People of Ryde presents Agnes Shim
Published on 11 June 2020
I’m Agnes (Boknan Chung) Shim. I grew up in the port city of Daegu, about 300km south-east of Seoul, in the post Korean War era. I was the eldest girl in a family of 11 (five sons and four daughters). I am a wife, a mother, mother-in-law and a grandmother, all of which I love being. Above all though, I am a woman—a woman who migrated to Australia 32 years ago in the hope of a better life for my family.
In the Ryde and the greater Sydney area, I am known as the President of a non-profit organisation, the Sydney Korean Women’s Association (SKWA) - an organisation that I set up over 18 years ago to help Korean women, and all women for that matter, living in the Ryde area who are linguistically and culturally disadvantaged access the vast amount of social services available to them. Today, the SKWA is an integral provider within the community with over a thousand associated members and around 60 active volunteers.
Although people appreciate my work, often I get asked what motivated me to create SKWA. To which, I answer - to help other people in the community, particularly women, who may have had similar or worse challenges than me assimilating into Australia. On a more personal note though, I have many genuine and poignant reasons as to why I decided to set up SKWA.
Only a few months after we migrated to Australia, we were visited by two police officers accusing us of petrol theft. One of the petrol stations where we had stopped by to fill up our car had reported us to the police. We were shocked. My two sons were also home and they were acting as interpreters as they had managed to absorb English faster than me.
The female officer spoke to my eldest son and said, “Can you tell your mum that she is lying?” With shock on his face, my son translated that into Korean for me. In broken English, we explained we had paid $24 in cash to the Campsie petrol station. The officers asked for the receipt, but we were unable to find it.
My children were terrified—crying and begging me to give the police the money to avoid going to jail. The thought of paying the $24 crossed my mind but if I did so, it would mean an admission of guilt and succumbing to a false accusation. As a person of high integrity and morals, brought up with strict discipline, I wanted to demonstrate to my children that you have to stand up for what you believe, especially when it’s the truth.
The next day, my husband and I visited the petrol station that had accused us, but to no avail. Distraught, we were forced to attend a pre-trial hearing. Although we had an interpreter, the magistrate insisted my husband and I explain ourselves personally, irrespective of how terrible our English skills were. What the magistrate had said to us resonated with me and gave me confidence to state our case.
Through the interpreter, I was informed that the magistrate had said we spoke like genuine and innocent people. I thanked the magistrate and added that I was not here because I was too frugal to pay the $24 but because I wanted the truth to be known. Even now I could pay the $24, so that I don’t have to return, which made the courtroom chuckle. The magistrate kindly explained that although he understood our circumstances, we would still need to get ourselves a lawyer and return for a hearing.
Thankfully, we were eventually exonerated. I shed a tear or two, not because I was relieved, but because of the turbulent ordeal my family went through for an amount as petty as $24. It was that very moment I decided, once my kids grew up, I would study social services.
Although that experience was not pleasant, it helped drive me to start the SKWA. The greater vision I had was if I could start helping linguistically or culturally disadvantaged people make differences to their lives, then over a period of time, it would enable them to help each other to create a collaborative, harmonious, diverse and inclusive community.
- Founder/Chairperson of the Sydney Korean Women’s Association
- Vice president for Australian Asian Association Bennelong (AAAB)
- Advisory Member of Ministerial Consultative Committees
- General Manager of Australia Korean Sex – Trade Eradication Committee
- Advisory Member of the National Unification of Republic of South Korea
- Vice Chair Australian Korean Cultural Foundation
- Committee member of Community Reference Group, City of Ryde
- Advisory member for Northern Sydney & Central Coast Health Department
- Committee Member of Women States Advisory Committee, City of Ryde
- Committee member of Australian Women’s Coalition