Attila J. Urmenyhazi

Cultural background: Hungarian

Place of origin: Istanbul, Turkey

Date of arrival: 8 Jan.1960

I was born in Istanbul, Turkey in 1938 from ethnic Hungarian Roman Catholic parents originally from Budapest. My father was a tradesman hat maker, later an industrialist in that field, a pioneer who had established the local hat manufacturing industry in modern Turkey rising from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire. He was specifically invited by the Turkish government under their founder-leader-first president Kemal Atatürk when in 1928, among countless sweeping legislation, head gear reforms were introduced banning the fez and various turbans for adoption of the then Western world’s fedora hats and cloth caps. Fashioned hats were made from either rabbit fur or wool and worn universally at the time by city gentry.

My parents registered my birth with the Hungarian authorities in Budapest as a Hungarian national. My Hungarian Birth Certificate states that I was born in Istanbul Turkey. My Turkish Birth Certificate states that I was born from Hungarian nationality parents in Istanbul. With 3 children born between 1934-38, the family plan was to return for good to Hungary for our education and our upbringing there in the homeland. However, the outbreak of World War II, the misery afterwards in ravaged Hungary and the onset of tyrannical communism in a Soviet style repressive regime, made our stay in Turkey permanent. We were living there as tolerated foreigners in a secular but Moslem country with widely different culture, language and lifestyle. Particularly grateful that during that war, neutral Turkey offered us a safe haven, a secure life and the chance to maintain a reasonable livelihood, we nevertheless retained and nurtured our own Hungarian culture, language and the Christian heritage both as family and within our own small expatriate community. As children and later as teenagers we attended bilingual French-Turkish private schools to complete our secondary education in Istanbul becoming fluently multilinguals.

Officially we were registered as Hungarian aliens, renewing every year our residency permit by the grace of the authorities. Upon reaching adulthood, when Turkish citizenship was formally denied to us siblings born in Turkey where, “ Turkey is for the Turks” culture of chauvinism and blatant discrimination both at law and in society prevailed, we had to face migration to a welcoming, multi-ethnic, pluralist “New World” country offering Western values, equal opportunity and rewarding hard work. So, with the passing away of my father I had to quit tertiary studies to be engaged full time in working for the partly family owned enterprise which underpinned our secure life style. After completing a college certificate course in accounting, I applied for and managed to obtain the official migration sponsorship of the “Australian Catholic Immigration Services” then run by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese in Adelaide.

As a hopeful 21 years young man, I boarded a Turkish passenger ship from Istanbul to Genoa, fully paying my own way to promising Australia. I took along 3 big steer hide suitcases crammed with clothing, Turkish rugs (for sale at hard times) and my prized books with an absolute resolve to succeed in Australia no matter how hard, difficult or long my initial years in the new country would be. An ocean going, up-to-date modern Italian liner named “Sydney” with about a hundred odd mixed nationality European migrants on board, set sail from Genoa harbour to stop over in Naples and Messina (Sicily) picking up several hundreds of Southern Italians joining us for the voyage, soon to go through the Suez Canal. We stopped at its entry point, at exotic Port Said for almost a day, waiting for our turn to proceed in the very narrow, concrete and stone lined, very long waterway.

Most of us migrant passengers were then involved in a unique experience, in “hand sign” animated haggling with turbaned Arabs traders in their flowing, off-white “galabya” garb who were shouting, selling their mainly camel theme kitsch souvenir wares from row boats below. Suez Canal presented an unbelievable contrast with one side arid sandy desert (Sinai) whilst the other an oasis strip of exotic palm trees amidst lush green cultivated land. When our ship crossed the Equator in the Indian Ocean, we enjoyed a comical festival to celebrate King Neptune’s arrival on board around the open swim pool. I was chosen to be a policeman to grab at random an onlooking fellow passenger whom I took under protest before the crowned, bearded and trident armed king, under accusation of trespassing his realm. Following a guilty verdict, pushing the laughing happy victim into the pool was a job that I joyfully carried out.
The long and dreary sea voyage, the largely unknown but awaiting experience at the journey’s end made us, the hopeful migrants, no doubt very apprehensive. The great fun during that burlesque show organised by the ship’s friendly and snappy Italian officers really cheered us up.

After 20 days of cruising mostly in rough seas towards seemingly endless horizons we arrived at Fremantle, our first port of call in Australia. Our very first impression upon setting foot on that sunburnt and seemingly lifeless town in the midday sun of January 1960, was disheartening. We all likened it to a ghost cowboy town without the horses or the booted cowboys, as the overhang awnings supported by poles on the edge of the footpath, entirely covered the footpath in front of the row of mostly tacky little shops along the deserted main street. Getting there from the waterfront disembarkation gang plank was strolling through the tin roofed large warehouses. We all knew that, after all, sleepy Fremantle could not be an Adelaide, Melbourne or Sydney, the worldly destinations of the overwhelming majority who by that time had formed friendships on board. Crossing the Great Australian Bight, we encountered 4 days of frightening stormy seas, mountainous ocean waves, swells and exposure to harrowing sea sickness for most of us, before arriving at Melbourne’s Station Pier, our gateway to a new life after 24 long days of sea odyssey.

My first 9 months were spent in Adelaide and then I moved to Melbourne, chasing the dollar and mastering English whilst doing dirty and demeaning type of work that I accepted as a kind of unavoidable first jobs, say my “National Service” in Australia.
Arriving in Sydney in 1962, I soon started pursuing a serious career path in accounting to start from bookkeeping, attending Technical College at evenings to refresh expertise. Much later I worked as accounts executive at larger companies, in tandem with my long term part time employment as a NAATI certificated level 3 top translator in Turkish-English & English-Turkish with the Commonwealth Dept. of Immigration and with the NSW State Govt. to supplement family income and retention of linguistic skills.

Readily cherishing the common values of mainstream society, I integrated fast and well into my adopted homeland, never forgetting my Hungarian root culture in the process. I married a 4th generation Anglo-Celtic origin Australian in 1963 and we had 4 children and 4 grandchildren to our credit. As an average family we enjoyed the wholesome, peaceful and relatively prosperous Australian lifestyle in Engadine, one of the leafy Southern suburbs of Sydney. Following marital breakdown I moved to Hobart Tasmania in 1995 and close to the city bought myself an apartment unit where I have been living since. My relatively early retirement followed. I joined several clubs to socialise and make the most out of life in my new community. Among them are: The Hungarian Association, The Pandani Bushwalking Club, Friends of the Tasmanian Museum & Art Gallery (support association) and The Alliance Française (French association) where I served as Vice-president for 6 years (2001-2007). My hobby is to research to uncover and put on record a biographic summation of pre-eminent migrant origin Hungarian-Australians who had outstandingly contributed to Australian society. Australia has the love and the total loyalty of this once Sydneysider proud Hungarian-Aussie now living in Tasmania who so far has lived for 51 years in this good and great country to enjoy a happy, secure retirement in Hobart, a life rich in cultural pursuits and countless overseas travels. Thank you Australia.

Attila J. Urmenyhazi (Ürményházi) J.P.
22 January 2011