Oral history of Vini Kenda (née Bavich) recorded as part of the Voices of the Women project. Audio and transcript.
This is the edited transcript of an oral history of Vini Kenda (née Bavich) recorded by Denise Cook on 14 August and 16 October 2017 for the Voices of the Women Oral History Project: City of Cockburn (Azelia Ley Museum) and Dalmatinac Club.
Densie Cook (interviewer): Vini, do you want to start by giving me your full name and where you were born and when?
Vini Kenda: Yes, my name is Vini Perica Kenda. I was Vini Bavich when I was born up the road here in Hamilton Road, Spearwood, on the 9th of February 1933 in my grandfather’s house.
DC: What number Hamilton Road?
VK: I think at some stage it was 241, but they’re all five acre blocks and so the numbering was beside the point, besides the postman knew everybody in Spearwood in those days. My father came to Australia in 1926 from Dalmatia and my mother came in 1931.
DC: And when were you born Vini?
VK: I was born in 1933 during a heat wave. The day I was born it was 112 Fahrenheit, at four o’clock in the afternoon in a stone house with a tin roof; no fans, no insulation, no air conditioning.
DC: Oh, yes, February heat waves.
VK: It was a record heat wave; it has been equalled but it hasn’t been broken. So, then we went to live in Snake Gully which is now Beaconsfield, two miles as the crow flies from the Fremantle Town Hall. We went to live there in 1935. There was no road, no electricity and no water, so the first thing they did was dig a well. We had a two-roomed asbestos house with a tin roof and a rainwater tank. The tuart trees were still in the paddock. My father had a quarry further up with one of the Jakovich brothers and then eventually he woke up one morning and couldn’t see out of one eye so then his mates in Spearwood, including these good ladies’ parents, came from Spearwood with a horse, chopped down all the trees and dragged them up. Then my father borrowed money and installed the sprinklers and piping and we had a market garden.
DC: Whereabouts in Beaconsfield was it?
VK: It’s called Annie Street and up until eighteen months ago, I lived in Jean Street which was the sister street and the old house that the Campbells owned is still there; the Portuguese Club is there now. He had two daughters, one was Annie and one was Jean. The Annie Street Primary School is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary this year and I’ve just done a thing for the kids there in Year Six to do in their publication to celebrate the anniversary.
DC: And Annie Street now has got the high school on it too, hasn’t it? Whereabouts is it?
VK: No, the high school is over on Lefroy Road.
DC: Doesn’t it back on to Annie Street?
VK: The swimming pool and basketball courts are actually on Annie Street. But all that was quarries and bush between Annie Street and Lefroy Road. Of course, it’s all houses now.
End of Introduction
[Note: Track 1 not included as Introduction had more information]
Track 2 16 October 2017
DC: So, could you give me your mother’s name?
VK: My mother was Maria Srhoy and my father was Nikola Bavčevič but he changed it to Nikola Bavich because the Aussies couldn’t spell it. So Bavčevič became Bavich, Jakovčevič became Jakovich, Jeričevič became Gerovich and we continued on with our new surnames.
DC: How did your family feel about changing their names?
VK: I don’t think it bothered them very much. They always wanted to oblige everybody.
DC: Do you want to just tell me a little bit about your family – what your mother and father were like?
VK: Yes, my mother’s father came here to Australia in 1924 and at first, he and his cousin Steve Srhoy were working the lime kilns where Cockburn Waters is now.
DC: What was your grandfather’s name?
VK: He was Frank Srhoy.
DC: Did they set up the lime kilns or were they there already?
VK: They set them up because they’d learnt how to do it back in the old country. Then my father came here in 1926, he was single of course, and he tried the wheatbelt, because people from the same village as him were clearing land around a siding called Erekin which doesn’t exist any more, it was near Shackleton in the wheatbelt. He was just clearing the land there for bed and board. They couldn’t afford to pay him and then eventually they couldn’t even sell their wheat so that all went by the by, and he came down to Spearwood and did odd jobs around the place.
My grandfather couldn’t afford to bring his wife and three children out straight away. He worked the lime kilns and then he bought the property in Hamilton Road and gradually established a market garden in his spare time, so he was doing two jobs at once. Then it was 1931 before my mother and the rest of the family came out. Then she met my father and “love is love” as they say these days.
DC: That’s your mother’s side of the family.
VK: Yes. My father didn’t have any relatives here. He had a lot of people from the same village but no relatives. But in those days, it was all one big happy community; everybody helped everybody else.
DC: So how did your family help or were they helped? Can you give some examples?
VK: Well, everybody was involved in the same things, sticking together. The Australians didn’t want to have anything to do with us so that was why the ethnic groups stuck to each other.
DC: Was it all Yugoslavs sticking together or were there different groups?
VK: They were all Slavs because most of them were from Dalmatia anyway. The inland Serbs and Slavs and Slovenes didn’t migrate. The thing is that with the Dalmatian Coast, there’s not a lot of soil, it’s all stone and whatever, so of course, they all used to have four or five sons and by the time this kept being subdivided, when the father died there wasn’t much land left to subdivide. Usually they’d send [off] half the family – one of my uncles went to Argentina and Dad came here and the other two brothers stayed home.
