Lana Dulic was just 11 when she fled Bosnia amid the turmoil of the Balkan war. Twenty-four years later, the Centacare social worker is drawing on her past to help others make sense of their future.
Three years ago Lana Dulic waded into the River Vrbas as for the first time as an adult.
Running through the city of Banja Luka, the River was the backdrop for her idyllic childhood before it was abruptly interrupted by the Balkan War in 1993.
Until then, Lana knew little of the conflict tearing her country apart by ethnic cleansing and the indiscriminate shelling of cities and towns.
“My parents did an absolutely incredible job of keeping us shielded from everything that was going on, so being 11, I didn’t really understand what was happening,’’ she says.
“I had a really, really carefree childhood. We would swim in the river and there were lots of trees and greenery. It was so pretty. You could see the history of the world, all the influences, in our city so it was incredible.
“It’s in the aftermath, when you escape the war, when you reflect back and go, `wow, that was a bit rough’. There were incidents and situations when we obviously feared for our lives and were quite scared to even walk the streets, but that’s not how I think of my childhood.
“My memories are of me and my sister, Maja, playing with all our friends.’’
Lana’s father fled Bosnia – the former Yugoslavia – for Serbia first, and three months later the family followed.
“My mum and my sister and I caught a bus.
“By that time the whole country was war-torn but there was still some transport. The journey there wasn’t always pleasant for a lot of people, so I think we were relatively lucky being able to escape.
“Lucky for us we haven’t lost anyone in the war but then we had to leave and create a new life and that was a loss in itself.’’
Lana and her family arrived as refugees in Adelaide on July 27, 1996.
“The first day we just slept,’’ she remembers. “The following day, my parents being crazy resilient as they are, decided to catch a bus and look for the beach. Coming from the Adriatic Coast, you kind of expect the ocean to be magnificent, which it is – in summer!
“It was really freezing and we arrived in summer dresses and sandals. Not a good look for winter!
“Within a week we were ready to start our lives here but the emotional stuff was resolved over the years that followed.’’
Lana returned to Bosnia with her mother in 2000 and again in 2014.
“It took me six months to get over the holiday blues because I saw my family for the first time in 14 years. My cousins had had kids and all the changes I wasn’t part of was hitting hard at the time.’’
Inspired to welcome others into her adopted home country with “open arms’’, Lana forged a career in social science.
With a passion for suicide prevention and mental health, she joined Centacare’s ASCEND program, and now supports young people aged 12 to 24 through the Integrated Youth Substance Misuse Specialist Service, based at Stepney.
“My cultural background makes me who I am, and why I am empathetic and compassionate, and in that regard it helps me relate to my clients and understand that there are a number of different walks of life.
“My parents and I have never seen ourselves as people who have gone through something extraordinarily tough.
“The best thing Mum always tells me is, it’s life. The war was something that helped me build my resilience and go, yes, that was pretty full on, but at the same time it’s not the worst experience that we could have had.’’
Lana says Adelaide is now home, inside and out.
“My DNA was built in Bosnia, and when I go back there and smell the air and see the people, I feel a huge connection.
“But the fact is there is a huge difference between the reality of living there and the daydream of what I had as a child. I do love where I come from but Adelaide is home.’’