By Peter Schulze Engineer, Mt Lyell Mines 1961-1988
The tough conditions of the West Coast’s climate and terrain are reflected in the character of the West Coast pioneers and that is amply revealed by the various tales in this fascinating book. This was an exciting time in the area for discovery and development and it is something special to view this era through the eyes of someone other than those doing the exploration and working the mines.
Many tales have already been told about the area but there are still many more to unfold. Corporate and business histories are generally well documented but it is the human stories that give us a fascinating insight to life on the West Coast during those times.
The battle to open up the West Coast for the benefit of mankind has not only been dogged by rough terrain and weather but also by those in the cities who plan and regulate with little understanding of the country they are dealing with.
It is the stories of the pioneers that give greater meaning to the area and can provide an understanding for those who are involved with its future. This book will provide fascinating reading for many native Tasmanians as well as visitors to the state.
Noel Shaw reviews for The Examiner 6 October, 2012.
The Rev Frederick George Copeland was a clergyman who arrived in Hobart, Tasmania in 1901. Bishop Henry Montgomery appointed him to the West Coast and, in Copeland’s words, ‘into oblivion.’ Bishop Montgomery was the father of the famous Bernard Montgomery of el Alamein fame in the second world war.
Copeland sought out the miners and their families in Queenstown, Zeehan, Strahan and places that no longer exist. He said, ‘I often blazed my own track. A trek of 48 kilometres in a day was common.’ He was caught in flood, fire and was lost in the bush. He was a unique eyewitness to life on the West Coast of Tasmania from 1894 -1901. He said, ‘They didn’t seem to have a dog’s chance, and yet they were so plucky. Some could show you the marks of the iron and the lash on their backs. They drank to their good luck and laughed at the bad.’
Marilyn Quirk has written introductions to chapters and edited Copeland’s work so it is pleasingly sermon-free. It’s an easy-to-read story.
ISBN : 978 0 646 58097 5
By Noel Shaw – The Examiner – Extra Books 17 July 2010
Yes, it was an island very far away for all European migrants, including the boat people in the First Fleet.
Those of later years, who were uprooted by the deprivation of war, faced the loss of all that had been familiar. Some, but not all, brought scars with them. There was homesickness, and facing a foreign language and a foreign culture.
Christ Diamantis, A Greek, arrived in Australia when he was 18, in 1956.
“Those first for years were the hardest and most depressing years of my life,” he recalls,” “culture shock was one; secondly I was missing family, friends and it took ages before I felt at home.”
Horst Braemer had been in the German Army and was a prisoner of the Russians for 5½ years.
“For some new workers the conditions at the camp in Liawenee might have been primitive. For me, after the experience in Russia, it was pleasantly adventurous,’ he says.
Marilyn Quirk’s previous book, Echoes on the Mountain, told stories of migrants who worked after World War 11 in the primitive Hydro settlements in the Highlands. These stories include some about other times.
For instance in June, 1855, the good ship Montmorency docked in Launceston with 45 German refugees. They included Ludwig and Christiana Dornauf who, with other Germans settled in the Lilydale district. Migrants needed a strong work ethic to succeed.
Dutchman Roelf Vos and Engel Sypkes (Purity Stores) worked for International Canners at Ulverstone at night, on their way to becoming millionaires.
The first Chinese migrants came to Tasmania in 1870. They were a group of 19 on the SS Tamar. They were seeking to make their fortune from tin and gold.
The Examiner reported: “Their presence in the streets of the town excited no little astonishment and curiosity.” They would not be popular in the mining fields because of their cheap labour.
The best known of the Chinese in the North would be James Chung Gon and his wife Mary.
“He spent more than 70 years in Tasmania, and won respect, admiration and affection of all who knew them,” Quirk says.
For him too, the early years were not easy. He chopped wood on the Lefroy goldfields and worked for a Chinese market gardener. Sunday was his only day off and he walked more than 50 km to Launceston to meet with the already-established small Chinese community. James moved to Launceston in 1878 and grew vegetables on various allotments. These he sold from a cart he pushed around the streets. Chung Gon’s fruit and vegetable shop is still a thriving business in the city.
One of the unlikeliest migrants was Antonio Martini, a convict. After serving his sentence he moved to Launceston and became a property owner and pillar of the community.’
In 1844 he built a brick hotel on the corner of Tamar and Brisbane Streets. It is still a feature of the Launceston landscape, known as the Royal Oak.
Sunday Books – The Mercury 1 August 2010
By Carlene Ellwood from Tassie Books
About 300 years after Abel Tasman found little in Tasmania to excite traders, two enterprising Dutchmen arrived in Devonport in an old Jeep packed with blankets, tents and pots and pans.