DC: Do you know why they chose WA?
I never asked Dad why he chose it, probably because the people who were up in the wheatbelt had already come here from the same place, plus I suppose Fremantle was the first port of call and it was a cheaper fare.
DC: Yes, that makes sense.
VK: So then Mum and Dad got married.
DC: When was that?
VK: In 1932. They rented a garden in Sussex Road, Dad planted onions and he couldn’t sell them and he ended up burying them so he went into working in a quarry. Eventually they saved enough money and bought land in what is now Beaconsfield in Annie Street; it had only just been subdivided, it was still virgin bush. The Spearwood relatives and family reckoned that we lived in Snake Gully, because on the radio there was a serial called “Dad and Dave” and they lived in Snake Gully and we had an abundance of snakes in Snake Gully. We were in Snake Gully, the Jakovich brothers bought two blocks, my father bought the next one and Visko Garbin bought the fourth one. All three men came from the same village.
DC: How big were those blocks?
VK: They were two and three-quarter acres. So, the Jakovich brothers bought two blocks, one each, and then next to the top block of Jakovich’s, there was a limestone hill and Phil Jakovich and my father bought that and eventually they opened a quarry there. So that was what my father was doing. Then in 1938, Dad woke up one morning and couldn’t see out of one eye. Of course, in those days, they didn’t know much about blood clots and those sorts of things or cataracts; it was the olden days. The doctor told him that he’d better stop working in the quarry because it was such physical work. In those days there were no forklifts, chain saws or anything; you sawed by hand, you moved the rocks with a crowbar and loaded it manually on to trucks for delivery. We still had trees on the block, so all the Spearwood people came and helped clear the trees. Then he went to the bank and borrowed money and put in pipes and sprinklers and then we had a market garden. When we went to live in Snake Gully, we had no power, no road and no water, so the first thing was to dig a well.
DC: Who did that?
VK: Well, obviously Dad and his mates, because they were helping each other; the Jakoviches and Garbin, they helped each other dig their wells. My grandfather had erected a two-roomed house next to his house where we were living up until we went to Snake Gully and it was obviously just asbestos and a tin roof. They pulled it apart and took it to Snake Gully and re-erected it so I think we were the original transportable. (laughs)
DC: Which part of Annie Street was it, where you were?
VK: Well, I don’t know what it is now, but it’s where the Winterfold Primary School is. The Winterfold Primary School building and the first oval are on the Jakovich blocks and the second oval was our block.
DC: OK, I’ve been there with my dogs.
VK: So, you know the area well. Of course, the other side of Annie Street, between Annie Street and Lefroy Road, was all quarries, so when the time came for me to go to school, to get to Beaconsfield I would’ve had to go all the way back to Clontarf Road, down Hampton Road, all the way to Beacy, whereas if I went through the quarries and cut across South Street to White Gum Valley, that was closer, plus my father worked in a quarry at the end of Curedale street behind the Christ the King church; those quarries are still there. So, the idea was that I was going to go to school and the boy who lived at the end of Curedale Street was starting school the same day and he was supposed to get me and take me to the quarry and then I would go home with my father. But he came to tell me that seeing as my father had to work till five o’clock, he had time to play with some boys, so I sat on the verandah at the school and started to cry because I didn’t understand what the boy said. I couldn’t speak English. (laughs)
DC: It was your first day at school?
VK: Yes, my first day at school. But the Walsh family, who lived at the top of Fifth Avenue, had been walking through the quarries and they’d seen where I lived so they told the headmaster where I lived, so we got in the headmaster’s car, we went to the top of Fifth Avenue and then we walked through the quarries. We got to where I am and there’s my mother chopping wood to start lighting the fire to cook tea. (laughs) So it was very exciting.
DC: So if there was no road, there was no Annie Street basically? Is that what you’re saying?
VK: Yes. You came into Mather Road and then that led around the limestone track into Annie Street.
DC: So Annie Street was like a limestone track?
VK: Yes, it was just a limestone track. When we sold the property in 1947 to go back to Yugoslavia, there was still no bitumen on Annie Street; it was still a limestone track.
DC: Were there more houses there by then?
VK: By then the Visičes, Brozičevićes, Bilčićes had all bought blocks and settled.
DC: Were they all from Yugoslavia or from Dalmatia, those families?
VK: Yes, they were all from Dalmatia, up and down the coast. The Visičes came from up the top, from Crikvenica, Bilčićes came from where my mum came from. Where were the Brozičevićes from? I think they were further up the coast as well.
DC: Who did your parents socialise with?
VK: My mother had her brother and a sister, younger than her but by the time I was old enough, they were getting married; I was flower girl for my uncle and flower girl for my auntie. They got married within a short time of each other so it was all the same dress. Actually, it’s surprising because I’ve got all the old photos when Jakovich got married, when Garbin got married and everybody was beautifully dressed, went all the way to the photo studio to have their official photo taken and they were as poor as church mice. I can still remember, because I was just short of being four when Garbin got married and there was a lovely photo in the studio, everybody beautifully dressed, I’ve got a bow in my hair, and when we came back for the reception – because Garbin had a two-roomed asbestos place as well and it was always a fairly big kitchen that was one thing – I can still see it, the table down the middle and of course there weren’t enough chairs and there were crates; we were sitting on crates.
