Displaced Persons

Displaced Persons (part 2)

During the early 1950s, when ETSA was still plagued by a severe labour shortage, many ex-DPs came up from Adelaide or interstate. They had finished their initial compulsory two year contract and were now looking for the 'big' money, which they believed was available in Leigh Creek. Some came up even before they had finished their contract. One of these was Zdzislaw Knihinicki from Poland, who had been working in Adelaide for the first six months but preferred the wages available in Leigh Creek. He started in June 1949 as a winchman, loading coal into the waiting railway trucks. Later he became a plant operator and eventually finished up operating one of the draglines.

In January 1951 an inter-office memo from Leigh Creek to the Adelaide office stated that 'During the past 3 years we have employed several batches of New Australians and amongst them have been a fair proportion of good workers. A number of these have now become very useful to our operation. In order to encourage these men to stay at Leigh Creek after their two year contract has been completed, it is recommended that married quarters be provided as soon as possible. The provision of this accommodation would ease the position in the tent lines'.

The last batch of twenty-eight New Australians from the Bonegilla Immigration Centre arrived in Leigh Creek during September 1951. Life was often difficult for these, and other New Australians, in Leigh Creek. At times they had to put up with several forms of discrimination. The most common ones were being called a 'Bloody Balt' or 'Speak English you bastard'. However learning English was not always easy. The first question was from whom were they supposed to learn English? Was it the Scots, the Welsh, the Irish or the English? Another hindrance to learning English was that they were often put to work with a number of their own countrymen on a particular job, making it easier to communicate with whoever was in charge. This practice eliminated the need for those New Australians to use English.

Their inability to communicate caused them serious problems and often embarrassment at the Hospital or the doctor's surgery. Luckily Elsa Jaensch who could still speak German, with a Silesian accent, was able to help at least some of them. Several people were concerned about the plight of the newcomers. At one of the early meetings of the CWA it was suggested that newly arrived ladies should be visited by the members and be invited to become CWA members. At a subsequent meeting, Joan Clement proposed that New Australian women should also be included. Although the proposal was seconded by May Winter and accepted by the membership, very little success was achieved. It was not until 1955 that Martha Krassovich, and Magdalena Leolkes became members. They remained the only two New Australian members for several years. Much later they were joined by Szymanski, Klusak, Edmunda (Edy) Szekely, Marguerite Militch and Barberien.

In the early 1950s a serious attempt was made by some of the school teachers, including Paula Frahn, to provide night classes for the migrants. However when these teachers were transferred out of Leigh Creek by the Department of Education, the program stopped and it was left to the Rev Graham Garfoot, who had recently migrated from England, to teach English to migrants. In 1959 the school's headmaster, Howard Theobald, advertised in the local newspaper, The Far Northern Topics, asking for anyone interested in teaching English to migrants to contact him as soon as possible.

It was at this time that the federal Minister for Immigration, Alexander Russell (Alick) Downer (1910-1981), appealed for a wider study of foreign languages in Australia. This he said would greatly help the immigration process which he saw as 'the foundation of our future development'. Topics had a different viewpoint. It suggested that 'this idea would be practical if we were accepting migrants from only one or two countries. As our migrants originate from many different countries, embracing a wide variety of languages' it went on, 'it seems more to the point that they learn only the one new language which they will use constantly in Australia'.

The ability to speak English was not the immigrants' only problem. Discrimination was another one they had to cope with. Examples of overt discrimination were not being invited to parties or dances. At other times indirect discrimination showed in the kind of work they were given. Many migrant men often felt lonely, and to overcome this worked long hard hours, taking any overtime available. In their free time the young immigrants walked the hills, played cards, drank, gambled, especially at roulette, and brawled. Even so, fights amongst the migrants were rare; most wanted only peace. The only fights that did occur were often after heavy drinking or the two-up game. Several migrants left Leigh Creek with a lot of new experiences but with little money. Others were thankful for the opportunity Leigh Creek gave them to save enough money to establish themselves and buy their own house in Adelaide.

Not all immigrants had difficulties with the English language. Vitalijs Dortins, from Latvia, joined ETSA at Leigh Creek in 16 May 1950 as a labourer. After seven months he was transferred to the accounting office as a night shift phone operator. In the early years the switchboard was only operated during the day but was later extended to ten o'clock at night. During his time in the accounting section, Dortins studied at night, by correspondence, at the British Institute of Engineering Technology. When in May 1952, he completed his two year contract with the Commonwealth and also his studies, he was recommended for promotion. Because of his previous experience as a draftsman, and his good knowledge of written and spoken English, it was suggested that Dortins be transferred to the salaried staff as a Survey Draftsman. According to the Coal Production Engineer, Dortins 'was a competent draftsman and his penmanship of a very high standard'.

