(previously Dusan Dundjerski)
Novi Sad, Serbia
Rome, Italy in August 1960
Sydney in August 1960
I stayed with friends in Melbourne for 2 days.
The mines at Mary Kathleen, near Mt Isa in Queensland.
Petrol station manager; purchasing officer for Borg Warner/BTR; own petrol station business.
In 1936 I was born Dusan Dundjerski in Serbia. I spent my youth in Novi Sad and went to school there, living contentedly with my family.
Before the Second World War my family had their own business, but during Communism this was all stripped away under the new regime. We lost our family’s properties and my father’s work position. Before the war my father had many friends and everyone knew him. My father was a good man and helped a lot of people.
I was eight years old when Communism set in. I remember believing my name was not good anymore; our reputation had been damaged. My father was sent to jail on a false charge and he spent a few months in prison. Fortunately, my father still had some good friends who assisted him to be released.
The oil painting that hangs in our dining room is a work I remember from when I was very young. When I was seven years old I remember this painting from the blue room in the summer house in Ceb, [Serbia]. We had to hand over this house in 1947 to the Communist government. However, luckily my grandmother and father loved this painting and had brought this back with them to Novi Sad before the house was taken.
From my experiences you might think that I disliked the Russians, but this was not the case for they also protected our family. A Russian army unit moved into our home at Novi Sad. Our family lived at the front of the house and the Russian soldiers lived at the rear and in the backyard of our home. On more than one occasion when our family was harassed by other soldiers and officials they protected us and assisted our family.
I started university at Belgrade and completed two and a half years studying mechanical engineering. At this time my father’s legs started to cause him pain as a result of a previous war injury. A couple of days later he died quite suddenly from a heart attack. He left me and my sister alone, as my mother had died when I was quite young in 1939. I was only three years old when my mother died and so my sister and I were raised by my father and grandmother.
One of my father’s friends in Novi Sad, a doctor, assisted me to complete a student exchange in England. At first I was not going to be allowed to go to England, I needed a guarantor. The doctor went guarantor for me on the condition that I return at the end of my exchange. I agreed to this.
I travelled across to England and had a wonderful time studying. I enjoyed sightseeing, travelling and most importantly the freedom of choice that you had living in England.
I kept my word and returned to Serbia. I rang the doctor and informed her of my return. I knew if I had not returned [she] would have been persecuted because of my actions. It was very important for my honour and the doctor’s that I returned to Serbia.
I returned to university in Belgrade and continued my studies. It was very hard as I was not allowed to earn money or hold a work position with responsibility. My father had passed away and I felt I had little left to connect me with Yugoslavia. I waited six months and re-applied for an overseas visa.
Luckily, I was in a soccer team and the government issued a temporary visa for me to play in Germany. I had made up my mind – this was the opportunity I had been waiting for – to leave the country and there was no guarantor attached to this visa.
I was at the train station with my friends from the soccer team; we stood on the train platform waiting. There were two trains waiting to depart: one went to Germany where the soccer match was being held, the other to Rome, Italy. I made my decision. The green light for the train to go to Germany was announced. All the boys in my team were yelling, “Come on, you will miss the train!” I said, “Of course” and waved goodbye to them and caught the train to Rome.
The first night I arrived in Rome I rang my grandmother. I told her I was not going to return to Yugoslavia, she said, “I know, I thought this would happen”. My grandmother and I said our goodbyes. “Bless you my dear – all my love”; I knew I would probably not see her again. The lady who was the switch operator on the telephone exchange heard our conversation and said, “You don’t know me but I know your family.” She wished me all the best.
In Rome I stayed with my aunt. She helped me a lot and showed me a few things; she had good contacts. My religion was Orthodox, and Rome is full of Catholics, but I was welcomed because of my aunt. I worked ‘cash-in-hand’ at a motorbike store in Rome. After three months I needed to move on, I didn’t want to leave but my boss thought it was best. He had helped me out and got me on my feet.
I started weekend work at Vatican City, conducting guided tours in different languages for the tourists. On one occasion I was about half a metre from the Pope, but I was always told to put my head down and not say anything unless spoken to. Only once the Pope said good morning to me, I remember this very clearly.
I applied for an immigration application to England, America and Canada, but was unsuccessful; other countries could be very cautious taking someone from Communist Yugoslavia. I went to the Australian Embassy and put down my name. The officer in charge asked if I spoke English; [he] was so tired of speaking Italian he instantly asked to catch up over a coffee and have a conversation. We became friends and this friendship helped me get accepted to Australia.
My application for immigration was granted and I was asked to assist with translation on the flight over: I could speak English, Italian, Russian, Serbian and German. We spent three days on a plane. I had very little sleep because I needed to be available to assist everyone on the flight. Every time I tried to sit down somebody would ask for help. It was my job to look after these people, my responsibility.
When we arrived in Sydney I remembered my grandmother’s advice – always wear your suit, tie and hat for work when you meet someone for the first time. When we arrived the two Australian police that met me exclaimed, “My goodness, who is this person, he thinks he is a movie star!” I replied, “I am not a movie star, I am just following my grandmother’s advice”.
Next I took all the people who had travelled on the flight to Australia by train down to Albury. At Albury I met another authority from Bonegilla and he took over from there; my duties were complete. I continued down to Melbourne by train, alone.
When I arrived in Melbourne at my accommodation I slept for two whole days. Through a friend in London I had a personal contact in Melbourne. These people assisted me to get a job, they asked me what I would like to do. I said I would do any type of work but would like to go north for a while.
I secured work at a mine called Mary Kathleen near Mount Isa in Queensland. On my arrival I was shown to my accommodation. It was one small room with one sole chair and a bed. I thought my goodness; from Rome, Italy to here, but I said to myself, Douglas you have a job and accommodation, be thankful, and I was. I worked here for two years, initially in the mines and then in the laboratory testing soil specimens.
The Melbourne company I worked for at Mary Kathleen finished their contract with the mines. I returned to Melbourne by car, slowly driving down and was caught in some floods. On the drive down I cut my foot and went to the hospital for a tetanus injection. I was refused because the doctor was on holidays.
So I continued my trip south and arrived in Melbourne. I fainted while I was driving and knew something was wrong. I asked to see a doctor in Melbourne and within one second he diagnosed me, from the yellow in my eyes. I had a severe infection and my kidney and liver were failing. I spent three months in hospital.
On my recovery I was asked if I would like to move to Albury. I managed a petrol station for our company and worked out of the office. It was here that I decided to change my name from Dusan Dundjerski to Douglas Dunley.
I changed my name because Dundjerski was hard for Australians to pronounce and people could not remember my name. Every time a client rang the office to speak to me they found it very difficult. A friend and I looked in the phone book and decided on a name that was similar to my old name but easier to pronounce and was original. I did some research in the library and confirmed it was an original name so I hired a solicitor and had my name changed. Then people remembered my name.
After a few years the company decided to move on from Albury but I had made friends and felt settled. There was a petrol station on the corner of Hume and Townsend Street for lease. I decided to set up my own business with the support of the company in Melbourne. They agreed and I owned and operated this petrol station for many years.
In Albury, I married Eileen when I was 28. Soon after we had our daughter Melissa and after three years we had a son, Matthew. My children are grown now and have families of their own. Recently I had a stroke which has affected my speech and movement but I am happy to be alive.
When I miss my sister or simply want to be reminded of Serbia all I need to do is walk into our dining room and look at The Adriatic Sea, the oil painting from my parents’ summer house that arrived in Australia wrapped around an old broom handle.