DC: Do you want to tell us about your house? Just describe it for us.
VK: Well, this was it, it was just the asbestos two rooms to start off with. My brother is nearly five years younger than me and when Mum got pregnant with Lennie, they added two asbestos rooms to the front. They lined one room but they couldn’t afford to line the other. Lennie was born, he was crawling around and Mum was sewing. Anyway, Lennie was obviously playing with bits, anything he could get hold of, and a pair of scissors of my mother’s disappeared; she couldn’t find them anywhere. Eventually, after the war when we pulled that house down to rebuild a new one on there, Mum found the scissors – they’d been pushed down between the wood.
DC: At least he hadn’t swallowed them; that’s what I was imagining.
VK: (laughs) So we solved the mystery of the scissors, anyway.
DC: So how did you use the two rooms?
VK: There was the kitchen and in the beginning, there was Mum, Dad and me sleeping in the same room. When they built the two on the front, Lennie and I slept in one room and Mum and Dad slept in the front room. Eventually, by the time my sister came along I was nearly ten, all three of us were sleeping in the one room.
DC: Did you have a wood stove?
VK: Of course. What else are you going to cook on? Oh, we did have a primus later so if there was just the one saucepan, in the summer you didn’t have to light the stove; you could start the primus stove up.
DC: So was the primus quite small?
VK: Yes, one of those little things – we’d put it on top of the stove if it wasn’t working. I mean, there wasn’t an abundance of cupboards or sinks, you had a dish to wash the dishes in; there was no plumbing and stuff.
DC: So what about washing clothes and washing people?
VK: Mum used to boil things in a kerosene tin until we could afford to build a wash-house and have a proper copper put in.
DC: And what about having a bath?
VK: Oh, come on. Of course, we had to wash in a big tub until they could – – – I mean, everybody did it in those days. Who could afford a proper bathroom?
DC: No, but not everyone is going to know that, so it’s interesting to hear.
VK: Well, it’s very interesting. I mean, it didn’t bother us that we didn’t have a shower every day. Nobody had a shower every day.
DC: You were saying there wasn’t an abundance of benches – were there any benches in the kitchen?
VK: We always had a little cupboard that Dad had made up. You know, you’d go to the timber yard and get a few bits of timber and then he’d saw it and put stuff on it and that was it, a coat of paint.
DC: Did your dad build the extensions to the house?
VK: Most of it, yes, with help. There was none of this concrete slab business in those days. You had stumps and then the timber went across and you put the boards; it was all very basic but we were all very happy.
DC: You said that block was cleared to make a garden?
VK: A market garden, yes.
DC: And what kind of things did you grow in the garden?
VK: The usual that Snake Gully and Spearwood do; carrots, onions, runner beans. That’s about it. The Slavs in Osborne Park grew the tomatoes and the lettuces for market. I mean, we’d all put in a patch for vegetables: silver beet and the relative of kale and all those Dalmatian things. There’d always be a part of the garden set aside to grow that for our own use.
DC: What were other things from Dalmatia that you grew?
VK: Well, that was it. My mother loved flowers and we used to plant dahlias, zinnias; they didn’t exist back in the old country.
DC: How did you sell the produce from the garden?
VK: Dad had an old truck. In the beginning, we were taking it to the Fremantle Markets but then when the war broke out and everything was being sold at a good price because we were feeding the navy, the army and air force and everything else, we had the carrier from Spearwood. There was Brenzis, and Ellement, and they had huge trucks and they would come around three times a week and collect the stuff and take it to the Perth markets at Wellington Street.
DC: Did you get a better price for it there? Was that the reason?
VK: Everything was selling for a better price; everybody got out of debt and we were able to pull down the asbestos house when the war finished and built an asbestos and weatherboard house. We actually had tiles on the roof. It was amazing; very rich, we were. Then my father sold it all to go back to help rebuild Yugoslavia.
DC: How old were you then?
VK: I was fifteen on the way there. So, it was a pretty big upheaval but I’d been brainwashed that it was a good idea and so it was okay. Anyway, it was a hell of a lot of fun over there, because I obviously went to school. I did miss out because I’d finished second year high school and if I’d stayed one more year and had the Junior then I would’ve gone straight to high school over there, so as it was, I had to sit for the equivalent of the Junior in Split where we were living. Then of course, the high schools there – you didn’t go to the one high school and have different subjects. If you were going to do commercial you went to a commercial high school, if you were going to be a nurse you went to a medical high school. I decided I wanted to be a pharmacist and that was in Zagreb so I went to boarding school in Zagreb and that’s when all the enjoyment of life began. (laughs)
DC: Ah, tell us more.
VK: We were students in a boarding school obviously. I’d been given a scholarship because I’d passed the Junior thing with distinction so we didn’t have to pay, just the train fare to get to Zagreb. There were students from Croatia, Bosnia and Montenegro. We were in this school in Zagreb, all going to be pharmacists. So, it was an interesting life to find out all the different customs of everybody, because obviously the Bosnians were different from us Dalmatians and it was really wonderful. So, I enjoyed school. I had a lot of interesting adventures because the chemistry and physics teachers had learnt English at school but not conversation so they’d get permission for me to go out with them so that they could practise their conversation. They said, “How do you know when it’s ‘th’ and when it’s ‘the’?” I said, “Sorry, there’s no rule about it. The only rule there is ‘e after c’.”
