I Amalia Goulding, was born in Italy in 1950 after my parents Franc and Gabrijela Brezavscek escaped Slovenia. This is my parents’ story. My mother, Gabrijela Brezavscek, was born in Slovenia in 1915. She was always reluctant to talk about her life as the fear and anxiety she felt as a child and young person stayed with her. Over the years I have been able to put together some of her experiences.
My parents were a young married couple in Slovenia just after World War 11. During the war my mother had worked as a red cross nurse for the partisans. Slovenia and other Balkan countries had been subsumed into a communist Yugoslavia. Although Tito was considered a fair leader his regime was harsh and encouraged people to inform on one another and it was difficult to trust people. The war had impoverished a poor country and it was difficult to find work or get ahead. Like many other young people my parents made the desperate decision to flee their home over the heavily guarded border into Italy. They took with them what would fit into a rucksack. My mother was pregnant with me.
Once in Italy my parents were registered as refugees and over the next 12 months moved to many camps within Italy. I was born in one of these camps. As more and more people filled the camps, my parents were transported to Germany and from there were accepted for immigration to Australia.
On 27 May 1951, we boarded the Norwegian vessel “The Skaubryn” at the port of Bremerharver. My mother was overcome with seasickness during the voyage and my father had to care for me between his rostered duties on board. We docked into Melbourne on 26 June 1951, my parents overwhelmed with mixed emotions – tears of joy at arriving, sadness at having leaving, and a sense of freedom. From the ship we were transported to Bonegilla to a large displaced persons camp. It was a culture shock for my parents. We were free to move around; there was food and clothing in abundance; we had medical checks; it was too good to be true! On the other hand, my parents could not speak English and struggled to learn a new language.
Part of the immigration acceptance required my father to work in Australia for a period of two years. After our documents were processed we were off to Babinda for the sugar cane harvest and dad was taken to a farm to work as a cane cutter. My mother and I were sent to Cairns and were accommodated in a barracks. While working the cane, dad heard of work felling trees near Koombooloomba and was granted permission to relocate his family to Tumoulin. Once the 2-year contract was completed we relocated to Ravenshoe where Mum found work as a house cleaner and from where dad could continue his work in the bush. Unfortunately, my parents became ill in the wet weather and were advised to move to a warmer climate. By chance we had a friend who was growing tobacco in Mareeba. He was looking for workers so we relocated to Mareeba.
Dad worked as a farm labourer on tobacco farms for some time before getting work as a builder’s labourer with a local building company. Eventually he struck out on his own as a handy-man building sheds and barns for farmers. Mum found work at the saw mill but we both worked on farms during the tobacco season stinging tobacco for extra money.
We were never a wealthy family. My parents had grown up with nothing and we lived frugally, never wasting anything, buying second hand if possible and being careful with our possessions. In spite of that, all their lives my parents sent parcels back to their families in Slovenia.
I was an only child. I started school in Mareeba and have lived here ever since. When I was thirteen my father told me, I should stop school because I was a girl and would get married anyway, so I left school and found work. On 18 July 1966 I was accepted into the training program for nursing at the Mareeba District Hospital, following my mother’s footsteps. I worked at the hospital as a nurse until my retirement a few years ago.
My mother was always grateful to Australia and proud and happy to be in Mareeba. I remember a few years back there was a riot down south involving people with a Balkan heritage. My mother was so embarrassed and ashamed. She said “We came to this country and they gave us bread and work.” She could not understand why anyone would complain.
I did not understand my mothers’ fear until I returned to Slovenia with her when I was 21. It was still a communist country then and there was poverty. Social services were unreliable and inefficient. Still I found the people very friendly and welcoming. My mother said to me “Shhh, just listen and look.” She told me they were only looking at us to see if they could report us to the authorities.
My husband was from a Welsh/Irish background and we have two children. He encouraged me to go back to Slovenia to meet family as I have no blood relations in Australia. I have now been back many times and it has changed and improved. But like my mother I find Slovenia beautiful. My roots are there but Australia and Mareeba are home. They are good for me and that is why I am where I am.
Janet commenced work with the Mareeba Heritage Centre in July 2016. She had the vision to create this project and was instrumental in acquiring funds and putting the right people in place to bring this project together. Janet is passionate about community engagement and development.
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Angela was born in Mareeba but like most young people left to pursue a career in Corrections and then Community Services. On retirement, she returned to her home town and is happy to be contributing to progression and preservation.
Mick has worked casually in radio for 30 years at a number of stations including 4LM, 4GC and 4KZ whilst also working for Telstra. He joined the 4AM team taking over the Breaky Show full time in July 2014. Mick enjoys living in tropical North Queensland after growing up in Innisfail and staying in areas like Thursday Island, Normanton, Mount Isa, Cairns and Mossman. In his spare time, Mick likes to go camping, do a bit of fishing and he enjoys the great outdoors.
© Mareeba Heritage Museum and Visitor Information Centre 2021