Daniel Maurice of Sydney on his Slovenian background

What do you do for living?

I am retired now.  During my work life I had a very varied career, much of it outside Australia.  I began with more than a decade as a diplomat in the Australian Foreign Service, then spending almost another 20 years in various business roles across the telecommunications and financial services industries, before finally another decade as an independent consultant focused on project recovery, product development and business improvement initiatives for global technology companies.

Where in Slovenia did your parents come from? 

Both my parents, Ivan Mavrič and Danila Jakin, came from Kozana, a village in the district of Brda in the far west of Slovenia.  Indeed almost all of my Slovenian ancestors for at least the last two hundred years were born, baptised, married and died in this village.  Situated on a picturesque hill between the villages of Šmartno and Vipolže, Kozana's population today is less than 400.  It is surrounded by numerous  vineyards and by cherry and peach orchards. These have long been the drivers of village life and the local economy. 

When did they migrate to Australia? What was the main reason for this change?

Ivan and Danila escaped from Yugoslavia in October 1949.  According to Ivan's later recounting he was desperate to find a new life free of his homeland's communist regime. Danila always said that a reason for her decision to leave was that she hated the thought of becoming a farmer's wife.   She also did not like living in a small rural village where, according to her, "everyone always knew your business".  Ivan offered her an escape from both.  They married on New Year's Eve, 1949 in Gorizia.

By March 1950 Ivan and Danila had already applied, and been accepted, for migration to Australia.  

The couple departed from Bremerhaven in Germany aboard the ship "Fairsea" on 16 July 1950.  The Fairsea arrived in Melbourne on 18 August 1950.  From there Ivan and Danila were taken direct from dockside in special trains to the Department of Immigration Reception and Training Centre at Bonegilla on the NSW/Victorian border.  Ivan and Danila were only in Bonegilla for a few weeks before being assigned to the recently opened Villawood Migrant Hostel in Sydney, having narrowly avoided being sent to work as rural labourers.  Ivan ended up working at the Hostel as a cook and Danila in a nearby factory.

By August 1953 he and Danila were free of the Government's two-year work commitment that was part of their assisted passage to Australia. Together with their first child (me, born October 1951) they moved out of Villawood to a house shared with other Slovenes.  Shortly thereafter Ivan bought a fish and chip shop nearby, remaining a shopkeeper for the next decade, before turning himself into a builder and property developer.

Once they settled in Australia, how did they feel about their new and the old country?

Ivan and Danila's first home in Australia, Bonegilla camp in 1950 was primitive and the food was very different from what they were used to, but to them Australia seemed like paradise after the deprivations of Europe.  By a stroke of luck I have a copy of a letter that Ivan wrote to his mother and sister from Bonegilla just a few weeks after their arrival in Australia.  It provides a clear insight into their initial impressions of their new home, as well as the problems still confronting their relatives back in Slovenia:

".......After 33 days of travelling [on the migrant ship, Fairsea] we safely arrived in this lucky and beautiful and rich country of peace and freedom..I honestly tell you that thanks God we have already had too much meat, ham, butter, honey, jam, eggs, milk, chocolate... With a heavy heart we eat all this while thinking of the hunger up there [in Europe].  Here we have heaven on Earth, it's a pity we are not all here together.  All goods are cheap.  Let me give you a few examples: for one-day wages I can buy 40kg meat, 10kg butter, 8kg white flour or 40kg wholemeal flour, one pair of shoes and so on. Nobody will believe this but that's how it is. When we start working which I hope will happen shortly I will send Mother a package as I know she needs it........."

The transition to becoming "New Australians" (as migrants were then called) was completed in November 1956 when Ivan and Danila were "naturalised" as Australian citizens.  By then they had already adopted the name Maurice in the place of the Slovene form, Mavrič (also sometimes spelt as Maurič).  Ivan later explained he made the name change because he and Danila grew tired of it being continually mispronounced.  In any case, Ivan said, Australia was now their adopted country and their new home.

I think this name change and Ivan's explanation for it says a lot about their attitude towards Australia and their commitment to it.

Have you been to Slovenia? Where do you usually stay when you visit?

I have been to Slovenia several times, starting with visits as a child accompanying my parents in 1957 and again in 1966.  I visited again as an adult with my wife in the mid-1970s.  Most recently I have visited Slovenia in 2006 and last year.  I am planning another visit in 2014.

In the early days I would stay with relatives in either Italy or Kozana, but for my most recent visit I stayed in a hotel in Kozana.

In what ways do you feel that you are Slovenian?

I thank my parents for instilling in me what I believe is a very healthy attitude towards my Slovenian heritage.  I am proud of my background and feel a strong emotional attachment to Slovenia, but I am and always have felt that I am an Australian first and Australia is "my" country.  I think this is a good approach as I do see in some other migrant children a sense of being "lost between two cultures", that is not really feeling Australian, but also unable to genuinely connect to the homeland of their parents.

I have tried to create the same attitude in my own daughters and I am pleased that they also are very proud of their Slovenian heritage which they see as "cool".  They especially like the fact that few people know much, if anything, about Slovenia so it seems to their friends to be a very exotic little country.

I, and both my daughters, became Slovenian citizens in 2011 which I was keen to do so that our connection to Slovenia was more tangible.

Are you a member of a Slovenian organisation in Australia? If not, why?

No, not a member of any organisation.  I guess I have never found any body that seems to offer me anything of specific value.  A further consideration is that unfortunately I do not speak Slovene so I see this as another reason not to join any Slovenian ethnic club or society.

What would you say about Slovenia from your professional perspective? 

On my last couple of visits to Slovenia I have been struck by how proud and important to Slovenes is their membership of the European Union.  At the same time I get a sense that the country is suffering genuine budget and financial problems which is a big cause of concern to them.  Young relatives in Slovenia seem especially concerned about their employment prospects.

If I had any advice to give Slovenia it would be to spend up big promoting and building its tourism industry.   It is a stunningly beautiful little country which is relatively cheap, safe, easy to move around and uncrowded compared to elsewhere in Europe.  But too few people seem to know about it!  Perhaps it could also focus more of its efforts on becoming or staying internationally competitive in a few specific industries or sectors, for example the way Finland was a world leader in mobile phones for many years with Nokia -- at least until Apple came along!

What are your plans for the future?

Relax.  Travel.  Watch my children and grandchildren grow.  Continue to research my family history and pass it on to the next generation so it is not lost.

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