DC: How long was the course?
VK: Well, this was where the fun came in. The course was three years and then you’d go to university and get a proper degree but the thing was that during the second year my father died. So, then my mother wanted to come back here because our people were starting to go back and luckily my grandfather had stayed behind, because he thought we were being silly going over there but all three [of his] children, my uncle and auntie and their family all went on this famous Partizanka trip. So, my auntie and uncle were the first back and they actually left Yugoslavia while my father was still paralysed in hospital. They came back before Dad died, obviously Mum wanted to come back as well. I hadn’t finished school so I was a bit browned off because I thought I didn’t finish it here, I wasn’t finishing it over there and anyway, I said okay, we’d go back eventually so Grandfather arranged it and paid everything and we came back here.
DC: So how much of the course had you done, in the pharmacy course?
VK: I’d done two years of the high school; I’d done first aid, epidemiology, anatomy and all that sort of thing, but we also did physics and chemistry, mathematics, the whole thing. I mean, that was one thing about education over there; it was thorough and it covered everything. If you went to school, it covered everything. Obviously if you were going to do the commercial thing you’d be doing bookkeeping and stuff but being in the pharmacy it was all that sort of thing. Of course, in those days, there weren’t all these tablets and Panadol Osteo and whatever, so a headache was a powder, it folded up in a bit of paper and of course we’d do “prac” so I had a two week prac in a chemist shop. My main job was folding up this powder for the headache tablets in the papers because they didn’t come already made in the factory. The chemist wanted to nip out for something and left me on my own and a lady came in to pick up her prescription and it was something folded up in little papers. She said, “How do I use it?” and I said, “Oh, the usual thing, empty it on your tongue and drink water” but she said, “I’m supposed to bathe my feet in it.” (laughs) Of course, we had to write up a report of everything that happened on the day of the prac, so I put it in and it impressed the teacher no end.
DC: What did you enjoy about the course?
VK: All the different subjects and I’ve always been interested in the body and everything else so that was all very good. Then I came back here and my grandfather said that he was going to – because I didn’t want to come back, I wanted to finish over there – that he would help me finish my education so I got back here. The week after I was here, my grandfather said, “Oh, come on, I’ll take you to Fremantle” and he takes me to a chemist shop and he wanted me to get a job as a shop assistant. (laughs) So I went to night school.
DC: So you worked as a shop assistant in a chemist shop?
VK: No, I didn’t take it. No, I said, “I’ll sort that out myself, thank you, Grandfather” and so I went to the employment agency and she asked me what my history was as far as education went, and I told her I was in the professional course at the Princess May Girls High School and then I went to Yugoslavia and that I was going to be a pharmacist, then my father died and we came back here. Anyway, she rang up the headmistress at Princess May to verify my story and at that stage Miss Anderson had been told that she was allowed to have a clerical assistant, because up till then they had teacher monitors who did the paperwork stuff. So, she said, “Send Vini up here” and so I got the job. So, then I went to night school, I learnt to type and bookkeep. In those days, they still used to do shorthand but I decided I wasn’t going to be needing shorthand and so I just did the bookkeeping and typing.
DC: So why did you do that rather than keeping on with the pharmacy?
VK: My mother couldn’t afford it. I didn’t have the Leaving Certificate because I didn’t get it over there, so I had to go and get a job. I was in the high school for ten years, in the office. Later on, it became co-ed as John Curtin High School. At one stage, we had two thousand two hundred and forty students and a hundred and forty something teachers in seven buildings because Applecross, Melville, Swanbourne and Hollywood had not been built.
DC: So what period, what years are we talking about here?
VK: This happened in 1956. They started building John Curtin in ’55 and the basic first quadrangle was ready in 1956 so then I went up there. I worked there until 1962 when I had my daughter. In the meantime, I got married in 1955.
DC: Who did you get married to?
VK: I got married to Aldo Kenda. He was the fourth child and his mother ran out of second names by then so he only got one.
DC: How did you meet him?
VK: At the dances, in Spearwood Agricultural Hall.
DC: Which is where the council is now?
VK: Where the council is now. We even had our wedding reception there. In those days, you had just the bridal party and the parents having a dinner in the house and then you’d have three hundred and fifty-odd for the supper and the dancing at the reception.
DC: Was that all on the same day?
DC: Which church did you get married in?
VK: Well, I was supposed to get married in St Jerome’s but my cousin, Mary Srhoy, had married Peter Garbin a couple of years earlier and she got married in St Jerome’s and some of the pictures that were taken of the bridesmaids and what have you, the Watsonia pig yards were in the background so I said to Father Chokolich, “Do I have to get married in St Jerome’s?” And told him why I wasn’t excited about it so he organised that I could get married in St Patrick’s in Fremantle. So I got married in St Patrick’s and Father Chokolich told me not to be late, he knows brides prefer to come late, it was a tradition, but he wanted to get to the football at East Fremantle.
DC: So were you on time?
