid, no-one realised he did not have the right papers to be working.
Umit says he decided to move into comedy because he wanted to work for himself. “I love making my friends laugh. It’s just always been really easy for me although I was never a class clown or a popular kid.”
Umit considers himself lucky that he did not have very traditional Indian parents; he says they were supportive of his decision to try comedy.
He says comedy became a safety net. “I didn’t really care for education because in Fiji the teachers didn’t care for us so comedy was like a defence. Smart people debate things but if you don’t want to debate things, you can make fun of them instead.”