Croatian Women in WA

by May Butko


From the beginning Croatian women migrants showed their intrepid spirit in working alongside their men and sharing very harsh, inhospitable and in many cases lonely conditions.

Early women migrants braved a long sea crossing to Fremantle and then a trip into unknown areas to join husbands, fiancés or relatives. Most of the men had migrated to find a better life or to earn money to send home to support their families.

Together with their men they faced harsh and sometimes worse conditions than they left in Croatia. Their tremendous spirit, tenacity and capacity for hard work will unfold in the stories of this chapter.

Conditions in Croatia

Pre World War 1 Croatia was under Austro-Hungarian rule. Many of the people in villages lived a “subsistence” lifestyle. This means that they were self sufficient, they grew everything they needed. If they had some extra products like wine, oil, wheat, potatoes they could sell or barter them for things they didn’t have like salt, fabrics and tools.

In the poorest and more remote areas these subsistence conditions were still present well into the 1950s (see Marija Sekulla’s story below).

The people in villages closer to cities fared better than those who were more isolated and had no market places to trade in. Money was a rare commodity for these people.

The main areas from which people migrated were situated in mountainous or very rocky areas along the Dalmatian coast and nearby islands where soil for growing crops was scarce. As the families thrived and increased in number and each generation divided their land amongst their children they eventually found themselves unable to produce enough food to live on.

It became a necessity for all the sons except one (usually the eldest stayed home to look after the parents) to leave and find work either in another town or another country.

The contrast of conditions within one village can be seen in this story from Frances Bucat who tells of the difference to be found in one village.

“My parents both came from Vela Luka on the island of Korcula where they had vines and olives and made money selling wine and olive oil at the village co-op. My father, Ante Zuvela, was one of 12 orphaned children who were left to fend for themselves. My mother’s people (Tabain) were better off and the children were educated (my mother was a teacher and her brother a priest). They had a large stove and my dad would say how lovely the coffee smelled as he passed their house. They lived much better and were better organised than dad’s family who had no parents to direct them. None of mum’s sisters worked outside, they did household chores and my mum looked after her bedridden mother. She told dad she wouldn’t marry him until her mother died. My father came to Australia in 1926 to make money to help his family survive” Frances Bucat (nee Zuvela), Spearwood.” 1

Marija Sekulla (Pavlinovic), from Rascane situated in the Biokovo mountains, said that she remembers her baba (grandmother) looking after her most of the time as her mother had to look after the other children and work in the fields because her father was not in good health.

“My father, aged 17 years, went to Australia in 1911 and worked cutting wood in Gwalia to earn money to send home to his family. This enabled them to live and buy more land to improve their conditions. In 1929 he returned home to look after his parents, marry and father seven children.

“When he died in 1952 I was 16 years old and we would dress in our fathers work clothes and dig the land and grow food to survive. We had vines, wheat, corn and potatoes and vegetables. There were also a cow, an ox, goats and some sheep to look after. We sold excess wine and rakija (brandy) to buy shoes, clothes, cotton, petrol and other things we needed.

“We cooked over an open fire on the hearth (komin) over which a pot was suspended on a chain. Our meals were mainly soups and stews made from vegetables with a small amount of meat for flavour. We ate from a central pot on a small round table using wooden spoons. All ate while there was food in the pot.

“In 1952/3 it was a very bad season for wheat. I remember my widowed mother being very upset because she had 6 children to feed. She asked a friend who was going to Slavonia to bring her 100 kilos of wheat in return for as much wine as he wanted (which she said was useless to her as her children couldn’t drink it). My uncle, Ivan, also sent 2 bags of wheat from Australia so we were able to have bread again. Bread was enough without other food; it was a very important part of our diet.” Marija Sekulla (nee Pavlinovich), Rivervale, 2

Marija tells how they were totally involved with every part of the process of preparing a loaf of bread for the family to eat.

“When the wheat was cut and tied in stooks it was brought home and put on the guvno (a large flat circle of ground near the house) ready for threshing.

“Three horses were tied to a central post and ran fast around the guvno till they had to go out again to unwind the rope. People would lift the trampled wheat stalks with a fork while this was happening. Later the stalks were gathered up and stored as food for the animals during winter. The wheat is then swept up, winnowed to clean the rubbish out and bagged and stored. Dad would take 100 kilos at a time to the mill to be made into flour. This would last us for about a month.

“During the war (WWll) different armies came and went. Sometimes people were killed and villages burnt. There was a period of great hunger and people shared what they had. They ate every type of grass that was eatable and worked all day for 4-5 kilos of wheat. Grape seeds and corn were used to make flour when they couldn’t get wheat. They traded wood and brime (scrub branches) for food.

“Our school was burnt down in 1942 and several years passed before we had a chance to learn anything. I was 12 when I returned to school and it took a while to pass grade 4. We all had to help to shepherd the animals and gather bushes for winter food for the animals and kindling. The older children would carry heavier wood. There was no time for fun and games. “ Marija Sekulla (nee Pavlinovich), Rivervale, 2

Dumina Frzop says,

“My husband’s family had a butchery in Vodice, but it was very poor. We had land but it wasn’t very productive, we had to struggle for a piece of bread.

