Oral history of Elsie Gaspar (née Ukich) recorded as part of the Voices of the Women project. Audio and transcript



Edited transcript of an oral history of Elsie Gaspar (née Ukich) recorded by Denise Cook on 4 September 2017 for the Voices of the Women Oral History Project: City of Cockburn (Azelia Ley Museum) and Dalmatinac Club.

Denise Cook (interviewer): Could you tell me your full name?
Elsie Gaspar: I’m Elsie Gaspar.

DC: And your maiden name, Elsie?
EG: My maiden name was Ukich.

DC: Can I ask what year you were born?
EG: I was born in 1938.

DC: Whereabouts?
EG: In Spearwood, on Rockingham Road.

DC: Could you tell me your mother’s name?
EG: My mother’s name was Milka.

DC: How do you spell that?
EG: M-i-l-k-a, and she was born on a little island, in Šepurine, [on Prvić ] which is very close to Šibenik on the coast of Dalmatia.

DC: And when was she born, approximately?
EG: She was born in 1915.

DC: And your dad? What was his name?
EG: His name was Jure and I don’t think he knew his own proper name either, because when he went to school they called him Zorro and he didn’t know who they were calling. Anyway, he was born in 1910.

DC: And where was he born?
EG: Same place, Šepurine.

DC: Can you tell me about your mother? What was she like? Did she show affection to you?
EG: Actually, no, because well, when I got burnt I didn’t spend much time and she spent a lot of time with Rina.

DC: What happened that you got burnt?
EG: I spilt a mug of coffee on myself. It was meant to be for Dad and I asked Mum, “Can I take it,” and she said, “No, and when she turned her back I grabbed it and I spilt it, and I spent six months in Fremantle Hospital.

DC: How old were you then?
EG: About two.

DC: What do you remember about that time?
EG: I don’t remember anything.

DC: Very tough. Where did you get burnt?
EG: On my chest and my hand and I just missed my face.

DC: So what was your mum like? She wasn’t very affectionate?
EG: Well, in those days I don’t think any of them were affectionate. Today, it’s different; in those days they just went about their work and that’s it. We loved our father; he was nice to us.

DC: So what kind of work did your mum do?
EG: Mostly housework. She worked in the garden and she helped Dad but you know, when you have children, it’s hard, you’ve got to work in the house too.

DC: It’s a lot of work, isn’t it?
EG: And in those days, you had to do everything by hand. There were no modern appliances.

DC: What kind of things did she have to do by hand that today you have an appliance for?
EG: Well, you had to light the fire in the wood stove, you had to do the washing by hand and then boil the clothes. We had to light a copper to get hot water, because there were really no heaters in those days. Another thing was they couldn’t afford everything. Mum mixed a lot with the women in Spearwood, and they talked about what they were doing, and they did crocheting and fancywork and knitting.

DC: Did they do practical things or did they do things that were on the wall?
EG: Not Mum, but Mum learnt how to sew. It wasn’t perfect but to her it was fine.

DC: Did she use a machine or sew by hand?
EG: No, she had a treadle machine and she took it with her to Croatia when we went and she left it to her sister there. Who her sister gave it to after, I don’t know, but her sister did come here to Australia.

DC: We’ll talk about you going back to Croatia a little bit later. So what about your Dad? What kind of work did he do?
EG: Gardening and fishing. As a child I think he worked down Russell Road for thirty shillings a week.

DC: What did he do there?
EG: I don’t know, but he did say they had a lovely cook and she cooked beautiful meals but when she served them, she always served herself first. (laughs) Apparently when they went fishing once, they caught fish undersize and he ended up in gaol.

DC: Do you remember that or was that when you were too young?
EG: No, he used to laugh at it. He said, “It’s the best holiday I had because I didn’t have to work and we were playing cards.” (laughs)

DC: So when you say he and your mum worked in the garden, what kind of garden was it?
EG: It’s a market garden, I don’t know what they planted there but they tried everything, anything to make money.

DC: Do you remember any of the plants that they had, any of the vegetables I guess it was?
EG: Later on, yes, I did remember.

DC: What did they have later on?
EG: Beans, onions, cabbage, carrots. I can’t think of everything now.

DC: How much land did they have?
EG: Well, Dad had five acres in the first place but that doesn’t mean that if he had that, that he did not work all of it; he worked only how much they could. Everything was fenced off; I don’t know how good it was because he used to complain that the horse on Mr Katich’s, used to go under the fence and come in to eat things.

