St Polten, Austria
Genoa, Italy in mid-May 1959
Sydney on 16 June 1959
Webster Road, Liverpool (SW Sydney) sharing a house with my in-laws.
Oakes and Company at Rydalmere (SW Sydney) working as a shop fitter.
Building furniture for W&G Furniture at Bankstown; production manager for Chiswell Furniture at Liverpool – both in SW Sydney.
I was born on 14 September 1935 at St Polten, which is the capital city of the state of Lower Austria and is situated in the north-eastern part of the country, about 60 kilometres from Vienna.
My parents were country folks, my father coming from a family of 11 children. The farm was about 50 acres and my father worked there with his siblings for no pay. It was a mixed farm with both animals and crops. When my father met my mother she, being a city girl, did not want to live in the country, so my father moved to St Polten where I was born. I also have a brother. My father had been a truck driver and during the war years he was in demand to cart foods and such for the army. My mother worked at various part-time jobs. After the war we spent a lot of time on my grandparents’ farm as there at least we had food and were happy.
We lived in a unit at St Polten and my mother still lived in that unit until her death 70 years later. My father predeceased her.
My schooling was at government-owned primary and high schools and when I finished I went to technical school to learn to be a cabinetmaker. I had an apprenticeship with a small company and worked and went to tech at the same time. I have a wooden plane that was given to me by my uncle in Austria who was also a cabinetmaker. It was used by me in my cabinetmaking and is made from white beech which is used a lot in woodwork because of its excellent properties.
At the conclusion of my apprenticeship I left the company to gain wider experience. As my wages were not very high, I went to work at a large steel mill where I was [also] able to play soccer for them. I stayed there for about three years.
I had become engaged to a girl who lived about 20 miles away and whose parents had migrated to Australia. We did not want to follow as she was still living in Austria and I had good money from soccer, as well as a good job, but for the next two years her parents continually wrote begging us to come. Finally we decided to migrate for two years and perhaps in that time we would be able to save up to buy a pub in Austria and go back. We had married in February 1959 in Austria and the voyage out was to be our honeymoon. We had no trouble leaving Austria as the Russians only occupied it and did not restrict us from leaving.
We went to Genoa [in Italy] and there went onboard Toscana. We sailed in mid-May, arriving in Sydney on 16 June 1959. The journey out was not to be a honeymoon however as I was in a cabin with 70 other men and my wife shared a cabin with six other ladies. In all there were 1,000 migrants onboard, of whom 120 were German-speaking and the remainder Italian.
On leaving Austria, I contemplated what my future may be and then thought of nothing else as immediately I became very seasick. It was to remain that way for the whole voyage. I did not like the pasta menu and so only ate some Hungarian salami, which one of the migrants had brought with him only to find that he would not be allowed to bring it into Australia. That salami with dry bread was to be my food for most of the voyage. We had been allowed wine but my stomach could not take it. My first good meal since leaving Austria was to be in Fremantle where I enjoyed a wiener schnitzel. My wife had been fortunate though in that she had not been ill on the voyage.
We brought a few belongings out with us to Australia, including a gold coffee set from Austria. It was a wedding present from my friend who was best man at my wedding and I treasure it as a memory of my migration and also of my friend. The decanter set which is of china and in the shape of a barrel was also a wedding present from another of the best men. I value it for the memory of him and of Austria. The glass wine dispenser also came out from Austria with us. We purchased it ourselves as we liked to entertain and it is used by us often in dispensing the wine at parties. It is very attractive and unusual and a fond memory of my homeland.
From Fremantle we voyaged across the Great Australian Bight, which was the worst part of the voyage due to encountering the very roughest of seas. We landed in Melbourne and were to continue to Sydney by sea, however the shipping company had called a strike and so we were offloaded and flown by TAA (Trans Australian Airlines) to Sydney.