“I came into my husband’s family; there were two sisters-in-law, two brothers-in-law, and grandparents living with his parents. We all slept on the same floor. We didn’t have our own rooms, we just had the one room where we all slept and another floor for cooking and eating. We cooked in a pot suspended over an open fire on the komin (hearth) and had a brick oven for baking bread.

“Although we were on the coast we had no fish (there was fish nearby in Tribunj which was my home village before I married), we made some money by selling wine and oil. We had figs (which we dried) and grew vegetables and greens to survive. Every now and then we had some bread. There was not enough soil to grow wheat, but occasionally we could afford to buy a bag of flour and then we had bread. If we had had enough bread we might not have come to Australia.

“I remember my childhood in Tribunj during the 1920s. After six years of schooling you had to go into the fields and look after the sheep. When you reach 11 or 12 you start digging and hoeing. The girls worked harder than the boys. If it was raining the boys would get under the umbrellas in the piazza or the tavern to play cards. The women would continue to work in the fields and when they got home they would look after the children or cart water from wells far away.

“We had no water at the house it was brought in buckets which we carried on our heads. All the heavy things like water, wood and sacks were carried on our heads. My father’s house had three flights of stairs to get up, 11 steps for each floor, I had to carry everything to the top floor. We did the cooking on the top floor to stop the smoke spreading to where we slept. Although we had a chimney there always seemed to be plenty of smoke in the kitchen.

“The houses in our village were built very close together. You could not build sideways. If you wanted to expand you had to go up. There was no electricity; we used oil lamps, others had wax candles.

“In Vodice our land was two hours away on foot. If you didn’t have a donkey or a horse you would have to walk and carry everything yourself. When my brother sent us some money from Australia we bought a cart for our donkey.

“My husband wanted to come to Australia to get away from the war which we knew was coming. He wrote to my brother, who had come to Australia in 1928, and asked him to sponsor him out here. He came in 1937 and I followed with our son in 1939.” Dumina Frzop, (nee Durmanich), Osborne Park, 3

Money sent from other countries made life possible for many families. It enabled them to buy necessities and put money into the local economy. Some came home with a lump sum of money and tried to re-establish themselves but found that it didn’t work. Tonka Barbarich (Parentich) tells how her father (Ivan) returned in 1927 to Zaostrog, a fishing village situated on the Dalmatian coast, with three thousand English pounds to build a house and start a business.

“When dad came home he bought boats, lamps, barrels and salt. He wanted to fish for sardines when there was no moon, salt and put them in the barrels ready for sale. We had fish in abundance but the business didn’t succeed because they couldn’t sell the sardines and make a living. The money was gradually spent. People were so poor they came begging for salt. Dad felt sorry for them and ended up giving most of it away.

“He was so disappointed that, even though he had had a large sum of money, he still could not survive in his homeland. So in 1933 he collected his family vowing to go back to the country where there was no shortage of bread and left Croatia for the third and last time to return to Western Australia.” Tonka Barbarich (nee Parentich), Hamilton Hill, 4

Conditions on arrival in Western Australia

It would be fair to say that many women were disappointed with their first glimpse of Fremantle and wondered what they were coming to when they saw the collection of old sheds that greeted them as they sailed in. They had travelled from close-knit villages with solid stone cottages through the Mediterranean ports (like Naples) that had fine cities and harbours teeming with people.

Ursa Marinovic remembers Fremantle on her arrival in 1940.

“There wasn’t much to see, old houses and some people, but when I came to the Swan valley it was worse. The houses were of asbestos and plank, nothing but heat and dust”. Ursa Marinovich (nee Marinovic), 5

“I was 16 when I came in 1938 from Blato on Korcula. It was a hard life here. We were on a farm in Toodyay with no light, water, telephone or car. I would have gone back if I could,” Jaka Bacic (nee Andrijic) Spearwood, 6

For some work started immediately.

“We arrived in Spearwood in 1935 at 11.00am on Tuesday and an hour later I was in the garden picking beetroot and other vegetables”. said Marija Jerkovic (nee Damjanovic), aged 12 years, Hamilton Hill, 7

Ljube Pavlinovich (Lendich) recalls that on arrival at the farm where her dad was working she was given 8 rows of peas to look after.

“I was only 8 years old and I’ve worked ever since”. Ljube Pavlinovich (nee Lendich), Martin, 8

When Vilma Mina Kosovich (Parentich), aged 20 years, arrived in Fremantle all dressed up in her best clothes in 1923 she too was disappointed.

“We (my sister Katie and I) thought we were very elegant ladies in our fashionable clothes, but there was nothing much to see. Then when we arrived in Kalgoorlie and joined our brothers Ivan and Matt on the Woodline we were even more disappointed. I saw some Hessian shacks nearby and asked if that was where the animals were kept. Ivan said, “No, that’s where we live”. I wanted to go home. Matt said, “ok but first you have to walk to Fremantle and then swim home”. Vilma Mina Kosovich (nee Parentich), 9

The earliest women migrants to Western Australia were around the turn of the twentieth century and up to the First World War. See chart -Croatian Women who migrated to WA (late 1800s & early 1900s)

Early women migrants from Croatia, with very few exceptions, worked hard physically. As well as household duties they worked in the fields digging, harvesting, carrying goods and water. They came from villages and not cities and so didn’t have the luxury of electricity, water on tap, gas, transport and shops or markets. Therefore after the initial shock of seeing the conditions here they soon settled down and made the best of their situation.