DC: It probably thought it was a delicious place to come and visit.
EG: Especially the peas. (laughs)

DC: And did your mum do the same work in the garden as your dad or did they do different things?
EG: Oh, they worked together. I remember Dad saying once he had watermelon and he thought he’d get them first on the market and he picked them green so it wasn’t good for market. He thought they would ripen up in the house, but no.

DC: How did they sell the produce from the garden?
EG: Dad used to tell us that in those days, they used to put the carrots in bunches; they used to sell them at Fremantle Markets. Like vegetables – parsnips and things like that – were all in bunches but later on we bagged them up, we put them in bags and then sold them like that. Beans were all in a bag.

DC: Plastic bag or paper bag?
EG: No, no, no; hessian bags.

DC: Hessian bags – so big bags?
EG: No, they used to cut them in half and make little ones about that size [indicating], about a metre high.

DC: That’s about half a metre, isn’t it?
EG: And then stitch them up; then they stitched the bags up.

DC: And who would buy them – because today at Fremantle Markets people go and buy small quantities, don’t they? Was it different back then? Would people buy a whole bag?
EG: They would’ve had to buy a whole bag, yes.

DC: How do you think your parents were seen by others in the community?
EG: Well, Dad loved reading the Slav paper in those days and he used to love – – – He didn’t go to the meetings, Uncle did.

DC: Which meetings were they?
EG: I don’t know, some sort of meetings. Rina had a book on it, she would’ve most probably brought it here but I don’t know.

DC: That’s okay, we can ask her, perhaps. Who did your parents socialise with?
EG: They had a lot of friends. Dad was mostly with George Separovich and his wife Peggy and we used to go for holidays, picnicking. The first thing when he’d pitched the tent up, Dad used to dig a well so we had water to wash the dishes, you know, but not for drinking. We used to go for two weeks. Dad and George, they used to go home every day and water the garden and then go back. [We’d go] down where Alcoa is, that’s where we used to mostly go.

DC: What’s that area called?
EG: Today?

DC: Back then.
EG: Today it’s Henderson.

DC: Back then what was it called? Do you remember?
EG: I don’t know.

DC: Did you camp on the beach or where did you camp?
EG: It was near the beach but we weren’t allowed to go swimming, especially if we had something to eat; no, no, no swimming. (laughs)

DC: Were you allowed to swim at all?
EG: Yeah, we were allowed to swim, yes.

DC: How did you learn to swim?
EG: Like a rock. (laughs) And that’s at the present moment too. No, I can’t swim much. I can swim a little bit but not much.

DC: Did someone teach you to swim?
EG: Yeah, two pumpkins. (laughs)

DC: You’ll have to tell us that story.
EG: You get two pumpkins and put the string around and you use it as a floatie. (laughs)

DC: Oh, what a good idea.
EG: Well, there were no floaties in those days. I learnt in Croatia, swimming, but here, no. That’s why I don’t know how to swim.

DC: Why? Why didn’t you learn to swim properly in Croatia?
EG: Well, I couldn’t be bothered. (laughs) I was frightened.

DC: So when your parents weren’t working, what other kinds of things did they do to enjoy themselves?
EG: We used to go to the pictures and dancing.

DC: Where would you go to the pictures?
EG: The Princess, Hoyts. I believe it was Oriana after, or Beaconsfield. It depended what movie was on.

DC: So where was Hoyts?
EG: Actually, my sons didn’t understand where Hoyts was, last night, so he asked me, “Was that Oriana?” They used to be on the corner where Myers were before, on the corner there.

DC: Right in the centre of Fremantle.
EG: It was there.

DC: And the Princess was where the school was?
EG: No. It was very close to the post office in Fremantle.

DC: Where was the Beaconsfield Theatre ?
EG: It used to be Stammers there.

DC: I know, on Canning Highway.
EG: No, no, no. Beaconsfield.

DC: The one on Hampton Road?
EG: Yes, that’s it.

DC: It’s a medical centre now. So they were all indoor theatres?
EG: Yes.

DC: Did you go to any outdoor?
EG: Yes, we went to the Starline, the Starline was just here on Hamilton Hill. There used to be a McDonalds there or something. We used to go somewhere else but I can’t think of it now.

