The Mackowski Story (sent in by mail by Wendy Gray nee Mackowski early 2018)
THE JOURNEY TO BENALLA
Sometime during the Spring/Summer of 1948, Cecylia Kazmareck aged 25 took her five year old son Aleksandr and boarded a train which was traveling to the border between Poland and the American sector of occupied Germany. They were fleeing the advancing Russian Army.
When the train stopped at the border, some people disembarked and started to run across the border. Cecylia joined them. Darkness was falling and the shooting started. They were told to keep running and not to stop no matter what happened, even though people were falling around them, shot by the Russian border guards.
They arrived at a former German Army Barracks which was being run by the American Red Cross as a centre for Displaced Persons. Here they were clothed, fed and kept safe. Shortly after their arrival, Aleksandr’s appendix ruptured and after an operation he was hospitalized for a few days.
France, England, the US, Canada and Australia were some of the countries which offered refugee status to these people Cecylia chose Australia. After a long train trip through Italy they arrived in Naples where they boarded the MS Fairsea bound for Australia.
The ship went through the Suez Canal and headed South. When they crossed the Equator there was a mock ceremony to mark the occasion (enclosed is a copy of the certificate that was handed out at the time).
Passport photos were taken on board.
The adults attended English classes on board of the ship and were coached in order to pass the obligatory dictation test (taken in English) before being allowed to disembark in Australia.
Included is the English/Polish dictionary used by Cecylia.
Passengers left the ship at Freemantle and Adelaide. When they arrived in Melbourne, Cecylia and Aleksandr boarded a train at Station Pier bound for Bonegilla. On the afternoon of their arrival at Bonegilla, they were put on one of two busses and taken to Benalla Migrant Camp.
The last photo, taken about 1950, at the camp in Benalla, shows Cecylia seated in the foreground and Leon Mackowski is sitting behind her to the left. Cecylia married Leon on the 19th of August 1950. He adopted Aleksandr and the moved out of the camp to live in the town.
Enclosed are the certificates from that time granting them Permanent Residency in Australia. They became Naturalised Australians in 1956. Their daughter Wendy (me) was born on September 24th 1952.
Leon and Cecylia built a house in Benalla where they lived happily for the rest of their lives.
Submitted via email to Sabine Smyth Dec 27th, 2019
Benalla Migrants Camp, MEIERS time there, 1950-1955
I Freda, the youngest in the Meiers family write this.
My mother Hilda with her three young children, Gaisma, Ausma, and Ted (Teodors) fled from their native country of Latvia when the Russians invaded their country during the latter part of WW2. Karlis their father was killed fighting against the Russians.
It was only after my mother, sisters and brother arrived in Germany as ‘Displaced Person’ that I was born. At that time we had been placed in the American Zoned DP Camp at Wurzburg.
I was 4 years old when the family set sail for Australia on the ship ‘Nelly’ in hope of a better life.
We arrived in June 1950 and after a short stay at the Bonegilla Migrant Camp, not far from Albury, the family was settled into the Benalla Migrant Camp along with many other Displaced Persons. At that time Gaisma was 12, Ausma 10, Ted 8 and Freda nearly 5.
Our family was given two small rooms in one of the Nissen Huts. They were very hot in summer and cold in winter. Life was not easy for the adults but as far as I can remember I had a happy childhood at the camp as there were lots of kids to play with and school to attend. My saddest memory was when our ‘Lassie’ dog was shot along with other strays at the camp.
I enjoyed the country life and much spare time was spent at a popular swimming spot by the Broken River and then there was the fun of catching yabbies.
Under the resettlement scheme immigrants of working age had to work for two years wherever directed by the government. My mother went to work as a machinist at the Latoof and Callil clothing factory and she worked there until we were able to leave the camp and head for a new adventure in Melbourne in 1956.
The Benalla Migrants Camp and its history should never be forgotten.
Thank you Sabine for caring and for all your hard work; well done!
I spoke with Stanny Niedzwiedzki about his time at the camp and these are his recollections.
Maria and Wladyslaw Niedzwiedzki and their 2 sons, Stanislaw and Kazimierz, sailed to Australia on the Fairsea 5, arriving November 1950. Soon another son, Joseph, was born. All their possessions were held in a wooden trunk which the family have now donated to the Benalla Migrant Camp Exhibition. Tragically Wladyslaw died in a motor bike accident in March 1951. Sometime later Maria and her children were moved to Benalla Migrant Camp where Maria remarried Tadeusz Fita. The family expanded with the addition of Zbigniew, Janetta and John. The family settled in Benalla after moving from the camp.
Camp conditions consisted of a single room for the family, toilet and showers block and a main kitchen and dining room where the camp residents would eat together. Stanny remembers eventually having a “primus” gas heater in the room which was used both for heating and basic cooking. He said they bought an ice chest after they moved into a house in Benalla.