Some found conditions here easier than at home.

“We had things to buy and food to eat, it wasn’t too bad here,” Iva Ozich (nee Pavlinovich), Swan Valley, 10, said about conditions on arrival as a young married woman at the Woodline in 1938. “I was young and not sorry I’d come. I liked it from the first day. At first I was worried about the bush. There were millions of flies, more than stars, willy-willy and dust storms sometimes. But here it was less work for me, the water was close by and there was a store to buy things.” She goes on to say that things were worse when she moved to the Swan Valley. “We had no furniture or anything. It was hard work at first but things slowly improved”. Iva Ozich (nee Pavlinovich), Swan Valley, 10

In Osborne Park on the market gardens Dumina Frzop tells how she baked bread for 10 people every day for 5 years.

“I came to Hector Street in 1939, there were no butchers, no bakers, no lights. Later it was better but in the beginning it was very bad. Slowly, slowly you work hard, you go into debt, you pay it off, go into more debt and so on. We had plenty of vegetables, for a full truck we would get 2 pounds (laughter), it was still better than nothing. For years the butcher would come to us in a truck. Frank Buktenica and another man would come and sell meat. We didn’t have a fridge and neither did he. We could only keep meat for two days.” Dumina Frzop (nee Durmanich), Osborne Park, 3

The wheat belt area of Erikin (near Bruce Rock) was home for Remy Beus’s mother in 1910.

“She told me that she cried for three years when she first arrived. She came from a well-to-do family on the island of Brac where they had servants. Here she lived in the bush and carried water on her head for three miles to have drinking water. Out of her sister’s trousseau she made clothes for her children. I never heard my mum complain, she just accepted it and was always happy”. Remy Beus (nee Garbin), Osborne Park, 11

Why women migrated

The women of Croatia who migrated to Western Australia from the earliest times did so for different reasons than their men. While they shared the vision of a better life, like their men, they were following their hearts and going to join their husbands, fiancés or families.

In very poor areas, where men had to migrate to survive, women were faced with the choice of following them or facing life without them for extended periods. Some women didn’t see their husbands for 20years (like Matija Pavlinovic of Veliki Godinj in Rascane) while others never saw or heard from their husbands again.

In some cases wives chose to stay cocooned in the safety of their villages with their extended family around them for support and not join their husband. However in most cases they chose to follow their hearts or take up opportunities for a better life in Western Australia.

Customs – how is a woman valued

In the villages of Croatia women were looked upon as work horses in the main. This was the result of their subsistence lifestyle. Everyone in the family unit worked to help feed the family. The poorer your circumstances the harder you worked. Being strong and healthy was a desirable quality when men were thinking of marriage.

The stories of Marija Sekulla and Dumina Frzop serve to illustrate the role village women played in the first half of the twentieth century. In addition to outdoor work they also were totally responsible for cooking, cleaning and washing clothes. During the long winter months those that had sheep also spun and wove woollen cloth and blankets. Knitting, sewing and embroidery were also done. A girl began putting together her “trousseau” from a very early age because everything was handmade and labour intensive.

The family structure was patriarchal with the father being the head of the household. The wife and children were obedient and served him. The church supported and reinforced this structure. This was similar to many societies of that time.

It was not considered necessary to educate girls beyond the basics of reading and writing. Remy Beus tells of the strict, old Croatian values her father held. She won a scholarship but her father wouldn’t let her take it saying that education was only for boys. After he died her mother was more relaxed and allowed the girls to get jobs and play sport.

During the depression years a young Milly Rokich didn’t mind what hardships she encountered (splinters from the planks or the burning sand on bare feet in the summertime) so long as she was able to get to school.

“Nothing worried me as long as I got to school. Regardless of what I had to do, I would make sure I’d do it before I went to school. As a matter of fact it got that way when things were so hard and so bad that my father would keep me home from school so I could do the work. In fact he kept me home so long that the school inspector came out to him and said that he would penalise him very heavily unless I was sent to school again. So father worked it out that if he sent me to school two days out of five that he would be alright and not be penalised.

“But because I was so keen on school I’d make sure that I’d get up at the crack of dawn and go down into that swamp and do the work that had to be done. I’d drop that hoe (if I was on the hoe) at half past eight, come home, have a wash and quick change, grab my school bag and I’d run the three miles to school.

“I’d make it in a quarter of an hour because I knew if I wasn’t there at nine o’clock I’d be kept in after school and I didn’t have that time to spare because I knew what I had to do at home.” Milly Bumbak (nee Rokich), Osborne Park, 12

Young women were closely guarded to protect their reputation till marriage.

Marriage was the only option for them until the 1960s.

A woman’s role changed according to the wealth of her family and her proximity to a city or town. Well off families could afford to employ workers or servants. Those women near or in towns could find work with wealthy families and earn money. Apolonija Butko (Grubelic) ran away from her home in Tribunj to Sibenik where she was taken into service by a family and taught to cook and clean. Later she had the opportunity to migrate to America with them but chose instead to marry and come to Western Australia.