There were others who, after their initial contract with the Commonwealth government was finished, were also able to improve themselves. Bruno Asher arrived in Australia in 1950 from Czechoslovakia, where he had studied medicine for three years. Jerzy Nak, whose original surname had another twelve letters, came from Poland, where he had studied law for two years, and arrived in Australia in 1951. Both men were appointed timekeeper in Leigh Creek, Asher on 31 December 1952 and Nak six months later. Being a brilliant linguist, Nak was able to assist many of the early migrants and management in dealing with each other when there were communication difficulties.

Stan Gotowicz arrived in Bonegilla from Poland in 1950. His first job was with the Australian Railways. Next he worked for ETSA in Adelaide and in 1952 was transferred to Leigh Creek where he worked as a draftsman and helped design the fire station. When he first arrived, well after midnight as the only passenger on the train, he was met by the caretaker of the camp who allocated him a single room. Looking out into the dimly lit square Gotowicz noticed a policeman standing near a big fire. Upon inquiring he found out that the Sergeant had to keep watch over the body of a murdered man until the police arrived from Adelaide. His first job the next morning was digging a grave in the Copley cemetery.

A sizeable number of these DPs stayed on in Leigh Creek for many years after the completion of their compulsory time. They eventually found their way into the community, as did most of the later immigrants. Among those still there in the late 1950s were C. Pitsounis, G. Koroneos, N. Vlachos, V. Peciulis, J. Ramanauskas and Eddie Pilarski. This process of assimilation and integration was speeded up if they were young, married, (with their wives also living in town) or if they had married one of the local girls.


They came from many nations but all became Australians.

With the passing of time, and the influx of married couples, the position of the single men in Leigh Creek left a lot to be desired. Their predicament was highlighted in Topics by Stan Gotowicz who wrote, 'The single man, whose social position has been a problem in Leigh Creek since the beginning of its prosperity, has also had his own problems during that time. This position now seems to be deteriorating, because, by the evolution of time the married man and his family reduce the single man's importance. By possibly misunderstanding, and perhaps not excluding jealousy, the single man is ill-fitted in the atmosphere commonly referred to as Society... It does not really matter what our race, creed or nationality is.

If the families, who at present make up a large proportion of the town's inhabitants, do not extent their hands in welcome, I am sure the single man will retire further into the background, and play a continually diminishing part in township affairs... Leigh Creek, particularly for a single man, is not a place one easily falls in love with, and it is not for the sake of admiration that people are coming here... Whatever may have been the reasons for coming here, it is not the past that matters. Now that we are living here together as a community, it is the present and the future which now has significance. My intention in writing these lines, has not been to emphasise mistakes which are mainly committed by lack of interest for one other's welfare, but merely to give those who read these lines something to think about, and thus find for themselves that all human beings possess something mutual'.

Adam Wladyslaw Jamrozik was one of the DPs who married a local girl. Born in Poland on 22 November 1926, he was removed from high school to Germany, where he did a boilermaker's apprenticeship. After the war he was employed as a clerk-typist from 1945 to 1946 by the US Army. Upon his arrival in Australia he was engaged as a labourer in February 1950 in the Mains Branch in Adelaide. Six months later he transferred to Leigh Creek where he was shown his tent and the next day started work in the administration of the personnel section. After only three months he was promoted to salaried staff as a general clerk. In support of his promotion Tom Robbins, the field manager, stated 'His work is of the highest standard. He is a competent typist and an excellent linguist'.

Adam Jamrozik could speak Polish, German, French and English. Robbins went on to say that Jamrozik had 'shown a marked ability for personnel work. He is courteous, willing, and hard working'. Not only that, he had also been 'commended by Constable McGrath on several occasions for the help he has given the Police Department as an interpreter'. Adam Jamrozik soon enrolled in correspondence lessons, studying English and Accountancy. In February 1954 Jamrozik was promoted to Timekeeper earning 18.1.0 per week. He was also able to open and run a bookshop, after his day-time job, and become vice-chairman of the Leigh Creek Hospital Board. It was during this time that he got to know Ruth Errey, the hospital's Matron. After their marriage, in August 1953, Ruth had to give up her job at the hospital as ETSA did not employ married women.