Stanny remembers life at the camp being full of mischief and adventure. Young boys banded together like brothers, protected each other and played together. They created their own fun playing “puski” (with empty cans and old tennis balls) “klimki” (played with 2 sticks) “eggs” (5 a side lining up stones on the football field) as well as traditional games like marbles and hide & seek.
He recalls a hole in the wire fence which surrounded the camp and the boys took advantage of this to sneak out and back in without being seen at the front entrance checkpoint.
For many years after moving from the camp, Stanny and many other migrant children would return to see their friends and continue to play these games. The Fita family, like many past residents, also returned for Mass on Sunday and Holy Days and for camp dances/concerts.
Stanny served as an altar boy in the camp chapel. He remembers Mass being celebrated in Latin and can still recall passages from his childhood days, he even quoted a few lines to me on the phone. It was also here he and the other altar boys would taste the wine after Mass and carefully had to move the mark on the bottle so as not to alert the priest some was missing.
The Migrant camp was where Stanny became involved with the soccer club. He started hanging around with the grownups as a young boy, cleaning their shoes, collecting shirts, he then started playing the game at around 16yrs of age. He played close to 400 games for Benalla Soccer Club and was made a life member of the North Eastern Soccer League for his contribution to the game.
He remembers the camp being a fun, safe place where he was taught respect for his elders and developed a “work hard, play hard” attitude to life.
Stephanie Merry nee Swist (former Camp Child)
We came to Australia on the 13 April 1950 and went to Bonegilla, from there on to Rushworth camp and then to Benalla. My mother, father, sister Janina and I. My mother worked in the hospital dining room. It was called the Bush Nursing Hospital then, and my father worked on the railway, as did many of the men in the camp. They would go off Monday morning and come back Friday afternoon.
They would have movies in the cinema hall every Friday night so after dinner we would all go to the movies. My father would give my sister and me some coins for a Violet crumble bar which I would enjoy while watching the movie in the camp cinema.
My brother Janek and younger sister Anna were both born in the Benalla Camp hospital and I remember the Midwife visiting my mother while she was pregnant and ushering me out of the room.
If you were sick you went to the camp hospital. I had the mumps once and was isolated from the rest of the kids which was a very lonely time for me. When I got out of hospital the Polish community were putting on a play and were holding auditions for “Snow White”. I went and auditioned – I don’t remember why? I got the part of Snow White. Very exciting time it was, with rehearsals and then the actual play. There were also several dance numbers: a sailors' dance, a ballet dance and the Krakowiak. I was also in all the dances. Mr Gregory (my teacher at the camp) got everyone in class involved in making me a crown to wear for the play.
Christmas time was a great time of year as we got ice cream for dinner and chicken. Also the Polish community would send around an angel and devil to check on all the children to see if they were good. I always dreaded their visit. My mother always threatened me by saying she would say I was bad. When asked if I was good I would say yes, then look at my mother and she would nod. Yah! Saved for another year.
In winter we would go mushrooming around the country side and you would have to go early as some else could beat you to the spot. My mother would boil the stuffings out of those mushrooms, drain them, and then fry them – delicious.
I remember on hot summer days waiting for the sun to go down then pouring buckets of water onto the hut to try and cool it off. And going to the canteen and buying a bottle of cold lemonade and having a glass – just the best drink ever.
Bathing, washing clothes, doing dishes, were all very interesting experiences. I have lots of stories, happy and sad stories to tell. Sad like when the pubs would close at 6pm and all the men would come staggering home. One in particular would always have a fight with his wife and the police would come and haul him off into jail – every Friday just like clockwork. And the culling of cats when they would overrun the camp. At first they would give a warning of the event and to stay inside then walk around the camp shooting them, we would sit in our huts and listen to the sound of gunfire. That must have bought in a lot of complains because after that they would just walk around and catch the cats and take them off and gas them. You can imagine as kids what sort of images that would bring to us.
I have lots of camp school memories, religious memories, summer days, the camp food as so on.
Regards, Maria Zintschenko – sent to Sabine Smyth originally by email October 2013 and edited/approved for the website Dec 2019
Added Footnote: Name: Dymitr Omielczuk. Died: October 2000 Burial Location: Berwick Cemetery
Migrant Centre Memories:
How did the local people interact with the migrants?
Margot Paez: The locals didn’t “fully embrace” what the migrants had to offer. There seemed to be a distinct “divide” between the migrants and the locals – perhaps even mistrust of them driven by a lack of understanding as to how they came to be here? Also the generational divide may have been a problem for the locals (that they’d fought in First/Second World Wars and distrusted these “foreigners”. Ie. Who were these people? Where exactly did they come from? Were they allies or enemies? etc). This lack of understanding was based on ignorance mostly, that the locals just didn’t really know much about the situation in Europe during and after the war. They had little comprehension of these people’s experiences.