“I left in the dark and didn’t realise that I had put on one of my sisters shoes by mistake until I reached Sibenik. I didn’t know what to do or where to go so I sat by the fountain. Much later in the day I started to cry and someone came and took me to the nuns. They found me a job with a wealthy family as a house maid.” Apolonija Butko (nee Grubelich), Osborne Park, 13

The impact of migration on marriage

Many men migrated as young boys of 16 and 17 years. Life here was lonely especially on the Woodline and in the bush where they cleared land for agriculture. When they had grown, saved some money and felt ready for marriage they either returned home to find a wife or brought one out to marry. Others chose one from the new arrivals here.

Communication with family at home was by letter or messages sent via friends and relatives. Some of these letters were proposals of marriage. Many women were encouraged and sometimes pressured to accept proposals from men they may not have met or knew very little about. When asked how she met her husband, Jakov, Iva Ozich said that he wrote to her twice. The first letter she ignored but replied to the second.

“He had asked for girls to marry and someone told him about me. He sent me a photo of himself later when I said I would have him. I had heard of his family, they lived nearby and I had been to school with his brother Nikola.” Iva Ozich (nee Pavlinovich), Herne Hill, 10

Until very recently (1960/70s) it was a woman’s duty to marry and have a family. Romance wasn’t essential or expected. Family members and relatives assisted the process; in many cases acting as go betweens and trying to gauge the young people’s feelings towards each other.

“His brother married my cousin; she urged me to marry him. When he asked his brother to look for a wife, she suggested me. He said he remembered lifting me to pick grapes for him. My cousin told me I’d be silly not to go. He wrote a letter and sent a photo of himself and that’s how we came to marry.” Ruza Loncar (nee Matkovich), Balcatta, 14

Remy Beus (Garbin) said that her father (Anton Garbin of Solta) married and brought out his first wife Ane Civran from Brac in 1909. After she tragically died he brought out her two sisters and married the elder one Marica. He felt he couldn’t go wrong because they were a good family. They had a long and happy marriage and 8 children.

Because there were many single men in Western Australia any girl who arrived here was soon courted and snapped up.

This was the experience of Ursa Marinovic.

“My sister was living in the Swan valley and couldn’t get used to things. She wanted me to come for a visit. I wanted to see the world and jumped at the chance. I came on 28 January, 1940 and couldn’t return because of the war. I met my husband at a dance in Osborne Park and we married on 8 February 1941”. Ursa Marinovich (nee Marinovic), Spearwood, 5

Mica Katnich, also, was married within 18 months of arrival.

Sometimes girls came out on a promise to marry one man and ended up marrying another whom she liked better. Some women went through marriage by proxy before coming out.

The impact of Migration on the family

Family age gaps were common where a father left after a child was born and then when his family joined him more children were born. Ljube Pavlinovich was a baby of 4 months when her father (Mijo Lendich) left in 1927 and she was 8 years old before she saw him again in 1935. Her brother and sister were born here and were 9 and 10 years younger. This was typical of many families where there was an interruption in the normal family life through migration.

Tonka Barbarich tells of her family gaps.

“Dad came home in 1923 after being interned during WW1 and married, I was born and then he returned to Australia again. In 1927 he returned to Croatia again and Marija and Tony were born. Then he took all of us to Australia with him in 1933 where 2 more children were born.” Tonka Barbarich (nee Parentich), Hamilton Hill, 15

“I was 16 when we came here. I don’t remember my father at all, only from age 16. At first he was a stranger then bit by bit he became a real father.” Jaka Bacic (nee Andrijic), Spearwood, 6

Isolation Issues – distance and language

The close village life in which a woman lived with her extended family network of mother, grandmother, sisters, aunts and cousins was left behind on migration. This network supports a woman during her years of bearing and rearing children. Not only is assistance provided in times of sickness and hardship but valuable advice and companionship.

In some cases women were totally alone because they went to isolated places with only their husband for support. The Woodline and mines in Kalgoorlie were places where women were able to have the companionship of other women who spoke the same language. But things were more difficult for those who pioneered the wheat belt and whose husbands worked in places like Naretha (400 miles past Kalgoorlie on the Trans Australia railway line) on the lime kilns.

Areas like the Swan valley, Osborne Park and Spearwood became drawcards attracting more people because it is human nature to congregate close to other people you know when you are in a strange country. People cling together for support, companionship and entertainment.

While women spoke Croatian they didn’t have to learn English. This made it difficult for them when they went shopping or had to visit the doctor.

“I picked up a few words from the Irish lady next door. We called each other Mum.” Dumina Frzop (nee Durmanich) Osborne Park, 3

Vera Rosich’s mother (Tomica Vladich) tried to speak English by listening to her husband talking with humorous results.

  1. ‘When the foreman came to check how much land her husband had cleared he would speak to her and she would answer “Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ”. She thought she was having a conversation in English. On another occasion when he was away in Perth on business a storm was brewing with thunder and lightning. Mum was worried about the horses and so was their neighbour who knew he was away. He came over to check out how they were managing. All mum could say was, “Bloody bastard, bloody bastard”. The neighbour, who had a sense of humour, told him of the incident before he arrived home. When his wife told him excitedly of the storm and the neighbour he asked her if he had understood what she said. She replied, “I think he did.” Vera Rosich (nee Vladich), Balcatta, 16

Children were interpreters for their parents; they read mail, wrote letters and went shopping. Dori Pervan did this for her family and many others who couldn’t do it for themselves. Many families had similar circumstances.