VK: I was; I was a good girl.
DC: What time was your wedding?
VK: Three o’clock in the afternoon.
DC: Then you had the meal with your family?
VK: No, first of all we went to Peterson’s Studios and had all the official photos.
DC: That was in Fremantle?
VK: In Fremantle. Then we went home to Mum’s place. The front bedroom had been cleared out. My mother remarried, I forgot that bit. My mother remarried in 1953, he was a widower from the old country.
DC: What was his name?
VK: Dobrica Djurovich. So, Mum remarried and they bought a house in Ivermey Road in Hamilton Hill. The block went through from Ivermey Road to what later became Clara Road; it hadn’t been built at first. But by the time Mum had paid it off and everything else, Clara Road had been built and houses were built there. Anyway, in this house in Ivermey Road, there were the two front bedrooms, the kitchen and another room and then there was a back verandah with a bathroom at the end and a chip heater for the water; it was very modern. It was really upmarket then.
DC: Was that an asbestos house too?
VK: No, that was brick. So, Mili, my sister, and I – we slept in one front bedroom and Mum and Dobrica in the other. Lennie had the bedroom off the kitchen which was narrow, because the kitchen was fairly big and this third bedroom was only small, then the back verandah and the bathroom were level with the end of the kitchen. So, our beds were taken out of this front room, because nobody had lounge rooms in those days, and Mum had borrowed some tables and what have you so we had the party there. I’ve also got a photo of all the rellies and Mum’s friends who came to do the actual cooking. We had risotto with the chicken bits for entrée and then we had chicken and vegetables and what have you and we cut the wedding cake there. They didn’t have the wedding cake at the dance/reception in those days. My auntie, my mother’s sister, was in charge of the supper up at the reception. My mother cooked up hams in the copper so there was plenty of ham for ham sandwiches and things. Yes, it was very organised. I didn’t want a big wedding but Mum said she had to, you know, I was the first one but it was very economically done.
DC: What time did the reception start?
VK: It would’ve been eight o’clock.
DC: So you would’ve basically had your evening meal at home with the family and then gone to the reception.
VK: Yes, and then gone to the reception. Aldo was working at the Ford assembly plant in North Fremantle and there was an Italian chap there who had a band, so Aldo got them to be the music. Of course, our mob, we’d always had Bob Hill and the Australian bands playing for us in Spearwood at the dances and things and here were these Italians with the Italian songs and the dances and things. We had a two-day honeymoon, we both went back to work on the Wednesday, and when he got back to work on the Wednesday, the Italian chap at work said, “You owe me another ten pounds, they wouldn’t let us go home.” (laughs) Because we did the traditional thing, we had the bridal waltz, blah, blah, blah, and then we had the supper, and then we had Spinning the Bottle and all those things that you do for the bouquet and that sort of thing.
DC: What do you do with the Spinning the Bottle?
VK: You spin the bottle and wherever it ends up, the young girl gets the bouquet. It turned out to be Donna’s cousin. (laughs) I think she was your cousin, no, it wasn’t your cousin, it was Grljušich, Jeanette’s sister, Antoinette. Anyway, then of course Aldo had organised a very flash car, I forget what make it was, an American [car], that a taxi driver had in Fremantle and Aldo had booked him to come and pick us up at eleven o’clock and he then took us to the Wentworth Hotel in Perth for our honeymoon night. We came home Monday, so we had two nights at the hotel, that’s all we could afford, and then Wednesday we went back to work.
DC: Where did you live once you were married?
VK: We’d bought a semi-detached place in Beaconsfield, in Solomon Street, near the Lefroy Road end. That was two rooms and a kitchen, stone with a tin roof.
DC: So an old place?
VK: A very old place.
DC: What did you think of that?
VK: Well, it was our own; we were paying it off at five pounds a week. That was my wages, five pounds seven and six.
DC: So you didn’t have to stop work when you got married?
VK: No, no. It was pretty good by then. Even the teachers were married.
DC: So what year was this when you got married?
VK: We got married in 1955. The female teachers were married.
DC: You were still at Princess May for one more year, till ’56 when you moved up to John Curtin?
VK: Yes. John Curtin we went in ’56, yes. But I was also at Fremantle Boys, I alternated; I’d have one day at Princess May and the next day at Fremantle Boys . Needless to say, I enjoyed the days at Fremantle Boys more than I did the days at Princess May.
DC: Why was that?
VK: Well, I was young and single (laughs) and men are much easier to work with than women.
DC: So were the staff at Fremantle Boys men, and the staff at Princess May – – -?
VK: Yes, men and they were good fun, most of them. We had Jerry Dolan, the famous East Fremantle footballer. Any boy who has been to Fremantle Boys will always talk about Dickie Borman, the science teacher; he was a lovely old man. Anything he needed I’d do it quick smart and then I’d take whatever it was, the duplicating or whatever, back to him and he’d say, “Oh, thanks, Vini, I’ll dance at your wedding.” (laughs)
DC: And did he?
VK: No, I wasn’t going to invite school teachers to my Dago wedding; you’re joking. (laughs)
DC: So you only had Yugoslav friends at the wedding?
VK: I had my Aussie girlfriends from school and that sort of thing, but not too many, no.