The men, who had fought with the Dutch resistance during WW11, camped by the road as they travelled south. In the fields at Browns River near Kingston in 1950 they pitched a tent and bought about 2 ha of land.
They wrote to fellow resistance members discouraged that former collaborators were getting the best jobs and encouraged them to follow them to Tasmania. Soon there were seven Dutchmen in the settlement they named Little Groningen after their hometown (Groningen was also the name of Tasman’s home province).
The seven men established the Australian Building Corporation and built hones as well as schools and other public buildings across southern Tasmania. They sponsored many more migrants who were proud to say “Dutchies” were quickly becoming the ethnic majority. The story of Little Groningen, now Firthside, is just one of how migrants made a big mark in a small state. They arrived with little but hope and a strong work ethic – other Dutch newcomers in the North-West included Engel Sypkes and Roelf Vos, who worked nights at a cannery in Ulverstone before going on to become retail millionaires.
Author Marilyn Quirk, whose previous book Echoes on the Mountain told of the migrants who worked on post-war Hydro projects, now relates the stories of migrants of nine nationalities. Some of her subjects are drawn from earlier times, including convict Antonio Martini, a Spaniard who became a rich property owner, and the Chinese, lured by the tin and gold diggings in the 1870s.
The roll call of Greek immigrants reads today like a who’s who of business – Casimaty, Castrisios, Haros, Kalis, Poulous, Behrakis, Tsinoglou and Kons to name a few.
Uprooted to an alien land, most migrants faced language and cultural hardships and the fear of being called “wogs”. Chris Diamantis, a Greek who arrived here at 18 in 1956, says, “Those first four years were the hardest and the most depressing years of my life. Culture shock was one; secondly I was missing family, friends and it took ages before I felt at home.”
Quirk tells the inspiring stories of migrants who witnessed the horrors of war. Former HEC engineer George Otlowski fled Poland after his father was executed in the Soviet invasion of 1939 and went on to fight with the Polish Carpathian Brigade alongside Australians at Tobruk. In 1947, Otlowski and other Polish Rats of Tobruk, still in their military uniforms, arrived in Tasmania as sponsored migrants. There is also the story of Horst Braemer, a German soldier held as a prisoner by the Soviets for 5½ years. After his experiences in Russia, the primitive camp conditions as Liawenee were “pleasantly adventurous”.
Quirk’s detective work has unearthed a treasure trove of interesting facts about Tasmania’s migrants – including why a football team in Berlin was named Tasmania in 1901.
Our Patch – The Advocate 29th July 2010
By Kate Prestt
Heybridge author Marilyn Quirk’s second book, Tasmania – an island far away, is a must-read for anyone interested in the tales of those from afar whom have chosen to call the Apple Isle home. Her strong interest in recalling generations after we’ve gone will see her continuing to pen the stories of newer Australians.
In her latest book, Mrs Quirk takes a close look at nine nationalities and admits this is just the tip of the iceberg on Tasmania’s migration. “The Manager of the Migrant Resource Centre in Hobart who launched my book last week summed it up perfectly,” Mrs Quirk said. “I wrote about ten migrants in my first book, nine nationalities in this one but if I wanted to write on all the migrants in Tasmania, I’d be writing 20,000 stories,” she said.
Last night at the McKenna Hockey Centre, local Dutch descendant Jake Weeda helped launch the book. Mrs Quirk spoke briefly but wanted the audience to hear from characters who made this new book possible such as Ulverstone’s Therese Corfiatis, who grew up in a migrant family, her father of Hungarian descent.
Elderly Burnie resident Marj Davey recalls Chinese migration to the North-East for tin mining.
Vlastik Skvaril, who Mrs Quirk nicknamed “Marathon Man” due to spending his retirement running across the country to raise money for cancer, talked of his escape from Soviet repression and his home of Czechoslovakia.
Following from her first book Echoes on the Mountain, launched in 2006 about 10 Central Highland migrants arriving to work on the hydro-electric post-war, Mrs Quirk knew her work was far from done.
“My first book received a lot of feedback from the community,” she said.
“If you talk about history you’re really talking about people and their stories.”
“I want to make sure that they’re not forgotten.”
Mrs Quirk received a call from a German man in Hobart stating that he could name each of the men on the cover of her first book. She then began writing her second.
ISBN : 1 876261 54 4
Tassie Book – The Mercury 6 May 2006, Echoes on the Mountain
Chris Bantick reviews a book of migrant stories.