“I was the eldest in the family which was five by that time – another two brothers and a sister born here. Things were very hard during the depression, and I knew just how hard they were because, being the eldest, learning the language that my mother and father did not know, I had to do all the business, interpreting and everything else that was required. I was the one that was sent in to do father’s business matters, banking, paying rates and everything else. Milly Bumbak (nee Rokich), Osborne Park, 12

This was the situation in many families; children learnt the language first and were required as they grew older to take on very responsible roles such as banking and, in Milly’s case, raising a loan. When her grandfather (Dume Rodin) decided to divide his land between two of his daughters he wanted to pay the third daughter (now Milka Parin) the equivalent in money for her share. Milly dealt with the bank manager to raise the loan of 300 pounds and made all the payments.

“Whenever we accumulated a few pounds I would take it to Mr West’s office and there I would give him the money I had brought in. He would ask how things were going, how we were progressing.” Milly Bumbak (nee Rokich), Osborne Park, 12

Lack of transport added to the isolation. In Croatia villages were closer together. Here without cars or public transport visiting and shopping was difficult. Dori Pervan tells how her mother and Mrs Zilko went for their once a year shopping trip to Perth to purchase things that couldn’t be ordered through a catalogue.

“Some things you needed to see first so they walked to Midland from Herne Hill and caught a train to Perth. They returned the same way carrying their purchases on their head as was the custom on Vis. During the walk home they would take off their shoes and walk barefoot.” Dori Pervan (nee Ilich), Swan Valley, 17

To visit relatives in Kelmscott Joze Pavlinovich would hire a man with a car to drive his family (9 children) from the Swan valley for an all day visit. In payment he would work one day for him.

People with trucks would take many people with them to entertainments like picnics or dances.

Croatian families living in the 2 valleys in the hills above Kelmscott (now called Martin) in the 1930s had a unique transport system. Lovre Buktenica bought the first truck in the valley and became the “carrier” for everyone. He was paid for taking the vegetables to market and bringing home supplies (fertiliser, seed, equipment) for the market gardens. But he also took orders to Kelmscott for bread, meat and groceries. On his return he collected the packed orders and the mail and dropped them off, free of charge, to every house on his way home. Anyone who wished to go to the city on business or shopping went with him also.

Families would dress up on Sundays and walk over to visit neighbours. Children went everywhere with their parents.

Dealing with Medical Problems

Childbirth was one of the greatest problems for women as most of them were of child bearing age. At a time when childbirth was still a life-threatening situation and with minimum medical facilities available women faced this event without language and their extended families around them. They accepted it as a natural occurrence. In Croatia there were local midwives with experience called a Babica.

In WA other women around them would always come to assist in isolated places. On the Woodline they took the train into Kalgoorlie where there were midwives (usually a nurse) who delivered the children. One of the well known ones was Sister Ellen Downey (ref. Dori Pervan (nee Ilich), Swan Valley 17).

On the wheat belt in 1921 Remy Beus’ mother was taken to Kellerberrin hospital by horse and sulky when she was due to deliver her.

“On the way home with us the horse dropped dead. Dad had to walk to borrow a horse from a neighbour to take us home.” Remy Beus (nee Garbin) Osborne Park, 11

In the 1930s Pere Lendich, from the hills above Kelmscott, was taken to King Edward Memorial Hospital by the carrier, Lovre Buktenica, with a load of cabbages. Her husband waited on the road with a lantern at 3 o’clock in the morning to hail him as he was going to the Perth markets. After delivering this precious cargo he continued on to the markets.

Sometimes there wasn’t time to reach hospital and many children were born at home with the help of family or friends. Still others were assisted by strangers as was the case in 1923 with Maria and Peter Parin who were early settlers of Wanneroo.

“When it was time for mum to go in to her midwife in Perth, she and dad set off in the horse and cart. However, they only got as far as the 7 mile Balcatta Hotel. Mum was rushed inside, where dad and Mrs Neaves, the lady who ran the pub, brought me safely into the world.

Dad also acted as midwife to Mrs Sinagra; she didn’t make into town either. They made an emergency stop at our home and where dad helped bring Tony Sinagra into the world. A few people were born along Wanneroo Road including Tony Martin (Martinovich).” John Parin, Stories of Old Wanneroo As told to Bill Marwick 2002, p 122, 18

At Naretha during the 1930s Frances Bucat’s mother had several miscarriages and was advised to come to Perth for assistance. Their only transport was by hailing the Trans Train to take them in to Kalgoorlie.

Infectious Diseases and Accidents

By the 1950/60s conditions had improved. Medical knowledge had improved and with better transport and communications these were more readily available.

In the early years diseases like scarlet fever, tetanus and diphtheria were common. It was not uncommon for children to die from these diseases. Parents, whose children had scarlet fever, were denied access and were only able to observe their children, sitting on the hospital veranda, from a distance. In general people used home remedies that were passed down in their families.

