Asylum seeker keeps fighting through adversity
The life that has led 33 year old Maalek Bobakraad to Noble Park in Melbourne’s south east has not been an easy one.
Bobakraad was born in Isfahan, in central Iran, the son of an army pilot and commando.
A cabinet maker by day, he found his passion in his late teens in the form of Wushu, a form of martial arts derived from Kung Fu.
He took to the sport immediately, and within five months he had won a silver medal at the Iranian national championships.
His love for Wushu continued to grow, leading him to begin teaching the sport at night alongside his day job.
His skill at Wushu was affirmed when he later went back to the national championships, this time winning the gold medal.
“I loved it from the beginning. I started when I was 19 – that was 14 years ago and I started coaching and judging ten years ago,” Bobakraad said.
But persecution forced him to leave the country in search of a new home. So in June of 2013 he began his escape to Australia, which included stops in Qatar and Indonesia, as well as a combined 73 day stay in detention on Christmas Island and a camp in Darwin.
Following his release he spent six months in Adelaide with his brother and sister-in-law, before settling in Melbourne.
In Iran he was forced to leave behind a 10 year old daughter who is living with his ex-wife. He regularly talks to her on Skype, but cannot hope to bring her over for a visit as the conditions of his visa do not allow it.
“I miss her. It is very hard to be away from her,” Bobakraad said.
His passion for martial arts has continued in Melbourne through the Lifestyle Martial Arts Centre in Dandenong, where he is a regular unpaid volunteer.
Head instructor at Lifestyle, Bruce Corles, says that Bobakraad has been a positive influence around the gym.
“Maalek comes in and helps out in class, mostly over weekends. He judges and referees matches on a volunteer basis, which is what he did in his home country,” he says.
Mr Corles says that he gets free membership to the gym in exchange for the volunteer work that he does.
Bobakraad has also competed in a number of events for Lifestyle, winning gold at the 2014 Australian Kung-Fu Wushu Championships 85kg division. He also placed 2nd in the 90kg division.
He continues to teach Sanda (similar to Wushu) classes at Lifestyle; however his visa status means that he cannot be paid for his work, or to study. Instead he is forced to get by on Centrelink payments.
He says that he loves Australia and feels much safer here, but he finds it frustrating that he cannot work due to his visa.
“I love Australia,” Bobakraad says. “It is good to be here and be safe.”
He says it is possible to get by in Australia on a small wage, whereas in Iran you needed to work 2-3 jobs to survive.
Despite his meagre income, Bobakraad is able to live in relative comfort with his Australian girlfriend Trudy, and their two dogs.
“I love dogs. We have two – an Australian Bulldog and a Ridgeback cross,” he said.
But his love of dogs has got him in trouble at home where he was sentenced to 74 lashes for walking his dog in public, a religious crime in Iran.
“My dog was shot and you can still see the scars on my back today,” Bobakraad said.
Despite having the dogs for company, he still longs to get out of the house and work, not just to earn money but to fund his passion for Wushu.
The 2015 Kung-Fu Wushu Championships are taking place this year, except unlike last year they are being held in Sydney.
The cost of flights, accommodation, food and entry mean that Bobakraad will not be able to defend his title.
He says the only way he can enter is if he receives sponsorship from a third party, which he is desperately trying to obtain.
“Maalek has a lot of talent,” says Corles. “He lives to find a sponsor.”
The championships take place in early May, so he needs to find a sponsor soon if he is to compete.
Long term he says that he would love to represent Australia in his sport.
But for now, Bobakraad would be satisfied with just having the chance to compete in the sport that he loves so much.
AMES Staff Writer