How we stay together: 'We've seen so much, and gone through so much'

Alexandra Spring

Names: Anita and Jason Lund
Years together: 24
Occupations: Company director and IT consultant

“We’re like a pair of old slippers,” says Anita Lund, with a laugh, “we belong together.” Sitting next to her on the couch in their Collaroy home on Sydney’s northern beaches, her husband, Jason, nods in agreement. In their almost 25 years together, the couple has faced some significant challenges, but their bond has remained unshakeable.

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Originally from Sheffield, they’ve lived in Sydney with their three children for seven years. More than four years ago, they applied for permanent residency but were initially declined on medical grounds because their middle child, Ciaran, has Down’s syndrome.

They sought a review of the decision with the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, and spent years in limbo. This week, they received the happy news that the tribunal has overturned the decision and they can remain in Australia. Their story will be included in the SBS documentary series Who Gets to Stay in Australia, with the couple hoping to raise awareness of the difficulties they faced and give hope to others who may face the same hurdles.

They got together in 1996 after working together at a large company in Sheffield. There was undeniable chemistry, says Anita: “He had a little bit of a glint in his eye.” Jason felt the same way, attracted to her smarts: “[She was] really bright and funny.”

While they have a shared sense of humour, they have very different personalities – “Opposites attract”, says Anita – and came from different backgrounds. Yet it helped to draw them together. “[She] calmed me down and involved me in new stuff. It was interesting, I had to become a gentleman,” says Jason.

One night out at a local nightclub, Jason made his move. “From that point the dynamic changed from just being friends and thinking about it, to actually becoming more involved,” he says. “It was a bit like a thunderbolt because it was really unexpected,” Anita remembers. “It happened really quickly then. We fell in love with each other within a month, and we just did everything together.

They were married in 2001 and their son Ewan was born the following year. Both remember those early days as a happy time, even as they adjusted to having a new baby. “It made us stronger,” says Jason. They vowed not to become overwhelmed with their new responsibilities. “We made time for each other. And I think that’s one of the most important things that we ever did – and still do.” They try to have regular nights out or at least take the dog for a walk together: “We put the world to rights when we have a walk,” says Jason.

Their son Ciaran arrived just over a year later. Anita had a relatively normal pregnancy so it was a shock when he was diagnosed with Down’s syndrome a few days after he was born. They pulled together: “Me and Nita have this thing, where depending on what’s happening, one of us takes control,” says Jason. “Nita was having a meltdown for obvious reasons, she’d been through all of that and she’d just got this news. So I took a real positive slant to it, I didn’t want to be negative about it. I said, ‘Look, it is what it is. We’ve got to bring him up the best we can, with what we’ve got.’”

Jason took the lead for a few months, then Anita took over when he was worn down. “[Anita] started to sort out the support and services that we could get for Ciaran. She focused her mind on that element, and that helped her to get through that as well. And we bounced off each other through that time at various points.”

The first six months were a blur for the family. The most difficult part was dealing with other peoples’ reactions. “Everybody tells you it’s going to be alright, it’s going to be good and it’s not a problem. But in reality, you know deep down, because you see it, you see the challenges in front of you – it’s hard and it’s psychological,” says Jason. “You read things into things that aren’t really there but to you, it’s truly important. Like we used to get really uptight around people looking at Ciaran when he was little, because we thought they were staring at him, making fun of him. And that was really hard.”

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But they kept talking and listening to each other. “We kept the relationship going, we were close, and we didn’t give in. We were there for each other,” says Jason. “We had some rocky times, we came close to having some big blowouts once or twice,” Anita interjects: “But we never came close to parting ways.” Jason agrees: “No, we’d never do that.”

A few years later, daughter Sienna arrived. They’d been concerned throughout the pregnancy but she arrived safely, and both were thrilled to have a daughter. It also meant they had a child on either side of Ciaran. “We were thinking about when he’s older [that] would be a support for him as well.”

Three young children is a challenge for any family, but particularly for the Lunds. “We decided that we’d try not to treat Ciaran any differently to the other two. We tried not to give him more attention than Ewan and Sienna. And we just made time for one another.” Says Jason: “We made sure that, as a family, we were together. We didn’t want to do different things with Ciaran, we wanted to do it as a group, [and] get everybody involved.”

In 2012, Jason was offered a secondment to Australia. It was a big move for the family but they were excited about the opportunity, even if it meant leaving family and friends in Sheffield. “We all realised that the opportunity was too good to miss, and we thought that if we didn’t at least try it, it was something that we’d regret,” says Anita. Initially their application for a skilled migrant visa was refused on the grounds that Ciaran didn’t meet the health criteria. Eventually the family was allowed to move to Australia in 2013, if they signed a health waiver for their son.

They settled happily in Australia: “We did the two-year stint, and I said to Anita, ‘I don’t want to go back to the UK, I love it here. This is the place where I want to live.’ And the kids had started to settle in, we’d got them in a good school. Ciaran was doing well, Sienna was loving it, Ewan was loving the outdoor experience, and all his new friends he’d made. So, we said, ‘Right, let’s apply for permanent residency’.”

They’re shocked at the hard line the immigration department took with their case. “We understand there has to be a law, but it has to be done in a way that’s sympathetic. For people that are genuine, who want to come into the country, [who] want to work hard, contribute, and bring their family to have a better life.”

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They’ve supported each other through the challenges they’ve faced. “We keep involved with the kids, and being a family unit,” says Jason. “That all helps us, and keeping our friends with us. We try and socialise quite a lot, that’s a big help. Nothing better than a good blowout when you’re feeling a bit down.”

And their bond remains strong. “We like each other and we have a good time [together],” says Jason. “When we can put all this to one side, if we go out together and have a meal, then it’s always fantastic.” Anita agrees: “We’re not one of those couples that you see sitting at the table and talking on their phones, not speaking to each other. We’ve still got a lot to say.”

They can’t imagine life without the other. “No matter what comes up, I don’t think there’s anything that can stop us being together. We’ve seen so much, and gone through so much, I don’t think that’ll ever happen,” says Jason. “J’s my soulmate,” says Anita. “He always has been. We’re in it for the long haul, and we’ll stick together through thick and thin, and that’s just how it is.”

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  • Who Gets To Stay in Australia is on SBS on Wednesdays at 8.30pm or on SBS OnDemand