DC: What did you like about going to the cinema?
EG: Well, you sit in the car (laughs) and you watch it from the car.

DC: When you go to the drive-in theatre?
EG: Yes, the drive-in theatre.

DC: Was that your favourite?
EG: She’s putting down everything. (laughs)
DONNA COVICH: Now the corner of Hampton Road and Wray Avenue was Stammers, it’s finished now as Stammers, it’s something else. That used to be a theatre, the Beaconsfield Theatre [Beacon Theatre]. In the summer time you had your deckchairs outside. The Princess Theatre was down the end of Market Street, very close to the post office, the Fremantle Post Office, now the front part is Kakulas Sisters, the back part before was always rented out to Howard Porters, the bodybuilders, they do all their spray painting. You get in from Leake Street and Hoyts was on the corner of Queen Victoria Street and Adelaide Street.
EG: Or was it High Street? It’s High Street.
VINNIE BAVICH: No, Hoyts was in High Street and that street that goes between Myers. Queen Victoria Street is down where the Catholic Church is.
ANKA RIDATJI: That’s right.

DC: That’s Vinnie talking.
[Talking amongst themselves]
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER 1: Didn’t she go to school?
DONNA COVICH: The Princess Theatre, that’s how I know it, and Tony Grljusich was at the Hoyts there. Sandovers was on the other corner where Myers is. Remember, it used to be Sandover McLean’s? What was that street coming down?
VINNIE BAVICH: Yes, the one that comes down from the courthouse [Henderson Street]. I think they built that one; I don’t know what it’s called. [Millenium ?]
DONNA COVICH: And the other bit is High Street.
VINNIE BAVICH: Yeah, nothing to do with Queen Victoria. That finished up at Princess May High School. Then it became Adelaide Street. Films were even shown in the old Spearwood Agricultural Hall, because I’m in correspondence – I can’t think of his name offhand, who used to project it and he was looking for photos of the old hall and nobody seemed to have one. In the end, he found one where it was being demolished but that was even more meaningful, because it was being demolished.

DC: Is that the one on the site where the Council building is now?
VINNIE BAVICH: Where the Council is now and that land belonged to the Fruit Growers and Market Gardeners Association and they donated that to the city council to build their offices there and the city council is thinking of moving to Gateway and flogging that land off, which isn’t on, we hope.

DC: What would you like to see happen to that land?
VINNIE BAVICH: To leave it as it is; the city council to stay there. If they want to expand their offices, they’ve got plenty of room.

DC: Thanks, Vinnie. [To Elsie Gaspar] Do you want to tell me what you remember about what your parents said to you about their experiences growing up?
EG: I’m afraid they didn’t talk much, no.

DC: Do you know why they didn’t talk about it?
EG: I don’t know. I suppose they were brought up that way. I even asked my husband to give me his background details; no, he just wouldn’t, so I had to pick up what I could.

DC:So do you remember other relatives or older generations
being around as you were growing up?
EG: Oh yes, plenty of them.

DC: So who was around?
EG: There were Śprljans next to us.

DC: Were you related to them?
EG: I didn’t have much to do with them and then across the road was Bavich. I know Mrs Yerkovich lives further down and then there were Garbins and Novaks and Musulins. We all associated with each other.

DC: Were they all families from Yugoslavia as well?
EG: Yes, they were all. That’s why they all mixed together and that’s how we had a lot of friends and places to go to. There were no cars, it was mostly walking.

DC: So would your whole family walk to visit another family and they’d walk to visit you?
EG: I remember Mum saying that they went to see Mr Čović (?), that’s along the Yangebup Road and Mum was pushing the pram and she let her go. She thought it will go slowly and poor Rina fell out of it. (laughs)

DC: So do you want to tell me about your brothers and sisters?
EG: I haven’t got any brothers. I’ve only got two sisters.

DC: What are their names?
EG: One is Rina and one is Katie.

DC: And where are you all in the order of the family?
EG: I’m the eldest, then there’s Rina and then Katie.

DC: Were they all born here?
EG: Actually, Rina and I were born at home, while Katie was born in – – – What’s it called, Bundi Kudga, that house, the hospital?
DONNA COVICH (?): Bundi Kudga , in Hampton Road where the nurses quarters are now in Hampton Road, down towards the Fremantle Gaol.

