|Photos by Florjan Auser|
When and why did you come to Australia?
I arrived in Australia with my wife Ivica and ten-month-old son Marko on 19 February 1971. At the airport we were greeted by our fellow villager Alojz Moge and his wife Danica. I remember this as a genuine and friendly meeting on an extremely warm morning. In Vienna we boarded the plane in cold and freezing conditions, and here it suddenly hit us: Where have we come to? Why we came I really can't say. At home in Maribor both my wife and I had a job; Ivica was a hairdresser and I worked as a toolmaker in the car manufacturing company. At times we lived in Maribor and occasionally at my mother's home in Kidričevo. I lost my father at an early age, when I was six years old.
The advantage of youth is that you are curious about the world, something drives you into the unknown and you don't even realise what the consequences of your decisions might be. It dawned on us how deeply we upset our parents - at the time Ivica's parents were still alive - her brothers, my mother and sister and relatives soon after our arrival in Sydney. Was it the feeling of guilt, were we homesick? Whichever the case, our feelings were mixed and unpleasant.
Initially we stayed with our fellow villager Lojze. After a few weeks of searching for suitable accommodation and on recommendation of Marička Ritlop we were taken in by a kind Prekmurje family of Irma and Feri Matus.
Two days after our arrival I had a job. Ivica followed a few weeks later, having found employment in the same company. Our new life began. We found ourselves at the beginning of a road which we didn't know where it led.
What to do about Marko who couldn't even walk yet was the first painful trial which I refused to admit. I just know that I kept glancing at airplanes that flew back home. I don't know whether this was good luck or our destiny, but Marička Ritlop reappeared like a good fairy and found us kind family Velišček where Marko could spend his days in the safe and warm home of mother Marija of whom he grew very fond.
You have long been the president of the Slovenian club Triglav. Can you tell us why and how the club was founded, considering that the Slovenian Association Sydney already existed at the time?
In 1970-71, there was an uproar in the Slovenian community in Sydney. People started talking about founding a new club called Triglav. Due to my poor understanding of the situation in the Slovenian community in Sydney I was initially only interested in how my family would survive the two years for which we signed the contract - or pay back the travel expenses to the promised land and go back to our homeland. But as it often happens in life and as the old saying goes, the physician treats, nature cures. After 44 years of living in Australia, I can certainly say that it applies.
After work and on weekends I often found myself in company of new friends who kept discussing the new club, Triglav, and the reasons for secession from the existing Slovenian Association Sydney. A group of members wanted a new Slovenian organisation called Triglav. One of the main reasons, as I understood them at the time, was that this group of people wanted co-operation with our homeland Slovenia and subsequently also Yugoslavia of which Slovenia was a republic at the time. The co-operation was to be be exclusively in culture and education through Slovenska izseljenska matica in Ljubljana, an organisation for maintaining ties with Slovenian migrants all over the world. The guiding principle was the concern that if we did not maintain contact with our homeland regardless of its political system we might fall off the tree like a dried branch and our existence as a national entity would be obliterated. There was another group which was totally opposed to any kind of co-operation with Slovenia. They saw Slovenia as a communist country and as such ideologically unsuitable and for some even hostile and politically unacceptable. As a newly arrived migrant I was becoming more alert to the happenings around me and I soon joined these discussions and was willing to tell what I liked and what I didn't like. We are what our era, education and upbringing make us; we are a product of the era into which we are born. I was born after the WWII. It is therefore not strange that I thought and was entirely convinced at the time that co-operation with our homeland was the right way.
And again appeared Marička Ritlop . One evening she dropped in with membership application forms for Triglav. Whoever wants to become a member is welcome, she said. By then I had heard enough and I must admit that I was pleased that my wife and I were invited to become members. I only remember being concerned whether we were suitable for membership in the new organisation due to our short period of living in Australia and our red Yugoslav passports - I heard that some people didn't like that. Her answer was categorical: we were more than welcome. We became members the same night.
To be a foreigner in a new unknown world is something every migrant is familiar with. By becoming members we felt we were no longer alone; we became part of a group of people that wanted to remain connected with the old country even though they migrated for a wide range of personal reasons. They went into this new world regardless of the political system back home - a system that was recognised as part of Yugoslavia by the United Nations, the English Royal House and Vatican.