Because we left the plane at about 1am in the morning and my in-laws had no telephone, one of the passengers, who had already lived in Sydney, organised a hire car to take us to my in-laws in Liverpool [in the city’s south-west]. That cost us three pounds which was a week’s wage in those days. The trip was rather eventful as the cab had a flat tyre and we also could not find the house. At one stage we were confronted at the wrong house by a man with a gun who obviously did not enjoy being woken up in the middle of the night. I could not speak English so we got out of there quickly. Finally, with assistance, we located my in-laws’ home. It had not been a very happy introduction to my new country.
The house, which was in Webster Road, Liverpool, was grossly overcrowded with 11 people living there, but at least we had a room to ourselves. My thought of Australia at this point was that Liverpool was a dump of a place and I just wanted to get out of it and go home. I could have written to my mother and obtained the money to return to Austria but the Australian Government would have forced me to pay back our fares. We were really committed for two years and knew we had to make the best of it.
We remained in the house at Liverpool for two and a half months, during which time I had been with my brother-in-law to the employment agency to look for work. They offered me a position with Cable Makers at Liverpool but as I was an individual cabinetmaker I did not want to work in mass production. Eventually I found a position with a company of about 30 people at Rydalmere [in western Sydney] named Oakes and Company, where I was employed as a shop fitter and joiner. I remained with them for a year because there was no overtime and I needed the money, I found another job in Bankstown [in south-west Sydney] working for a company named W&G Furniture. I remained there for ten years and made special orders of custom-made furniture.
By this time, and to be closer to my place of employment, we moved to a flat in Parramatta where we remained for two and a half years. We then bought a home [in south-west Sydney] where I still live. It cost me £2,500 to buy and I also bought a Volkswagen Beetle.
The house was a very run-down weatherboard cottage, about 60 years old, with a chimney on one side and a verandah on the front and a galvanized iron roof. After a year a Polish friend, who was a plumber, suggested that we move the old house to the back of the very deep block and build a new one at the front. I did not think it possible but he convinced me that we could do it. We bought some second-hand timber for railings, jacked the house up with car jacks, made a track with steel pipes and two-by-two timbers, and within three days we had the house down at the back of the block where it remains to this day, which you can see in [the] photos.
It was in summer and the moving proved more difficult than I had anticipated. We put it on new foundations, my friend did the plumbing, we borrowed electricity temporarily from my neighbour, and my wife and I lived in it. Later we built [the] new house up the front and moved there. I had brought the plane that my uncle had given me in Austria with me to Australia and used it in my profession and in the construction of my house.
I liked it here [in Australia]. In Austria we work 48 hours and here we only have to work 40. It was much freer and I liked to go the beach at the weekend. The wife didn’t like it though [and] we went to Europe for a while in 1969 thinking that perhaps we may return there to live but decided against it.
On our return I obtained a job at Chiswell Furniture in Liverpool, where I remained for 26 years until my retirement. My position was that of production manager. It was not custom-made furniture but it was of excellent quality and I was proud to help make it. For a while after retiring, I did some private cabinetmaking work but now my eyes are not so good and can no longer do that.
My first marriage ended about 16 years ago and we parted good friends. I am now married to a German lady who is office manager at the German-Austrian Club in Cabramatta.
My connection with the German-Austrian community began almost as soon as I arrived in Australia, when we used to go to German-Austrian dances at Liverpool Town Hall. The German-Austrian Association had been formed in about 1957 but it wasn’t until 1964 that land was purchased and in 1965 [the] club was built.
The club had no liquor license at first and we had to bring in our liquor in eskies. Every Saturday they held dances and Fridays they just met and talked. We were closed during the week and on Sundays.
In 1970 it was planned to have an Oktoberfest and this has continued every year until now. The first Oktoberfest was held at Fairfield Showground on an extremely hot day and we had not correctly estimated the numbers of people who would come. It was something new and Australians poured in and discovered our foods, drink and music. It was a huge success and continues to be so.
The club itself is open for bingo, shooting, curling and many other activities and is now very cosmopolitan, with people of many nationalities as members. I have been President for 22 years and am a life member. It has been my baby and it takes much of my time.
My proudest moment was when I was awarded the Golden Award Cross [in] Vienna on 21 April 1994, given by the President of Austria for the work I have given to the Austrian community in Australia, [but] I am an Australian citizen and have absolutely no intention of returning.