DC: And growing up, how did you all get along?
EG: Actually, quite well. Seeing Katie was smaller, the two of us, Rina and myself, we always stuck together but Katie was outside. (laughs)

DC: Can you tell me when your family came to Australia?
EG: Mum came at the age of twenty-two and she got married in 1937.

DC: So how long was she here before she was married?
EG: Less than a week. (laughs) She didn’t even know her husband then and actually she and her sister-in-law came together and they got married within a couple of days of each other.

DC: Did they know they were coming out to get married?
EG: Oh yes, Dad brought them out. Some relatives picked them out and they came here. Both of them didn’t know anybody, they didn’t know the language, they didn’t know anybody and Mum borrowed clothes and they got married. Dad was dressed in a nice suit and it was January and he fainted at the altar (laughs) because it was hot.

DC: Where did they get married?
EG: In St Jerome’s on Rockingham Road. There was no honeymoon so back to work and that’s what happened. They were living together with the brothers and in-laws; they were all living together all in one house.

DC: Where was that?
EG: That’s on Rockingham Road.

DC: What number Rockingham Road, or whereabouts on Rockingham Road?
EG: Next to the Puma garage.

DC: Just before the Phoenix shopping centre?
EG: No, no, no, that way [indicating]. There’s another Puma garage out that way.

DC: I don’t know that one.
EG: Where the St Jerome’s school is, across the road.

DC: So were they from the same area in Yugoslavia?
EG: Yes. They were both from the same area.

DC: And did the families know each other? Is that how the marriage was arranged?
EG: Well, in that village, everybody knows each other.

DC: So they’re from the same village?
EG: Yes.

DC: Had your mum known your dad before she came out here?
EG: No, he would’ve come early, unless they were playing together, I wouldn’t know.

DC: Were they about the same age or was there a bit of a difference?
EG: No, no, there’s five years’ difference. You see, Mum came from a big family, but most of them had died, especially one – one went somewhere else and hit a dog with a stone and the owner belted him with a stone and he died.

DC: Did your mum ever say how that was for her, coming out here?
EG: Because Mum was the youngest one of eight children, she can’t remember and she remembers only two brothers and a sister; that’s all she remembers. The others she doesn’t remember.

DC: Did she say how it was for her coming out to Australia to get married?
EG: Well, in those days, they all had plaits, you know, their hair was around their head, the plait is around the head, and they all had to cut their hair before they came to Australia.

DC: Do you know why?
EG: No. I suppose they think that’s what it’s like here, so they used to cut their hair off. [speaks to Donna] Donna, don’t you know?

DC: And did she stay close to the sister-in-law who she travelled out with?
EG: They were in the same house. Her mother-in-law didn’t like her. (laughs)

DC: Didn’t like your mum?
EG: Yes.

DC: Why was that?
EG: She didn’t like me either. She used to call me names.

DC: This is your grandmother?
EG: Yes.

DC: Why was that, do you think?
EG: I don’t know, she used to call me a funny name. To me, it sounded awful.

DC: Do you want to tell us?
EG: Well, I don’t know what it means. It’s “Šemia”(?) So what that means, I don’t know. (laughs)

DC: Monkey.
JO PARNELL [?]: Being affectionate, probably.
EG: The other sister-in-law had a daughter, she’s six months older than me and another cousin was born after me, less than a year and then came Rina, so we were all together all the time and there were two boys later on too, but they were my cousins.

DC: And how was that, all being together?
EG: It was fine. I’d better leave the rest for later.

DC: Do you want to tell me about your dad coming out here?
EG: I don’t know much. I don’t know about him.

DC: Was he an adult when he came out?
EG: No, he was only fourteen.

DC: Did he come with his family?
EG: No, he came with his mother and his brothers so they all came together.

DC: Where did they come to?
EG: First of all, Granddad lived in Owen Road and then he purchased the land in Spearwood; that’s when they came out and they lived on Rockingham Road.

DC: So his father came out first?
EG: Yes. He came ten years before.

DC: Approximately when would that have been?
EG: 1913.

DC: And then ten years later, he bought that land on Rockingham Road?
EG: No, no, he bought the land before that and then he brought his wife later and the boys.

DC: So his family was back in Yugoslavia for ten years.
EG: Yes, and they lived with Granddad’s brother; they lived together in the house there. The house is still standing down there and the name is still on the house so it won’t be long before I see it again.

DC: No. So where is it?
EG: It’s in Šepurine on the little island so we’ll see it.