The migrant women didn’t have time to socialize with local women, they were either working in factories/hospital etc or spending a lot of time growing/producing food. Nor did they necessarily have the language (their kids would often do the translation), so their involvement in tennis clubs, bridge clubs, “school mothers’ clubs” etc, was probably limited, therefore they never really got the chance to get to know other local women on a social level.
Food production and preparation was so different to typical “anglo” ways of doing things. The Paez family, for example, were surrounded by migrant families and benefitted from their diligence in producing fruit and vegetables. These vegetables, (many of the varieties never having been seen by the locals before) were given to the Paez’s by throwing zucchinis, capsicums, etc over the back fence! Many generous offerings were given to the Paez’s, including delicious “preserves” such as dill pickles in glass jars.
What kinds of activities/functions/events were shared by both groups?
Cabarets? Dances? “Good Neighbour Council” (Who were they? Did they organize social events? Not sure about this organization……..)
Ralph and Margaret Paez attended many cabarets at the Migrant centre but there weren’t many other “locals” there. Margaret was always so impressed by how beautifully dressed the women of the migrant camp were. Their clothes were so elegant, beautiful shoes, hair etc (European “style” and flair).
Renold Christmas parties were a yearly social highlight for kids especially.
How were the migrants “viewed” by the local people (in terms of their employment at Renold Chains)?
Story of Ralph Paez in local pub being confronted by a disgruntled Benalla local who was upset by Renold’s employment of migrants over locals. Ralph was given a “boot up the arse” as described by his brother-in-law who was with him at the time (probably a symbolic action of “you should be looking after your own kind and not those “I–ties” and “shame on you”) as he was leaving the bar by a local man who felt that the chain factory bosses were more interested in employing migrants than the locals. Ralph’s brother-in-law, Jim Redpath, decided to take it up with the bloke who dared kick Ralph. A bit of a tussle between Ralph’s “minder”, Jim and the “arse kicker” ensued….. Nothing too serious, however, it probably signified underlying resentment by some community members.
How did the local Benalla children interact with migrant children?
The migrant and local kids somehow sorted out their own “arrangements”– often playing/fighting in a single session!
Margot Bright (nee Paez) – As a child, Margot lived in the same neighbourhood as many migrant families (who were living in both Commission housing and a few in private housing). She remembers playing with those children in the street – many of them went to the Catholic school, whereas Margot and her siblings went to Benalla East State School, so that she played with them after school and on weekends. She remembers being mates with the Pryslipski (Ukraine ?) kids who lived across the road, but were former residents of the Migrant Camp. Margot and Lasha (Lee?) would get on Margot’s bike (Lasha standing on the back parcel seat), go down to the Migrant Camp, and tear around the camp shouting insults at the kids there. Often there were rock or “clod” throwing fights where the Anglo kids, often just siblings, in this case Margot and her sister Deborah, forming an alliance, “warring” against the “Balts” across the street (in this case Meadows Ave). Alliances would chop and change depending on the day or mood of the participants. Insults would be shouted at one another as “clods”/rocks were thrown. The street was the main playground for the kids and it was only when their Mum called out for them to come in because it was tea time, would they stop their “play”. (Often it was the migrant kids who would be the ones preparing food so perhaps they had to go in earlier).
MORE MEMORIES FROM DEBORAH PAEZ:
Deborah Paez: We lived at 12 Meadows Ave until we moved to the company house in Samaria Rd when Dad was promoted to General Manager of Renold Chains in about 1963.
In those days (the mid-1950s), Meadows Ave was divided in 2 by the old Tatong railway line. The north side was comprised entirely of council houses: the south side (our end) were all private houses. Migrant families lived on both sides, but most lived in the council houses. All had lived in the Migrant Centre upon arriving in Benalla.
Our neighbours on both sides and across the street were migrant families (the Pryslipski family (parents, children son Miklos(?)known as Mick, daughters Danutia and Lasha (not sure of spelling), the Nesser family (kids Bogdan or Bobby, and Maria), and the Hesky family (2 daughters, very reclusive), and Mr. Olivera down the street.
The Tatong railway line fell into disuse late 40s/early 50s (?) and when the rails were torn up soon after, the whole stretch became a playground for ALL the kids. 'Battles' were certainly fought, but I remember them as being more between the 'north' and the 'south'. The ones between us and our neighbours were mere skirmishes. As often, we were 'allies' (eg. Margot's and Lasha's sortie into the migrant camp). So it was less about anglos vs bolts (that's how we thought 'Balts' was spelt. We had no idea what it meant but knew it was an insult) than it was about territory.
To put things into perspective though, you were just as likely to see kids playing together (allies, tiggy, brandy, hidey, skippy, queenie, poison ball, etc) as you were to see them fighting. It was the nature of childhood then; a glorious lack of adult interference for a considerable part of the day - as long as you were home for 'tea' and before dark.