Our medical treatment was all the usual home remedies. I trod on a nail one day and it went an inch into my foot. Mum treated the wound with kerosene and then bandaged it. That was the medical treatment, but it did the trick. We didn’t have tetanus needles then.

“When we had coughs and colds mum rubbed our chests with camphor oil. Castor oil was another popular medicine and so was Bonningtons Irish Moss. Every Saturday morning mum brought out a little purple bottle of castor oil and put it in warm water. When it was ready we were each given a teaspoonful. That was for our weekly cleanout. And did it work! We hated castor oil.” Mary Higgins (nee Martinovich) Stories of Old Wanneroo As told to Bill Marwick 2002 p91-92, 19

There were accidental deaths like Nada Yujnovich’s (Braovich) little brother who died from eating too many peas. A few years later, when she was 8 years old her father was killed (1939) in a mining accident. His death changed their lives from a struggle to survive to even worse conditions.

“Dad was a popular man and money was collected on his death but mum never got it. Good though people were, times were tough and someone took it. So mum had no support at first. There was no child endowment or pension. You had to wait till the compensation (two thousand pounds –seven pounds per fortnight) was granted by the mine. From that she paid two pounds a week off the mortgage and bought 1 shilling worth of meat per day fresh from the butcher because there were no fridges and we survived on the vegetables we grew. We weren’t hungry: we had a cooked meal everyday.

“However when my sister had appendicitis there was no fund to pay the account like when you worked for the mine. The Doctor wouldn’t come anymore and put the bailiffs on to her. She didn’t have anything more to give. The Doctor came around one day and I remember she brought him out a blanket from our bed. It had so many patches on it you couldn’t see the blanket anymore, he never came back again.

“The depression had ended for others but not for us until we (my sister and I) started working. For me this started at 10 years of age. In those days there were polished floorboards in houses. This was hard work so people looked for families who were struggling and asked you to come and polish the floors. They mainly gave you a meal, some promised five shillings but few kept the promise. This would take you all day all on your knees. Sometimes there was ironing or washing windows but mainly it was floors because this was the harder work.” Nada Jujnovich (nee Braovich), Mt Lawley, 20

Education and Bringing up Children

The early migrant women (pre WW2) in the main had only a basic education which enabled them to read and write in Croatian. Some women didn’t even have this basic ability to communicate with families at home and had to rely on husbands, family or friends who would read or write for them. However in later times education improved in Croatia and so migrants who came later were better educated in their home country. It should be noted that while education was available it shouldn’t be assumed that children were always sent to school. The poorer the circumstances of the family in remote villages the more likely it was that children were required to shepherd animals and assist in food production.

This emphasis on survival was carried with the migrant family so that if times were hard in their new country, school was of secondary importance. Ljube Pavlinovich remembers missing every second day of school during busy times on her parents’ market garden. She also recalls her how she got to school in 1936 on her first day.

“When I first started going to Kelmscott School I was 9 and I had to walk 5 miles through the bush. On the first day dad marked trees with an axe so that I would be able to find my way home.” Ljube Pavlinovich (nee Lendich), Gosnells, 8

Children assisted parents before and after school.

“Before going to school my sister Mary and I would milk the cows (two each), separate the milk, then walk three and a half miles to school and think nothing of it.” Remy Beus (nee Garbin), Osborne Park, 11

“When we came home from school we had something to eat then washed our dress ready for school. Dad, Annie and I went with the horse and cart to nearby market gardens and cut grass for the chooks, chopped it with an old fashioned chaff cutter, mixed it with meat meal and bran ready for the morning. In the morning we fed 1200 chooks, geese and ducks before getting ready and walking 3 miles to school. Some times our fingers were so cold that you’d cry.” Vera Rosich (nee Vladich) Balcatta, 16

Many families considered the education of their children important and made sacrifices in order to achieve this. In return children were able to assist parents with paperwork like filling in forms, business transactions and act as interpreters in all sorts of situations. At 11 years of age Dori Pervan had to take her brother Tom (pre school age) to Princess Margaret Hospital on the bus to have his tonsils out.

While children were encouraged to go to school and do well very few children stayed on at school beyond the legal requirement of attendance. George Prgomet was probably the first boy to go on to university from the school on the Woodline.

In many cases girls were denied opportunities of education in favour of boys. (It should be noted that this way of thinking also prevailed in many other nationalities). Dori Pervan always wanted to be a teacher. The superintendent and her teacher came to talk to her parents to try to change their minds about allowing her to continue her education. It was a great disappointment to her that they were unsuccessful. They thought it a waste of money to educate girls and said, “We need you at home”. Despite this she later went on to become a spokesperson for all Croatian people and made speeches on ABC radio as part of the war effort during WW2. See her story later in this chapter

Remy Beus tells a similar story.

“I won a scholarship but dad wouldn’t let me go and have an education. Only boys were allowed. Girls only left home when they married.” Remy Beus (nee Garbin), Osborne Park, 11

Cooking in the early years

Traditional dishes from the Dalmatian region have survived to the present day. They have been lovingly passed down from mother to daughter as generation succeeds generation. Dishes like Sarme, Bacala, spit roast, Krostole and Fritule (to name a few) are still cooked today.