DC: Have you seen it before?
EG: I saw it five years ago and my daughter regrets we’re not staying there to have a good look around the island because in half a day you can’t see everything . By the time you see your relatives, time flies.

DC: So you’ve got relatives still on the island?
EG: Not really. I had a cousin and I saw him and he died three months after and my other cousins are in America but their sister is out there [Croatia] and when I go this time it’ll be the second time I see her.

DC: How is it for you going back now as an adult, with children of your own?
EG: Well, I had a good time when I was a child there. We used to go every now and again there because they lived in another place and it was nice – we used to run around and look everywhere so we’ll see what happens this time.

DC: I know you went back after the second world war – did your family go back before that?
EG: No. They had no intention but after the war Dad wanted to go and build the country, or help build, but he didn’t last too long.

DC: So what made him want to go back, do you think?
EG: After the war, he wanted to help build the place up.

DC: And Tito was calling for people to go back. Is that right?
EG: That’s something I can’t answer because I was a child and those things I didn’t follow.

DC: So how old were you when you went back?
EG: About nine.

DC: What do you remember about that time?
EG: I remember a lot because I enjoyed myself out there. (laughs) I went to school most of the time.

DC: Where did you live?
EG: I lived in Šibenik and I went to school. I went two years to primary, because they have four years primary and then there’s four years secondary. When I was in primary I didn’t have to go too far but when I went to the secondary, I had to walk a long way. Then I had to climb about a hundred and something stairs just to come to the building. It was a lovely place but – – – That was in the afternoon, because they have two sessions, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. In primary I went in the morning but when I went to secondary I had to go in the afternoon and when it got dark at night going home around the cemetery was frightening. So I walked the long way to avoid the cemetery. The kids were all saying scary things and you get frightened.

DC: Did you walk to school with other kids?
EG: We used to meet along the way, but later on they built another school and that was only a couple of minutes away from home.

DC: So how long were you in Yugoslavia for?
EG: Four years; exactly four years.

DC: Do you remember the decision to go and how you felt about going?
EG: No, I can’t recall it.

DC: What was it like on the boat?
EG: Lovely. (laughs)

DC: What was the name of the boat you went on?
EG: Partizanka. When we left – you should see how much stuff Dad took out. He made mattresses and Mum took the sewing machine and even a Metters stove. She took everything she could think of because she knew it was poor out there and when we came there, we settled in Šibenik.

DC: Did you live in one of your family houses or where did you stay?
EG: No, no, it was rented. It was only a two bedroom home and we had to share a kitchen so we were like sardines in the rooms. When somebody travels around and they had nowhere to sleep they used to call in so there was no room, but we had to squash in.

DC: So you were there for four years. How did it go for your parents being there?
EG: Well, if you had to buy something you had to wait on a queue and I remember once going to buy some milk and I kept wriggling because I was impatient and somebody said to me, “You’ve got the worms in your bum”. (laughs) I had to go and buy tobacco for Dad, he used to smoke. And I did attend music school; I learned the violin but I couldn’t handle the violin because my hand got sore so I couldn’t get in for piano. Mum used to wander around buying things, because you had to wait everywhere you go, you had to wait till your turn comes.

DC: Was there enough food to buy if you waited for it?
EG: Actually Mum was a bit worried because we were allowed to have two lots of food. They had – I don’t know how they called them – tickets or something and you’re allowed to buy so much food.

DC: Like a ration ticket or something?
JO PARNELL [?]: Coupons.
EG: Yes. And we were entitled to two lots and Mum said she was so embarrassed, she’d go to one shop and buy everything, then she would go to another shop and buy whatever she had to.

DC: Why do you think you were entitled to two lots?
EG: We were just like the people now, they come here they get everything and that’s what happened to us; we had everything given to us. I know we were poor but at least you got things.

DC: You were better off than the people who had been there all the time.
EG: I think so. Dad was working loading boats and he had to go on shift work and one day Mum said, “I don’t want you going tonight” and he said, “I’m going.” She just didn’t want him to go, because she knew something was going to happen. So he went and the crane that was putting stuff into the magazine, got hooked on the boards and the boards all came down and hit Dad across the back and broke his leg and he couldn’t work any more. So he was taken to hospital and because Mum didn’t pay the doctor, they didn’t fix the leg up.

