15.10.2023

"Australia is a Paradise..."

My father spoke those words almost every time I visited him, especially when we were about to enjoy food prepared outdoors. 

He particularly celebrated the barbeque. With his home-brew in hand, he might even repeat the words: "Ah-oo-straaalia izz eh purra-dayz."

Julius Antoniak sitting cross-legged in front of a flower bed at the door of a wooden-floored canvas temporary accommodation tent at Clyde Migrant Camp, Sydney, Australia in 1949.

My parents were migrants to Australia. They arrived from Europe in 1949, part of a line of hopefuls looking for a better life. 'Better' life was a romantic way of putting it—projecting life and its living forward, well beyond where it was in their then European present—because in post-war Germany, as in many other European nations, life had come to be barely liveable. You see, that sliver of surviving hope for millions had been battered to near-nothing after a long, long war. The lines of family had been shattered and the grey faces of other survivors were as foreign as foreign lands. It was as if the sun had gone out.

My parents, in their twenties, married in the Black Forest, the place of my mother's birth. My father was Polish. He had ended up there after the unpredictable push and tug of war's tidal to-and-fro. Rationing had been embedded into life to the degree some thought it would never end, each instance a reminder of an empty belly, bones chilled to the core. They came here with nothing from a place of hardship, having had everything including the family of their community stripped away.

As it turned out, the country needed them: human capital who knew how to work land, learn to operate machinery, grow the population. They also came with old world ways in art, poetry, music, and cuisine. People who could look about them here and know they could make a go of it. They were welcomed to this place of sunshine and promise.

Julius and Agnes Antoniak sitting at a table inside a wooden-floored canvas temporary accommodation tent at Clyde Migrant Camp, Sydney, Australia in 1949.

It was nineteen sixty-seven. It was approaching summer. Myself, almost eight years-old and my sister, two years younger, were with our mother driving along Bringelly Road, Kingswood. The sun was high. Ahead, walking along the dirt verge was a thin, dark woman carrying a toddler on her hip. She had a sack over her shoulder and a large suitcase in hand. My mother pulled in behind them, got out of the car and beckoned the young woman to get in. I don't remember any of the conversation, but she agreed to the offer of a lift and came home with us and stayed a while - perhaps a couple of weeks. She'd been on the road some time, possibly heading to Queensland. I don't really know. She was young and in need of a place to stay. She needed help and my mother gave it. I have a picture of us all together on a family day trip to Taronga Park Zoo.

They had needed somebody to be on their side, if only for a short time. There came the day we awoke, to find them gone. They had gone back out to walk the roads, their destination unknown to us. 

Veronica and Mandy had been displaced—in their own country—having had their own community stripped from them. 

They still come to my mind, and I wonder today, particularly, if—as my parents had found—Veronica and Mandy had ever thought of themselves as living in a paradise.

A helping hand is a precious thing.

TA