I was brought to the newly acquired block of land for Triglav by Lojze who introduced me to many other members. Among them was Jože Čuješ, a well-known educator and event organiser in the Slovenian community. Jože invited me to come again which I did and my path in Triglav was set. First we had to take up shovels and other tools to clear the land and prepare it for meetings and family picnics which were gradually attended by more and more young families and their children. We soon erected temporary shelters where different interest groups started their activities, such as a Slovenian language school, a drama group, folk dancing, men and women choirs, bocce and later basketball groups. All these activities, other works and financial support were in the hands of the club Committee into which I was invited fairly quickly. At first I was Committee Member, then Event Officer and a few years later I was elected President of the club. In a way I was afraid of this appointment as I didn't quite know what it entailed and whether I would be up to this position. Looking back I can see I was quite brave. I accepted a great responsibility and a lot of additional work which took a lot of my time. My engagement with the club took all my spare time and Ivica and I had to give up lots of things. Many times I asked myself whether this was the right way and whether working for the club was more important than my family life? I don't know why I never found out which answer was correct; I only know that something in me drove me to continue and once on this path I felt I had to persevere. And this is how it was.
The club went through good times followed by hard trials which required from the club leadership and its members a lot of good will and perseverance. Triglav gradually became a well-known club in the homeland and around Australia. Over the years we were hosts to many guests, from religious dignitaries to political personalities, many musical and sports groups as well as representatives of Slovenska izseljenska matica which donated the statue of Ivan Cankar, and so on. Everyone was welcome, even if we were labelled some kind of communist club, a club that one should be afraid of. I don't know whether to cry or laugh when I think how very mistaken those who spent so much energy on trying to sideline us in the community were by insisting on this label. We were just not afraid of the word 'politics'. After all, even having coffee or tea with somebody is political in a way.
We just kept going regardless of what some people said.
We just kept going regardless of what some people said.
Going into details of what happened in Triglav in the beginning and later on would take too much time. A whole book could be written on this. Actually I think it would be an interesting reading and I hope one day somebody will do this.
There were certain differences between the two Slovenian organisations (and the Slovenian church in Merrylands) in Sydney in the era before Slovenia's independence. Would you say that those differences have been reconciled since the independence?
They say that time heals all wounds. This also applies to our community. Over the years the mutual distrust among Slovenian organisations and individuals started to wane and we came to realise eventually that it would be better for us all if we left our differences behind and became friends. In many cases this actually happened, mainly on the personal level. However, despite many attempts it was not possible to bridge the gap and reunite with the Slovenian Association Sydney. I can only say that unfortunately this did not work out as many would wish. Today it would be unfair to point the finger and start looking at why, how, who and so on. Perhaps history will one day look at this as all documents relating to the reunion of Triglav and SDS are available at HASA NSW.
A great hope that times will change and that the Slovenian community will find a common language arose at the time of Slovenia's independence. At that moment, Slovenians in Slovenia and overseas came together like never before. The Slovenian Australian Congress organised its first meeting at the premises of our club. Representatives arrived from all Slovenian organisations, hands were shaken in reconciliation even with those who were never expected to do so. And yet they did. The new Slovenian flag was raised, the new Slovenian anthem Zdravljica was sang, we listened to the address of the first democratically elected President Mr Petrle. The atmosphere was indescribable.
After this I can say that things turned for the better for the Slovenian community. Members of all organisations started to attend functions and gatherings - wherever they were organised. Dances, functions, trips by bus and similar. This continues and has become a tradition. I just hope it will stay this way in the future.
Can you tell us about the function Triglav organises in June 2015?
To commemorate Slovenia's independence Triglav organises a function on Sunday, 14 June this year. Additionally, we will award Slovenian women and men who have unselfishly contributed their time to do work for the welfare of the community. There are awards in many different categories, among them also for the younger generation and their achievements in primary education, at universities, in business or culture.
What are your plans for the future of Triglav? What are your personal plans?
In regards to the question of future I can confirm that Triglav will support every attempt no matter how small of the second generation to maintain the Slovenian presence on the fifth continent. This of course doesn't mean that we will no longer take care of the needs and entertainment of the first generation for as longs as they keep attending the club.
Like it or not, we have to admit that the first generation of Slovenians is shrinking and departing. A new world is opening up, it is now the time of the second and third generation. The hope that Slovenian identity will continue with younger generations and remain alive in the diverse mosaic of Australian multicultural society is a quiet wish of all of us who have put in our best efforts until now.
And my personal plans: I will try to pass on my experience to young people who show interest and willingness to maintain their Slovenian background and cultural heritage. Whether I succeed or not is another matter. I have 40 years of work in Triglav behind me. I must say that I am not sorry and that I learned a lot in this time. I experienced many exceedingly beautiful moments. There were ups and downs and in between an occasional thunder and lightning.
I would only like to add that if I knew what I know now at the beginning of my work back in 1972 I would be much less concerned with who was who and on what side they were. Instead I would be much more interested in whether you are Slovenian and one of our tribe.
Thank you for the interview.