DC: Why didn’t she pay the doctor? Was it because she didn’t have the money?
EG: Well, Aunty paid for her husband, she gave the doctor the money to buy coffee or things like that, but Mum never thought of that and she didn’t. So, Uncle was all right but Dad wasn’t and because his leg was like that, he had weights on the leg to pull the bone together, the doctor wouldn’t put it and he kept asking him, “Put some more weight on it”, “No”. So when it wasn’t fixed, to Zagreb they sent him. They sent him on a trolley with nobody with him. He got on the train but then because there was nobody with him, they sent him back so somebody had to go next time and at that time, it was an eight-hour drive with the train to Zagreb. He had an operation, they didn’t fix it up then either, so Dad spent a lot of time in Zagreb and when he was able to walk, he had a limp for the rest of his life. He used to go outside and pick the fruit that was around and he used to bring a case full of fruit down when he used to come. Dad was wonderful to all of us children; he really had time for us but Mum was an entirely different person. Everybody can’t be the same.

DC: That’s right. How did you live once your dad couldn’t work? How did you survive over there?
EG: Well, Mum said she’d make a better living in Australia so she made the papers and we came back to Australia.

DC: How did your dad feel about coming back?
EG: He loved it. Because people around Spearwood donated money, well, Uncle went around asking and they donated, so that’s how we came back, with the money they gave us but as soon as Mum had saved enough, she used to work around the gardens, as soon as she had enough money she returned money back to them, like Mr Bacich, he donated eighty dollars and in those days eighty dollars was a lot – no, eighty pounds, so that was a lot of money. They eventually paid it off to everybody and Dad worked with a limp and Mum worked sometimes out at the other gardens. When we came back we settled at Andy Vlahov’s and we lived in a shed.

DC: What had happened to your father’s land that he had?
EG: He sold it. He sold that to Andy Gaspar. I don’t know Gaspars somehow mixed with the family and I ended up marrying into Gaspars. (laughs) Then George Separovich came and divided the rooms with hessian bags – you know, put hessian bags around and that’s where we stayed, I don’t know how long.

DC: That was in the shed?
EG: In the shed, and we worked the garden at Andy’s. Then we went to Frank Srhoy’s place, that’s Vinnie’s grandfather, and we stayed there I think for a couple of years. He had five acres of land.

DC: And in the shed again?
EG: No, no, we lived in the house – he lived in one and we lived in the other two rooms and Mum used to cook for him and we supplied the ships. I remember one year Dad said, “Ask the shipping company” – or the Fremantle Providores they were called then – “Ask them to take the cabbage”. “No”, because the cabbage was cheap. So Frank wouldn’t ask so Dad said, “All right.” He got Mr Stook to come and cut them all off and give it to the chooks. (laughs) But he said, “Leave me two lines right through” and the beds were very, very long. You wouldn’t believe it, those two lines made a fortune. The cabbage went up. (laughs) Then he said, “Why did you do that?” “Well, you wouldn’t sell it so we got rid of it.” (laughs) No, we had a good time and we picked silver beet, we had everything growing there; like capsicum, parsley, mint, rhubarb, spring onions, beans, onions, everything.

DC: So were you at school still by then or were you working?
EG: I left school after two years of coming here and Rina and Katie, they went to school.

DC: So you did your four years’ schooling in Yugoslavia, two years in primary school and two years in high school, and then when you came back here?
EG: Yes, I went to Princess May.

DC: For two more years.
EG: Yes, two more years. Vinnie was working there in the office at Princess May. (laughs) Then I just worked in the garden while Rina, she went to business college and she ended up in Pellews for nine years. She told me that once they were pregnant, they weren’t allowed to work there.

DC: So what made you decide to leave school when you did?
EG: Well, I wasn’t learning much. I wouldn’t speak English when I came back and when I met a friend later on in years, “Oh, you’re a New Australian” and I said, “No, I was born in Australia.” And she wouldn’t believe me just because I wouldn’t talk.

DC: What made you not want to speak English?
EG: I was shy. So I just worked in the garden and when we got our own property, Mum and Dad bought a property near the Spearwood Bakery, but it’s not a bakery any more. Do you know where that is?

DC: No, I don’t. What road was – – -?
EG: It’s on Rockingham Road and we were right next door.

DC: So before you went back to Yugoslavia, what language were you speaking at home?
EG: Naturally Slav with the parents and with the children we spoke English.