In the first half of the twentieth century, facilities in Western Australia were primitive with no electricity, water-on-tap, and fridges. Deliveries to places like the woodline and remote areas such as the south-west and wheatbelt were infrequent. Dry goods like flour, sugar, tinned foods and pasta were readily available but vegetables and fruit were often hard to obtain or in short supply.

Wherever they were the women managed to feed their husbands and families. On the woodline they adapted to cooking in camp ovens over open fires very readily as it wasn’t unlike the hearth that they had in their homeland. To make up for the lack of fresh greens they started little vegie gardens with the Croatian cabbage and herbs usually in pots. Everything had to be portable as when the blocks were cut-out the whole camp was transported to a new site. Mostly they made good use of the dry and tinned food.

The women who were settled on land, especially market gardens, grew vegetables and fruit kept chickens and ducks for eggs and meat and cows for milk, cream, butter and cheese. They shared their produce with others.

“In those days people would help each other, Italians and Slavs alike. If one had beans they would give to the ones that didn’t and you gave what they didn’t have.” Ruza Loncar, (nee Matkovich), Balcatta, 14

Women of Note

Kath Ursich

Kath’s achievements were recognised with a Medal of the Order of Australia in the general division of the queen’s birthday honours list in 1993 (ref Stirling Times, June 29,1993, p.4), 21. Her recognition was in honour of 25 years of service to the community.

“I love people and I don’t mind what I do for them. My husband is much the same. It gives me a lot of satisfaction and a good feeling.

I was in business for many years so I met lots of people and when I finished work it wasn’t enough for me to be a housewife.” Kath Ursich (nee Bozich), 21

As a young woman she taught dressmaking at the Eastern Goldfields Technical College. Even then she had compassion for those less fortunate than herself.

Many years later, her family grown up and business commitments behind her, she wanted to put something back into the community. Her list of achievements can be dated from 1968 when husband, Larry, joined Rotary. Kath joined Inner Wheel, a service club of Rotarians’ wives at first in Kalamunda, then Mundaring where she is a past president.

Kath was a founding member of the Schizophrenia Fellowship of WA (now Mental Illness Fellowship of WA) in 1990. She became interested when her nephew was diagnosed with the illness. At that time there was no support group so family and friends of the children with Schizophrenia began meeting in each other’s homes in the 1980s to talk and seek to better their children’s lives. She later became Treasurer of the WA branch and the WA delegate on the National Board for 12months.

The North Perth Migrant Resource Centre has been a strong focus for Kath since 1980. She has been on the management committee, Vice President and Treasurer.

Many organisations have had a claim on Kath’s time over the years. The following is a brief summary of the larger contributions she has made that haven’t yet been mentioned.

Stirling Ethnic Aged Hostels Association       -on board and committee

Stirling City Council’s Multicultural Advisory Committee

Migrant Women’s Interest Committee           -founding member

Ethnic Communities Council                          -Past Vice President

Yugoslav Centre (in Stirling)                           -Treasurer

WA Yugoslav Bowling Club                           -Past President

Yugoslav Centre Steering Committee -aim: Child Care, Aged Day Care Mirrabooka Child Care Centre                  -Steering Committee

Kalamunda Muscular Dystrophy Assoc.     -member

Regularly drives people to medical appointments

Lots of other sub-committees

When she was interviewed after receiving her award she made the following comments.

“I was shocked that anyone would even consider what I had done was deserving of such an honour.

I’ve always been a giver, interested in helping people and working with people. It’s just me. I enjoy what I’m doing.”

Dori Pervan (nee Ilich)

From very humble beginnings she came to speak in public forums on behalf of the then Yugoslav people. How did this come about? Dori put it this way.

“The more I did, the more I was called upon to do.” Dori Pervan (nee Illich), Swan Valley,17

One of eight children, Dori began life in Kalgoorlie where her parents, Ivan (b.1883) and Nadola Ilich had settled after arriving from Vis in 1911 and 1912 respectively.

In 1916 a number of their very close friends left the goldfields to settle in the Swan Valley and become vignerons. In 1920 her family joined them and began the enormous task of clearing virgin land and establishing a vineyard. Dori was 5 at that time.

As the eldest girl in the family the main responsibility rested with her; she was called upon to look after the younger children as well as helping in the house and vineyard.

“I loved school; learning was a great joy to me. As we each got older there were more jobs to do in the house, taking care of the horses, feeding them and grooming them, jobs in the vineyard; it was never ending.

I had to leave school when I was 14; it almost broke my heart. I wanted to go on and become a teacher. My headmaster and the district inspector came along to see my parents to see if they would let me continue. But it was not to be. It was only many years later that I came to understand and to accept the decision my parents made; I realised how necessary I was to them. I was their mainstay in the home, I did all their business and I was their interpreter.” Dori Pervan (nee Ilich), Swan Valley,17

She did very well in education and sport, always amongst the top students and champion girl at sport. She took part in plays and concerts and in her last year of school had the leading female role in the opera they performed.

When her father bought his first car in the early 1930s it was used as a community service. She had a special license at the age of 16 so that she could take women into hospital to have their babies.