This policy did not just apply to Matrons or other nursing staff. In February 1953 a directive stated that, 'due to the increased number of available junior female clerks, the matter of continued employment of married women in salaried positions has been under consideration. It is intended that when a junior female, who is capable of carrying out the duties of a position occupied by a married woman, becomes available, the married woman will be given notice and will be replaced by the junior'. When Joan Pilmore, who had worked as a junior clerk, decided to get married, she was granted a marriage gratuity of 10 but had to resign on 9 April 1954.

Ruth Errey now spent much of her time with the non-English speaking migrants who 'weren't generally accepted in the adult social clubs', and at her husband's book shop. Forty years later Ruth Errey could still say that it had been a privilege to have had the chance to be part of such a challenging experience. While in Leigh Creek, Jamrozik did experience, and dislike some of the 'stuffy narrow minded Anglo-Australian attitudes'. He also met with the usual prejudice and occasional discrimination, but was generally well accepted in the town's community. Six months after the birth of their son, Konrad on 2 May 1955, Adam sold his book shop to R.J. Dunn of Copley and the Jamrozik family left Leigh Creek for Adelaide.

During his work in the Adelaide office his command of English was used by several of the office staff to draft difficult letters. Later Jamrozik too went to the University of Adelaide where he studied and minded the children while Ruth nursed on night shift. Eventually Adam gained an Arts degree and an A.U.A. Years later he was to write and publish extensively about the migrant experiences in Australia. Jamrozik eventually gained the position of Professor at the University of Adelaide holding at the same time part-time posts at both the University of South Australia and Flinders University.

Euzebiusz Chmielewski arrived in Fremantle on 5 January 1950 on the ship Skaugum. This was the same ship on which Adam Jamrozik, Stanislaw Markiewicz, Tadeusz Praschifka and Wojciech Dys had travelled. All of them were in their early twenties. While at Northam he too obtained a job at Leigh Creek as a labourer. His wages were 7.19.0 for a forty hour, five day week. He too lived in a tent and was charged 1.8.0 for board and lodgings, like the other tent dwellers.

When Chmielewski went to night classes in Leigh Creek he not only gained a better understanding of English, but also a wife when he married the teacher, Paula Frahn. At their wedding Stan Gotowicz was best man. After his return to Adelaide, Stan Gotowicz established the Dom Polski centre, buying the site in Angas Street with his own money for the Polish Community. In 1998 he had his book Bittersweet Bread published, his account of assimilation and the very best that multiculturalism has offered Australia.

During his stay in the town Chmielewski also managed to get a better job. He was transferred to the electrical section where he became an electrical mechanic. Eventually ETSA appointed him to Maitland as a first grade electrical inspector.

There were a number of immigrants who married the sons or daughters of other migrants. One of these was Marika Leolkes who married Fred Schmick, who had arrived from Germany as a seventeen year old youth. Nikolas Militch, tractor driver in the open cut, and Marguerite Kluth married on 7 January 1955. Emma Leuzzi and Giovanni Federici became engaged in 1958 and Gunter Stritzke and Elke Erpel had their wedding day on 20 June 1959. Other migrants who found partners among themselves were Detlef Bauschke and Gertrude Weiss who had their wedding on 29 January 1960.

Nikolas Militch fled his native war torn Yugoslavia as a boy of sixteen and lived for more than a year in Italy before his resettlement as a DP in Australia. Militch started work in Leigh Creek in 1954 as a greaser on the 5W, operated by Ron Craven. Soon he operated a dozer and later the shovels. For more than sixteen years he worked on continuous shift on the 9W, 770B and Page Dragline, a time he fondly remembers. During these years Militch studied and gained a certificate of competency as a Quarry Manager in 1970.

Only eight candidates who sat for the examination passed that year. The five from Leigh Creek, including Peter Mussared, David Fee, Ray Gray and Eric Blieschke were all trained by Laszlo Leolkes. In 1976 Militch was promoted and became Coal Foreman responsible for a crew of twenty-five men. This was followed two years later with a further promotion to Overburden Foreman. When the field expanded and increased its output, the new position of Overburden Supervisor was created in 1980. The successful applicant was Militch who now became responsible for a gang of 168 men. After thirty-seven years Militch finally retired in 1991 to live near Gawler.

