Jacqueline Bender on bee keeping, cheese making and her Slovenian background

You are doing lots of interesting things. Could you please tell our readers about your interests? 

I’m very interested in locally produced food. I think the more we can make and grow ourselves, the better it is for our environment and our health. It’s also fun and satisfying to make things, and you can make great friendships along the way by joining a community garden, a bee club or buying & swapping veggies with neighbours.

I make lots of things from scratch, including bread and cheese. I also teach cheese making classes. I keep bees and chickens in my backyard in Melbourne.  

Funnily enough, my passion for bee keeping actually reconnected me with a Slovenian club in the area. The Jadran Slovenian club in Diggers Rest hosts a bee meeting once per month. I was a regular at this club when I was a kid, going to dances and even performing in a Slovenian band (I played harmonika and drums). But, the band finished and I lost touch with the club. I hadn’t been there for over 10 years until I joined the bee group.

My website is called DIY Feast, and I write about cheese making, bee keeping and gardening.

From which part of Slovenia did your parents/grandparents come?

My mum grew up in Kalobje, which is a village about 20 minutes drive from Celje. My dad is Australian, from Polish heritage.

My grandmother was born in ┼áentrupert (which is a short, but very hilly – and hard! – bike ride away from Kalobje). My grandfather lived in Kalobje and my grandmother moved there when they married.

When and why did they migrate  to Australia?

My grandparents migrated to Australia in 1960, with their 3 young children.

At this time, there were incentives to move to Australia. Land was cheap, there was plenty of work and they were offered a free journey by ship. So even though it took 3 months to get here, and they didn’t speak English, they went for the opportunity.

After 8 years, Slovenia called my grandmother home and she has been living there ever since. My mother and her sisters go back to visit every few years.

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

I’ve been to Slovenia twice. When I was 12, I went with my mum and we lived there for 3 months. I went again this year for 5 weeks in August/September.

Both times I stayed at my grandparents’ house in Kalobje. It was such a great experience for me. I met my mother’s many cousins and they opened up their hearts and homes to me, even though we hadn’t seen each other for 17 years!

I feel really lucky to have experienced village life in Slovenia. It was completely new and different for me.

Do you speak Slovenian? How did you communicate with Slovenians in Slovenia?

Ne govorim Slovensko. I learnt a little bit when I was there and I’m studying it now in Melbourne.

Sometimes communication was difficult. I could talk about simple stuff: how are you, where are we going etc. but it was disappointing that I couldn’t communicate well enough to get to know people.

I was travelling with my aunty, who speaks Slovenian. That helped a lot. When I wanted to talk about something more complicated, she would translate. But, when you’re out with friends and having a good time, it’s not so easy to always be translating. So there was still a communication barrier.

To try to overcome this, to show, instead of tell, people a bit more about myself, I played harmonika. My grandfather has a harmonika and when people came visiting, after eating salami and drinking blueberry šnapse, I would play. It really helped! It created a connection between us.

It was also surprising for them to see an Australian playing Slovenian folk music. I often got comments like: “How can you play our music but you can’t speak Slovenian?”

How do you feel about Slovenia and being Slovenian?

I feel grateful that I have a connection with Slovenia.

Life in Slovenia is so different from life in Australia. I can see why my grandmother missed it, and why my mother has a bit of her heart in both places. There’s beauty to both of them.

I loved my time there earlier this year. I feel I was really able to embrace the spirit of the place: of Kalobje, of the people who live there, of the mountains (I went on lots of mountain walks and trekked up Ojstrice), of the natural wonders like Vintgar river and the forests where I went looking for gobe.

I feel I want to connect more with my Slovenian roots, by learning Slovenian and going back for another visit.

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

No, I’m not. I’ve just never explored it.

What are your plans for the future?

I want to visit Slovenia again and speak Slovenian fluently. I would be interested in working on organic farms in Slovenia and Italy (I’m learning Italian too).

I would like to start a small farm on a couple of acres, focusing on growing vegetables, fruit and herbs, with several bee hives. It could be in Australia or overseas.

In the short term I’m going to continue making cheese, like camembert and blues, and having fun with my bees.

1 comment:

  1. I visited Slovenia only 2 times during my whole traveling life. Last time I have been there about 6 months ago after my boston to dc bus tours with my brother. It is one of my favorite tourist destinations in Europe. This region has a wide range of heritage sights for the visitors. It is also rich in natural beauty. Lake Bled is one of my favorite places there. It attracts visitors for its Parish Church with its elegant Bled Castle and interesting frescoes.