The migrant kids certainly lived different lives from us anglos. They didn't have nearly as much freedom as we did. They all had 'real' jobs and responsibilities in the home; not just, as for us, a matter of putting away your toys or tidying your bedroom; they tended vegetable gardens, cleaned toilets, prepared meals, washed, ironed, scrubbed. Both parents worked full-time, often over-time and on weekends.
I remember being absolutely astonished by the fact that kids had to do hard work ... every day! I can also remember how the Pryslipski kids dropped everything and ran home instantly when their parents called them inside. Their parents were scarily strict compared to ours, in our eyes!
I got to see inside the houses of our neighbours only a few times (kids didn't play inside much in those days, unless it was raining or really cold), but I remember them being much darker than ours, windows heavily-curtained, with cold lino floors in every room, no rugs or carpets (although there were usually one or two tapestry rugs hung on walls), sparsely furnished (no comfy furniture), meticulously clean, with strange religious icons and pictures on the walls. And the houses smelled different to us kids, because of the 'strange and mysterious' foods cooked in them.
(She has promised more to come…….)
(e-mailed to Sabine SMTH on 10th April 2020)
Aleksandr Pandik born in 1926 to Evgenin and Anna (Tupalova) Pandik in Konstantinovka, Ukraine. His brother Nikolai was twelve years younger, born in 1938. In 1941 dad was walking in the street when, without warning, a German convoy forced him onto a vehicle for transportation to Germany. He was only 15 years of age. (He never saw his parents and brother again). There he worked on the trains as a fireman along the Rhine River between Koblenz and Mainz. At the end of the war (between 1948 to 1950) he was moved to different camps: Frankfurt, Ludwigsburg then Pforzheim receiving vocational training through the IRO (International Refugee Organization) as an auto mechanic. They also conducted English lessons for everyone.
He met Luba Wysocka, who was also receiving vocational training as a seamstress, living in the camp with her parents, Mykola and Aleksandr Wysocki. They married in 1950 in Pforzheim and through the Resettlement Program the four of them received paperwork for emigration to Australia. Aleksandr chose Australia as he wanted to get as far away from Europe as possible.
The departure was via Genoa, Italy on the S.S. "Castelbianco" sailing to Melbourne, their final destination being the Benalla Migrant Camp. I was born in the camp hospital and christened in the non-denominational chapel. Michael arrived four years later. Our address was Hut 36/7. As youngsters we would have been oblivious to the fact these huts had thin walls, no running water, heating or cooling but it was a home.
Everyone had a role to play in this community: whether rostered for kitchen duty in preparing or cooking meals, the hospital, laundry and toilet blocks maintained as well the required gardening. The largest building was the community centre which not only served as a dining hall but for various entertainments. Amongst the huts kids attended various birthday parties. One recreational activity involved walking to the nearby Broken River where the adults would swim and picnic in the cool shade of the trees.
A story told by mum was that apparently I was partial to onions and made a habit of knocking on hut doors asking if they had ’boolki’ (an abbreviated version of the word tsiboolki: onions). One memory was a Christmas pageant with Saint Nicholas dressed realistically in European style costume, however the character known as Black Peter looked absolutely evil fully dressed in black trousers overlaid with a black and grey tunic. His head was covered in a black cap (horns added) and protruding from his mouth was a long black/grey tongue. In one hand he held a pitchfork. Poor mum did her best to calm down a very upset child …
Eventually a house was purchased close to the town centre where a huge vegetable garden was established along with a decent sized chook pen. Grandma, for many years, would walk to the camp pushing our old pram containing two large enamel buckets filled with her home-grown 'ohirki' or ogorki - cucumbers set in a brine added with garlic and dill - which she went on to sell. On every occasion she would return home, naturally, with two empty buckets. I think quite a few people will remember the" little lady with the cucumbers".
One year a dinner dance was held at the camp and mum wore a distinct chocolate-coloured chiffon ball gown. The fabric had shots of burgundy and green which caught the light and shiny beads centered on the bodice. A pair of soft apple green suede stilettos set off the gown. The shoes no longer exist but the gown together with an embroidered white blouse and a mushroom coloured crepe dress with bolero I have donated to the Benalla Migrant Camp historical collection created by Sabine Smyth (Benalla Migrant Camp Inc.).
We think that the right decision had been made in choosing to settle in Australia. Throughout her life our mother from time to time would maintain that, "Australia is the best country in the world", and state: "You'll never go hungry here".
Sabine, memory of camp life is tiny because of my early age (some photos are proof). If you need to condense please feel free to do so. The dress colour I may not be so clear with so please correct where necessary. Also, the embroidered blouse you have, judging by its size, was a blouse made by mum for me to wear.