The establishment of Tasmania’s Hydro electric power is the focus of Marilyn Quirk’s, ‘Echoes on the Mountain.’ Although a book about the place of the Hydro in Tasmania’s development may seem to cater for a specialised audience, Quirk’s book is very much for the general reader.
Through interviewing 11 former immigrant workers in the Hydro, Quirk presents a compelling social history document. One of the immediate features of the book is the fluency of the prose. Quirk is a fine writer and has a clear sense of what the reader needs to know.
This is particularly evident in the detailed and highly informative introduction. Quirk goes to some lengths to put the development of the Hydro and its importance to the Tasmanian economy in context.
The European context of the migrants who came to Tasmania is also well explored. For this reason, the book should be seriously considered by schools as set text.
In no small part, the development of the Hydro would not have been possible without the labour provided by those who came to be known as ‘displaced persons.’
The aftermath of World War 11 in Europe and the call from Tasmania for a ready-skilled workforce resulted in the establishment of many Central Highlands townships. Hydro schemes in places like Waddamana, Tarraleah and Butlers Gorge meant that migrants not only brought much-needed skills but their culture as well. But the European Diaspora to Australia, and Tasmania specifically for the Hydro, did not always bring a happy and harmonious life.
The scars of war travelled with some of the migrants and the isolation they felt in Tasmania’s remote areas added to the pressures on individuals and families. Quirk covers this well.
Through the reflections and recollections of the 11 participants in the book, a clear sense is created of what living in post-war Tasmania was like. Each story is different, but there are some unifying themes.
These are primarily the capacity the migrants exhibited to piece together shattered lives and begin again in a new land.
Personalities and experiences aside, the book also includes many outstanding photographs. Polish workers for example, are pictured in their former wartime uniforms. This is an excellent read.
Spectrum books – The Examiner, 29 April 2006
Noel Shaw reviews a chronicle of migrants’ working lives.
Migrants from war-ravaged Europe who arrived in Tasmania in the 1940s and 1950s to work on hydro electric schemes must have wondered if life had really taken a turn for the better.
Marian Zazula, born in Poland recalls, “When I was shown to my hut in Butlers Gorge I told them it looked like a tool shed! There was a tin fireplace, two sacks and some straw and we had to make a mattress. It seemed like a prison.”
Alex Dziendziel, also from Poland, began his working life at Bronte Park sleeping on the floor of a hall with snow outside a metre deep.
Hydro towns such as Tarraleah, Bronte Park, Butlers Gorge, Wayatinah and Waddamana in Tasmania’s central highlands were miles from anywhere, primitive and, in winter, freezing.
Marilyn Quirk has preserved the memories of 11 of these people. They came from Czechoslovakia, Poland, Germany, Italy, Lithuania and England.
They signed on for two years, after which they could leave. Many did leave, of course, but these eleven were among those who stayed on and became valued members of the Tasmanian community. Six of them now live in retirement in Launceston and on the North West Coast.
They remember the hard work and the simple pleasures of those early years. There would be a picture show once a week or fortnight. Alcohol was forbidden in the camps but there were ways around that.
Men eager for female company would drive up to 200 km to attend a dance, for instance from Bronte to Burnie. Even in the Hydro villages there was social discrimination, says Marilyn Quirk.
“Social standing in the small population was reflected by the seniority of a worker’s job, the standard of housing that he and his family enjoyed. Hatted and gloved wives of senior employees attended afternoon teas held by wives of other senior employees.”
Many of these men, says author Quirk, likened their new life to camps they had left behind in Europe. Far away from families, friends and what was left of home towns many were driven to depression, they drank heavily and even suicided”.
But hard work was always an antidote for miseries. Zofia Szymanska, now living at Prospect, survivor of a German labour camp in Poland, was the first Polish immigrant to arrive in Launceston in 1948.
She worked seven days a week at three jobs, a housemaid-waitress at the Star Hotel, and usherette at the Star Theatre and w waitress at the cafe. She was a moving force in establishing Polish House in Launceston.
Milan Vhynalek, a refugee from Communist oppression in Czechoslovakia, was imbued with the work ethic. Long before he started his cheese factories Lactos and Lacrum on the North West Coast he spent two years in Hydro villages operating a bulldozer. He showed his entrepreneurial bent with sidelines such as buying a washing machine and running a laundry service, and sewing, for other workers; by selling wine until police caught up with him, as a photographer and a trader in motor cars. He was also playing in a dance band at weekends from half past eight until midnight.
They are heart-warming stories these; a valuable record of how these people rebuilt their lives and what they have contributed to Tasmania.
ISBN : 978 0 646 45711 6 or 0 646 45711 X
Book covers: R Frankcombe