DC: Was there quite a strong divide in the community then?
VK: Well, I reckon it still is. I mean, you can’t escape it. We’ve got different habits, different backgrounds and it’s only natural that we’re going to be different.
DC: Did it feel like one group was better than the other? Was it that kind of divide?
VK: No, I don’t think it was a competition. When I was with my Australian mates, it was Aussie way; when I was with my Spearwood gang, we spoke about different things and different things amused us.
DC: Can you give an example, just for someone like me who wasn’t there?
VK: Oh, not really, because I think the funniest bit is when we translate things from one language to the other and some of it is quite naughty, of course, so it wouldn’t be good for posterity. (laughs)
DC: Would you speak different languages with the different groups of friends?
VK: Of course – – – I mean, well, no, my Slav friends from Spearwood, we all went to school here and we spoke English. We spoke the other language with our parents mainly.
DC: I was going to ask you about that. When you were young and going to school here, were you speaking English at home or were you speaking Slav at home?
VK: No, I was speaking Slav.
DC: So how was that experience of going to an English school?
VK: Well, we were all used to it; it was just natural. You’ll find that we all were the same; you went home and you spoke to your mother in Slav. I mean, gradually the Slav got bastardised, with a lot of the English words sounding like Slav and a few years ago I wrote a little story, using all these bad examples. The first time I read it out, it was at a breakfast in the Fremantle Sailing Club, they were collecting money because they were going to write a book about Slav migration. That book never got written but we had a lot of fun being interviewed and having these breakfasts to collect money. I’d just written this thing because I’d had shoulder surgery and I couldn’t work because my left arm was in a sling, so I wrote this because I’ve been volunteering at the Villa Dalmacia for twenty-three years on a Friday morning with the Bingo and of course, there’s Donna and Elsie and Anka and all of us and we’d say, “Remember Mum used to say ‘currots’ instead of the Slav word?” and she wouldn’t use the Slav word, she’d say, “veelburrow” for a wheelbarrow and “get” for gate and this sort of thing. So, it was hilarious and we’d talk about it. The girls used to say to me, “Why don’t you write it down?” So, I’d written this thing, anyway. One of the ladies who was organising this breakfast, she had it read out to her so she said would I mind reading it at this breakfast. So, I said, “No.” So, off we went to the breakfast, my neighbours from over the road in Beaconsfield were going as well, and of course there were quite a few hundred there that morning including the Croatian consul. Of course, when I started reading this out, everybody was wetting themselves laughing. They were all coming up to me after, “Oh, my mum spoke just like that” (laughs) and everybody wanted a copy of this speech. I’d gone in with Violet and Ted who were living over the road from us, because later on, from Solomon Street we’d built a house on where my father had had the quarry.
DC: On Annie Street?
VK: No, the next one, Jean Street. So, we were up there by then and our friends were over the road, the whole thing was getting subdivided and built on, and my neighbour Violet who we went in with, she says, “See? You went in ordinary and you’ve come home a celebrity.” (laughs)
JOY PARNELL: I think I have a copy.
VK: Yes, it was [published] in that fiftieth anniversary of the Dalmatinac [Club]. Everybody kept printing it.
DC: So when you went back to Yugoslavia, you obviously then had to start speaking – – –
VK: Yes, I had to speak proper Croatian and that wasn’t easy but I managed that as well. So now, I can speak three Slavs; I can speak Dalmatian Slav, the proper grammatical Slav, and the Cro-English version, so I speak three Slav languages.
DC: And when you went to Zagreb, what language were you speaking?
VK: That was the proper one. Yes, we were very la-de-da up there. I mean, after all, the Zagreb Opera House was a replica of the one built in Vienna.
DC: How did you find that, being in a city, after being in much smaller places?
VK: It was very exciting, very exciting. It wasn’t expensive to go to opera and all those sort of things, Madame Butterfly, and all these things in Slav; yes, it was pretty good.
DC: Then when you came back and went to Princess May again and had to speak English, how was that, making that change?
VK: Mixing languages has never bothered me, because when I was at Princess May High School, I did French. Then when we got to Yugoslavia, the foreign language was Russian. Then Marshal Tito had a row with Stalin and they dropped the Russian and it was either French or English, so there was no point in me doing English so I did the French. I’d already done two years of French and my classmates were starting from scratch. Because we were in a boarding school, there were eight of us in the one room, all in the same class, sleeping in the same room, of course over there, there were two sessions of school; one lot would go in the morning and then you’d do your homework in the afternoon and vice versa. So of course, we’d all be doing our homework together and because I’d already done two years of French I got into trouble with the teacher because she said I was teaching them to speak French with an English accent. Then one day, while I was still in Zagreb the literature teacher told me to stand up and said I was the luckiest girl in the class. I mean, I was seventeen at the time and I looked at him and I thought why am I the luckiest girl in the class? Because I could read Shakespeare in the original.
DC: Did you agree?
VK: No, that was the least of my problems. (laughs)
DC: So then when you came back to Perth – how was that, going back to speaking English again?
VK: It was okay, it didn’t bother me. I mean, I like to talk as you’ve gathered by now, so whatever language anybody wants to speak to me in, I’m willing.