“Thank goodness all of them waited till they got to hospital to have them – what would I have done if they had come earlier?” Dori Pervan (nee Ilich), Swan Valley, 17

During her teenage years Dori took part in many cultural activities such as plays dances and functions held in the Swan Valley. She became a very active member of the Jedinstvo (Unity) Club, and became well versed in ‘organisation.’

“Even before the ‘Unity’ Hall was built was built our community had organised dances, dramas, sporting events, picnics and meetings”, Dori Pervan (nee Ilich), Swan Valley, 17

This club, which evolved from the need of lonely young men arriving from Croatia during the 1920s to gather together to talk and share their Croatian books and newspapers, was formed in the late 20s and called the Yugoslav Ethical, Cultural Reading Club. They met in a room on Dori’s father’s property. He later sold them an acre of land to begin building their new club hall.

Dori was surrounded by people who were politically and culturally aware and when she married Alec Pervan, one of the founding members of the club in 1932, she went into a home that was politically and culturally aware; it seemed inevitable that she would take an active part.

“I first met my husband, Alec, in 1927. He had come from Manjimup to stay with Mick Pervan between jobs. It was a Saturday and that evening there was a dance in the Herne Hill Hall. I was introduced to this young man who almost immediately said to me, ‘I’m going to marry you when you grow up.’ I was twelve and a half at the time but that was it for me. We were married almost five years later.” Dori Pervan (nee Ilich), Swan Valley, 17

There were no honeymoons when Dori, now 17, married; she was up on Monday morning at 5.00am getting her husband and two borders, one of which was Alec’s brother Vlade, off to work. This was the pattern of her early life as she and Alec worked hard to establish their vineyard, growing mainly currants for dried fruit. Their club activities were done in spare time after putting in a full day working on the property or at a paid job bringing in much needed money. Her life was a repeat of her parents’ early struggle to get established; a life to which Dori was no stranger.

With her knowledge of English and her aptitude for learning, which had been cut short by the needs of her family, she was now able to put all her energy into helping her husband and brother-in-law with their club activities. At 26 years of age she was asked to address her first public meeting.

“I had given a number of talks in our club (I was of course bi-lingual) and so in 1941 I was called upon to be the spokesperson for the Yugoslav Immigrants Association in WA as the menfolk were not fluent enough in the English language to do so.

My first public meeting was in the Assembly Hall in Perth in 1941 organised by Edward Bilby, leader of the Anti Facist League in WA. I can to this day remember standing on that stage with a sea of faces looking up at me. I was petrified but my talk was well prepared and it went off very well.

From then on it was one talk after another. Some of the names of well known people who I remember sharing the platform with were Katharine Susannah Pritchard, Irene Greenwood, Bill Bibee, Dr Alec Jolly, Kim Beasley (Snr), Bill and Dorothy Irwin and Sir Charles Latham. There were, of course, many others.

In 1943 I went to Sydney as the WA delegate to the All-Slav Congress. There I had the privilege of meeting Mrs Jessie Street who, during the war, was the Australian leader of Russian Medical Aid. This organisation was headed in London by none other than Clementine Churchill (wife of Winston Churchill).” Dori Pervan (nee Ilich), Swan Valley, 17

This led her on to do radio broadcasts between 1943 and 1945 commencing on Bill Bibee’s radio session “The Anti Facist League” every week on a Thursday at 1pm and repeated at 6pm. Within a short space of time the Yugoslav Immigrants Association were given a regular session on 6KY every Thursday at 6pm. On special occasions, such as Yugoslav National Day, they were given time on the ABC.

The main aim of the broadcasts was summed up by her son Ralph in the preface of his book “Tito and the Students”.

“Some of my earliest memories are of fund-raising concerts, plays, etc in various centres where Yugoslav migrants were concentrated and of my mother speaking at public meetings and on the radio lauding the valiant struggle of Yugoslav Partizans against Hitler and his henchmen. A struggle for national independence but also, as they saw it, a struggle for the establishment of a society which would give its peoples opportunity, hope and freedom.” Ralph Pervan SOURCE, 22

Gathering the material for these broadcasts was difficult. She was assisted by the Yugoslav Immigrants Association in Sydney and her husband Alec. They had a powerful radio set which could tune in to direct broadcasts from London, Moscow and sometimes free Yugoslavia.

“Alec would sit up at night, often all night long. London was especially important to us for these broadcasts as we had there Ivan Sudich, a representative of the Yugoslav government, and Eric Cook who was well known in Australia for his journalistic prowess. News from Cook was with great respect by the Australian media and therefore by the people also.

My husband was a tower of strength to me as he not only helped me with material for my broadcasts and other talks -helped collect it, helped write it- but also when I was away from home, which was quite often, he kept the homefires burning, took care of the two children and also the vineyard.” Dori Pervan (nee Ilich), Swan Valley, 17

In 1944 she spoke to the students at the University of WA about the struggle of the Yugoslav people. This was quite an achievement when you consider that she left school at 14 to help her family in their vineyard, then married young and helped her husband establish their own vineyard and was now only 29years old.

In addition she was called upon to speak to the University Women’s Club and on International Women’s Days became the speaker representing Yugoslav Women.