DC: So with your friends you spoke English and you spoke Slav with your parents?
EG: Yes, and I got into trouble later on in life when my children started going to school. My daughter was learning French and the teacher said, “Do you speak to her in Slav?” and I said, “No, we speak English” and she went that mad at me, she said, “You’re supposed to speak Slav to them” and today my daughter doesn’t know, see, and that’s why she said, “They soon forget.” Yet my son, when he started school, he couldn’t speak English.

DC: So you spoke English to your daughter and Slav to your son?
EG: That was because he was young – he was at his grandparents’ place and naturally every day he was out there they spoke Slav with him so he didn’t learn anything else so when he went to school he couldn’t speak.

DC: And how long did it take him to be able to?
EG: I don’t know, because they pick it up so quick.

DC: So how was it for you going to school here, speaking Slav? Because you spoke English with your friends? So when you first went to school — –
EG: I was the same most probably because I must’ve picked it up at school because my parents were speaking Slav at home.

DC: And when you went back to Yugoslavia, how did you find the language?
EG: I found it hard to speak, but I had to learn because I couldn’t read or write anything so I had to learn everything.

DC: Did that take a while?
EG: That’s something I can’t answer because to me, the time flew.

DC: So just to finish, do you want to tell me how you think your life has been different from your parents’ lives?
EG: Because we’ve got everything modern, but I think we’ve got more work now than they had before, I can tell you that much. (laughs)

DC: In what way?
EG: Well, we used to take it easy and what was not done today, it’ll be done tomorrow.

DC: And how is that different now?
EG: We had to polish the floors then, today we don’t do that. I’ve got all electrical appliances, I don’t have to wash by hand and as I said, I’ve got a washing machine and things like that which in those days, they didn’t have it. They had to do everything by hand.

DC: How do you think your life is different from your children’s and if you’ve got grandchildren, from their lives?
EG: I still think that I had a better life than they have, because we used to play, we used to go for bush walks and things. Today, they don’t have anywhere to play unless they get involved in sports and things like that.

DC: So was there more open country when you were young than there is today?
EG: Yes, there was. It was really nice. I used to remember going – and I wouldn’t do it today – trapping rabbits and to think those poor animals get caught in that trap, oh, I think of that today.

DC: What about when you think back on your life – what would be some of the achievements that you feel most proud of?
EG: I can’t think of any at the moment.

DC: Your children?
EG: Yes. I had a young boy at an early age and I thought he was a mischief but he was never a mischief like the other one, the next one that followed, oh, he was cheeky, he was into everything. He hit his sister across the eyebrow, he nearly choked on a plum, he swallowed it that quick because he was frightened the others would eat it, so he ate it quick, and we went to Frances Grljusich’s wedding; he fell in the pond. (laughs) Another time we went to another wedding; he ripped his pants. He was in all sorts of trouble, but today I think he’s the best. I’m not counting my daughters, daughters are a different story, but he’s around all the time to do things for me but then, oh my God.

DC: So we haven’t really talked about your family or your married life. Do you want to just say who you married and your children’s names?
EG: I married John.

DC: What’s his other name?
EG: He was called Steven Ivan, which his teacher made him change his name when he attended Spearwood school. But when he first came here, he came at the age of fourteen, by himself, he had a bloke who looked after him but he travelled on his own. And his father sent him to St Jerome’s school which at that time was in the church because they didn’t have a school. And his uncle, when he took him there, stopped at Mrs Radonich’s shop down there, we called them Blazenka (?) and he bought a loaf of bread, a tin of jam and a pound of butter and naturally when it was lunch time he couldn’t take that out, because he felt embarrassed, the kids had all got little sandwiches. So he said to the nun, “I’ve got no lunch” so the nun came out and bought him some cakes, which he didn’t know what cakes were so the kids said, “Oh, can we have the cakes? You can have our sandwiches” so he did, but he said he was so embarrassed, “I couldn’t take a loaf of bread out.” (laughs) He stayed with his uncle, he worked for his uncle for twelve months. When he first came there, he told his father, “Animals live in a better place in Croatia than we’re living now,” and his father slapped him. Because too many Slavs were in St Jerome’s, then his father sent him to Spearwood State School and he stayed there about six months, just to pick up the language. And when he turned sixteen, his father put him in a quarry to work in the quarry. I heard later on from people that his father put him too early there, especially for a young lad. Then he started working at Robbs Jetty.