Reminiscing about his many years in Leigh Creek, Militch is adamant that for an ordinary person, the coalfield offered better than average wages enabling him to provide for a family and to make adequate provision for a good retirement. For someone who liked working with machinery and preferred to be 'out in the open' Leigh Creek was the place to be. He also emphasised that during these long years ETSA had been an understanding employer, offering job security and an enjoyable working environment. Stritzke arrived in Australia from Germany two weeks before his wedding. For the next eleven years he stayed in Leigh Creek where he was employed as an electrician, looking after the coal production equipment.

Some migrants preferred to wait for their girls from back home. Wojciech Dys waited eighteen months for his wife to arrive from Belgium. Sefko Talavanic waited for many years for his fiancee to arrive from overseas. When he became impatient he rang Yugoslavia to find out about the progress made for her immigration to Australia. Finally on 28 February 1959 Raska Adzagic arrived in Melbourne where she was met by Sefko after ten years of separation. They were married a week later, in Adelaide, before continuing their journey to Leigh Creek. Guiseppi Testagrossa, whose bride Carmelina came from Italy three years later, was married by proxy.

Carmelina came by ship to Melbourne in 1955, caught the train to Adelaide and finally the plane to Leigh Creek without knowing a single word of English. Finally after the long trip she saw her husband for the first time! Her first impressions of the town were of shock and horror. No olive trees, no grapevines, just nothing. No wonder she felt homesick and cried for months. However Carmelina too survived the culture shock, started making a garden, kept chickens and at one time even a pig, as did Frank Liebeknecht, to make sure that there would be a fresh supply of pork and bacon. Eventually she overcame all the little, and even the big problems, which all migrants faced, no matter where they settled, and took a real liking to the town and its people.

The members of the CWA soon took a liking to young Mrs Testagrossa and either visited her house or took her to their meetings. They pointed out everything to her and got Carmelina to repeat it, in an effort to teach her English. The Testagrossa couple lived at first in Hollywood where they had one room and a kitchen before moving into the town proper. Carmelina and Guiseppi had five children in Leigh Creek. After the birth of her last child Carmelina started working for ETSA in 1969. Thirty years after her arrival in Leigh Creek she said, 'I had never seen such dust in all my life. I would hang the nappies up and they would be all black. I had a hard life when I came, but now I am proud I am still here. I have been through the bad and the good'. Carmelina worked for many years in private enterprise until her untimely death in the Mary Potter Hospice on 19 October 1986.

Other examples of men waiting for their wives from overseas were Alfons Dubrovic and Spiro Badza. Dubrovic arrived in Australia in March 1950 from Yugoslavia. After having spent some years in a concentration camp in Europe, he completed a three year University course in Mining Engineering. When working out his two year contract with the South Australian Railways he completed a correspondence course and was awarded the Diploma in Surveying and Mapping. Starting with ETSA, in Leigh Creek in June 1952, he was soon promoted to Survey Field Assistant and hoped that he could now bring out his wife and daughter who were still in Yugoslavia.

Spiro Badza had to wait a little longer. He arrived in Australia, from Yugoslavia, in February 1948. Having completed his two year contract on the Western Australian Railways he decided to come to South Australia. Here he worked for Holden's but eventually went for the big money that was supposed to be had in Leigh Creek. While working as a cook in the mess he started writing back home to that lovely girl he used to know. His big day came on 6 August 1956 when Ljubica arrived in Adelaide. After their marriage Spiro continued to cook for all the single men and lived with his wife in Hollywood until the new flats for couples without children became available. For most of the time Badza worked with English migrant Johnny Rowan. As Mess Supervisor and later Catering Supervisor Rowan and his cooks, cleaners and kitchen hands, most of whom were migrants as well, had the task of trying to satisfy the appetites of more than 160 single men for three meals a day, seven days a week.

Spiro Badza was not the only one to have worked at Holden's before coming to Leigh Creek. Stojan Merdo decided in 1954 that conditions and money at the coalfield were much better than those in Adelaide and also moved north. Although Stojan lived in a tent for a short period, he was given a house after his wife, who was already five months pregnant, arrived. Due to the continuous labour shortage on the field, ETSA asked the Commonwealth Employment Service (CES) in December 1953 for fifteen Germans, who would be arriving in Adelaide soon. At that time it had more than sixty unfilled vacancies. In January the CES sent another small group of Germans when there were still thirty jobs available.

For the full story of these and many other Displaced Persons see the book Leigh Creek, an oasis in the desert.

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