End of Track 2
DC: Can you tell me a bit about what jobs you had to do as a child?
VK: When I was four, my father was still working in the quarry and the land around the house had been cleared. Obviously, there was no irrigation or anything but the Jakoviches and Dad found out that if they plant peas at the right time, the winter rains would keep them going. So the idea was that you would grow the peas and then my father made me a little billy can type thing when I was four and I’d go ahead of Mum and I was told to pick the big peas and my mother would clean up the rest after. Then they’d use those big peas to top dress the bag before they sewed it up to send to market. Then they heard about the Royal Show – in those days there were competitions for best peas, carrots and all this sort of thing; it really was a Royal Agricultural Show, and Dad and the Jakoviches kept winning first prize in the peas. Then later on when we got the real market garden, the idea was in those days that the onions were pulled up when they were ready and left lined up on the ground to dry out, so that was just right for when the school holidays started. I would spend the whole six weeks of the school holidays sitting out in the paddock, with no shade, topping and tailing the onions.
DC: So you worked hard.
VK: We worked hard. Then of course I graduated to picking runner beans when I was tall enough. That was putting them in a four-gallon kerosene tin which had had a handle of wire made on it. When you’d filled the four-gallon kerosene tin up with beans, you carried it up to the house to be put into bags.
DC: What about games?
VK: Games? Who played games? I’ve never owned a doll in my life.
DC: Did you want to?
VK: No. Well, there was that funny weed that had a lot of roots, so I’d pull that weed up and wash the roots and use that as the doll’s hair and then I’d tie the leaves up to make it look like a doll.
DC: How old would you have been when you did that?
VK: About seven or eight, I suppose, because all my friends at school had dolls that they used to talk about.
DC: Did you talk about your doll then?
VK: No, that was my little secret. I was being ridiculed enough for everything else, and they used to chase me. Because to get to White Gum Valley, a family who had a market garden on Nannine Avenue which is just in from South Street and I’d walk past that garden. Then there was an open paddock where somebody tried to start a quarry or something before you got to White Gum Valley Primary School and they used to chase me after school and call me “Dago Cabbage.” So I used to run in to this market garden, Auntie Mary I reckoned her name was, and she’d keep me there until they’d gone home and then I’d keep going home.
DC: It must’ve been scary.
VK: Yes, it was pretty – – – No, no, we were bullied like mad in those days, but you didn’t tell anybody.
DC: So the Australian kids would tease you or bully you?
VK: Yes, well, I was the only foreigner there in those days.
DC: What about your friends? Would they stick up for you?
VK: Well, the girls in my class were okay and the boys as well there. The ones who were in the class with me, they were all right. It was these other ones who were naughty.
DC: What was it that made you seem different, do you think?
VK: A lot of them knew that when I started school that I couldn’t speak English and that sort of stuck with them.
DC: At home, were there boys’ jobs and girls’ jobs or did everyone just do whatever?
VK: No, you did whatever you were strong enough to do, and old enough.
DC: And what about religion? Was that an important part of your life?
VK: There was no religion in our house. My father was a dinky-di socialist/communist, you name it.
DC: So was that why he wanted to go back to Yugoslavia?
VK: Yes, because there was going to be equality and socialism and all that sort of thing.
DC: Did your mother believe that as well?
VK: Whether she did or she didn’t, I don’t know, but my father made sure that none of us got baptised and then the first thing she did when we came back, my sister was about nine, was go and baptise us so I suppose she still had the old-fashioned beliefs.
DC: Did you have them?
VK: No, I never have but I had to get baptised before I got married because I wouldn’t have been able to get married at the altar. And Aldo wouldn’t go to the registry office because he couldn’t write home to his mother and tell her that he’d got married in a registry office. So I thought I’d better go and do it. Because I worked at Princess May I went over to the presbytery at St Pat’s and said, “Look, I need to get baptised. What do I do?” The priest wasn’t very excited, he asked me where I lived. I said I lived in Hammy Hill and he said, “Go and see Father Chokolich in Spearwood” so I did and we talked football. He gave me a little book to read, so I read it and then I went back the next week and we talked more football. He gave me another book; I didn’t read the second one. (laughs) So then I went to my mother’s first cousin, who I used to call auntie and so I said, “Auntie Maria, will you and Uncle Frank be my godparents, please?” Uncle Frank freaked out and I said, “It’s all right, Uncle Frank, you don’t have to carry me.”
DC: Where did you get baptised?
VK: In St Jerome’s.
DC: I wanted to ask you about your time working at Princess May, what you did each day.
VK: Well, I did everything. I typed up class lists, did the banking if they sold books and things there, typed exam papers. I had a Gestetner duplicator. In those days, you typed it up on a wax sheet and then you’d put the waxed sheet on the Gestetner and then you’d roll off [copies] by hand. So, by the time we got to John Curtin, there was the Manual Arts building, the new John Curtin building, Fremantle Boys, Princess May, the Home Science building in the Princess May yard, which is now Clancy’s, and because there were so many students, they were using part of the North Fremantle Primary School. So, the teachers were spread in all these buildings and if you needed to send a notice to all the teachers, I would have to do it on a Gestetner, duplicate a copy for each teacher, write their name on it and then send it to whatever building they were teaching in.