DC: What did he do there?
EG: I don’t know what he was doing there, but he was working there. One day he was coming home and he went around Newmarket on the bike and he bumped into a bloke and he asked him, “Where do you work?” and he said, “I work at the wharf.” So instead of going home he went straight down to the wharf and the bloke there wouldn’t listen to him so he went around Fremantle and he came back again and put his age up and he got the job. So he was working there for a little while and then he was coming down the plank of the ship and there was an army officer there. He said, “What are you doing here?” He said, “I’m working.” He said, “Why aren’t you in the army?” He said, “I never got called.” So, don’t worry, within a few days, he got called so he ended up going to the air force.

DC: So what year would this have been?
EG: He was there for four years. He didn’t go overseas, he just stayed up at Exmouth and he went to various areas and stayed there. And one night I think he was in Busselton, he had to be on guard and he heard some rustling through the bushes, so he must’ve sung out something, I wouldn’t know what it is now, and it wouldn’t stop, so he shot. The next morning he found out it was a cow. (laughs) He’d killed a cow.

DC: So what year did he go into the army?
EG: It must’ve been ’40 or something, I wouldn’t know.

DC: 1940?
EG: I don’t know.

DC: During the second world war?
EG: Oh yes, during the war he was in the army. While he was in Exmouth, there was a big storm and I think three of them got drowned. They had nowhere to go because the wind was that strong, it blew all the tents away. And the ones who were drowned, they had dug a hole and when it filled up with water, they got caught. So when he was running towards the kitchen, because the kitchen was made out of stone, a sheet of iron hit him in the leg and within a week of starting working, he got tetanus. He was lucky the doctor there was giving injections to all of them there and when it got infected, he ended up – – – All the blokes there said goodbye to him because they thought he wouldn’t pull through and they took him to Hollywood Hospital and that’s where he spent his time till he recovered. When he first opened his eyes and saw the doctor there, he said, “What are you doing here?” because the doctor that was treating him in Exmouth and the doctor in Hollywood – they were twin brothers. He didn’t know. So he must’ve sent a message to his brother to look after him so he did.

DC: What year did you get married?
EG: ’57.

DC: Do you want to tell me the names of your children?
EG: My eldest one is Joseph and the second one is Dennis. We gave him that name – he called himself “Dennis the menace that can’t play tennis.” Then I had a daughter. My husband was disappointed because he wanted another boy and I wanted a girl. Anyway, it ended up being a girl but she doesn’t like anybody knowing but she was a big baby. Actually, both my two last ones were two big ones, they were the biggest ones in hospital at the time and she weighed ten pounds five and she doesn’t like to be told.

DC: What’s her name?
EG: She is Susan.

DC: And then your fourth child?
EG: The fourth one? I didn’t have it, because I wasn’t allowed to have it because it was either me with three children – – – No, three children [with] a mother, or four children [without] a mother. So I chose – – – Anyway, he still wouldn’t have lived because I wasn’t allowed to have – – – I was in King Edward hospital and I was supposed to rest but some children came and they were shaking the bed and that I think disturbed the baby and he would’ve died anyway. So that’s it.

DC: So is there anything you want to say to finish off? Is there anything else you want to add?
EG: I can’t think of anything else.

DC: I know there’s a lot more we could’ve talked about, if we had more time.
EG: I know; I can’t think of anything at the moment.

DC: Well, thank you so much.
EG: When I went to Spearwood school, Granddad used to pick us up with a horse and cart, but when we went to school we used to catch a Spearwood bus and paid one penny and if we bought an ice cream it was three pence and an ice block was one penny, so we had a good time there, when you think today.

DC: Were there lots of Slav children at the Spearwood Primary School?
EG: I think there were a lot then, because most of them were Slavs, or might’ve been Italians some of them, but not many.

DC: And how did you find the school? What was your experience?
EG: I enjoyed it better when I went to South Coogee, that’s when Dad sold the property and we ended up going to Wattleup, it was called Ten Mile then. We used to go to South Coogee school which I enjoyed better. Spearwood, all right, I had my cousins there and we all went together. But then I think of where we live today was all passion fruit growing along the fence and Mr Dowse had beautiful rose bushes; it was lovely.

DC: And that’s where you live now?
EG: Yes, where I live now.


Elsie Gaspar at Azelia Ley Museum, 4 September 2017

Elsie Gaspar at Azelia Ley Museum, 4 September 2017