DC: Through the post or would there be a courier?
VK: No, the Deputy Headmaster used to deliver the stuff.
DC: Do you want to tell the story about having to give messages to the children?
VK: Yes. Now, because all the Slavs knew I was there, and of course you didn’t run into town any tick of the clock. By the time your children were in high school, they were old enough to know where to buy things and whatever you needed. So, they’d ring up and of course I’d be answering the phone and they’d tell me, “Would you go and tell my son so-and-so to get such-and-such on the way home?” And one of them was a lady in Spearwood, she wanted her son to go to the warehouse and get some chaff bags. Now, I didn’t want to say this to the kid in front of everybody else so I went to the classroom and asked the teacher if I could have the lad outside for a second and I told him what the message was. He was so grateful that I didn’t tell him in front of the other kids. Because this is another thing – to tell a kid in front of everybody in the class that he had to go and get chaff bags, hey. It would’ve been embarrassing (laughs) and having been through that – – –
DC: You knew better.
VK: Yes. Also, Wally Langdon, one of WA’s best cricketers, was a teacher there. And of course, all the male teachers were interested in the cricket and we were playing the West Indies. So, somebody had a transistor and I’d go to the staff room, the game had finished in a draw, the one and only draw they’d ever had in Brisbane. So, I wrote that down on a piece of paper and went around to the male teachers, pretending I was taking a message from the headmaster. And of course, I get to Wally Langdon and he said, “What do you mean, it was a draw,” he said, “It can’t be a draw”. Of course, it was, wasn’t it? (laughs) I used to do the same with the Melbourne Cup. I used to run the sweep amongst the staff and then we’d listen to it in the staff room and then I’d go around with the piece of paper so that everybody would know who won the Melbourne Cup.
DC: And can you tell me a bit about your grandfather and his role in the community?
VK: Well, my grandfather was a man who had benefited a lot of people in Spearwood. He lent money, he helped; he just helped everybody he could.
DC: What was his name again?
VK: Frank Srhoy.
DC: Was that because he was in a better financial position than others?
VK: Yes. Well, he’d started off earlier and working in the lime kilns obviously he’d been making a bit more money than other people and having a market garden at the same time. So of course, when Mum and my grandmother and them came out, Mum and Grandmother were working in the garden and he was still doing the lime kilns. Then he’d do the heavy stuff in the market garden on the weekends.
DC: And I guess he didn’t go back to Yugoslavia either?
VK: No, he didn’t. He said that it was silly us going there, because as I said earlier, all his three children did go back with their families and he said that if it was that good, he would sell up and come. Of course, the first thing my auntie did as soon as we got there was write him a letter and tell him don’t even dream of it. (laughs)
DC: So were they disillusioned quite quickly?
VK: Oh yes.
DC: Why was that?
VK: I don’t know. I suppose my aunt and my uncle had probably decided to go back because it was “the done thing” at the time; I mean, half of Spearwood went. They wanted to be shown to be patriotic and everything else, I suppose, but they weren’t like my father – he was dinky-di convinced about freedom and socialism and equality.
DC: Did he become disillusioned?
VK: No, he didn’t get a chance, because he got this disease. Well, they didn’t know what it was at the time, but he had a raging fever and then gradually from the leg up to his neck, he lost movement; he was completely paralysed from the neck down. Since then, and I’ve been more involved trying to find out, nobody – – – Actually, that disease had not been diagnosed then; I think it’s called Guilllain-Barré Syndrome . They know how to treat it now but in those days, they didn’t even know it existed. It’s an inflammation of the nerve endings and then it just goes through the whole body. Nowadays, they put you in an induced coma and treat you with various drugs. I worked out after that that was what killed him. Because the doctors over there said that it was some exotic disease that he must’ve got in Australia. In the end, he died of pneumonia.
DC: Was it painful?
VK: Well, I don’t know whether the poor devil was in pain, he was in Split and I was in Zagreb. But they were trying to do physio, they did work that one out and at least get his arms moving and of course he got pneumonia and being flat on his back; there was no penicillin in those days. We’re talking about 1951.
DC: So looking back on your life, how do you think it’s different from your children and the next generation?
VK: Well, we had hardships they don’t have. I mean, in this day and age, goodness me.
DC: What were some of the advantages you had do you think that they don’t have?
VK: Well, we did it the hard way and we appreciate what we’ve got, whereas they expect it as a given thing.
DC: So reflecting back on your life, what are some of the things you feel pleased about?
VK: Well, not one particular thing. I think it all worked out for the better. I learnt another language because my husband spoke Italian and so yes, I’ve become even more versatile.
DC: Did you ever think of going to uni and finishing your studies?
VK: No, I decided it wasn’t worth it. I wasn’t that ambitious. Besides, I enjoyed my work at the high school; I found it very fulfilling, working with witty people. Yes, it’s been fun.
DC: I think that’s all I want to ask you. Is there anything you want to say?
VK: No, nothing; just that I’m happy where I’m living now.
DC: At the Villa Dalmacia?
VK: Yes, the independent living unit.
DC: Thank you so much for talking to me. It’s great.
END OF ORAL HISTORY
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