The West Australian, Thursday, July 08, 2010; Section: Classifieds, Page: 52


Joe Antunovich was proud of both his Australian birthright and Croatian ancestry and helped document the roles played by men and women from the picturesque Adriatic country in the social landscape of WA.

By then his transformation from public servant to liquor store owner had reaped rewards that his forebears might only have imagined when they first set out from the former Yugoslavia nearly a century ago.

Joe’s father, Ivan, was 16 in 1911 when he left Drvenik on the Dalmatian coast and joined other migrants seeking opportunity in a new country whose constitution had come into force just 10 years earlier.

Ivan’s hopes were set back with the outbreak of World War I when he was classified as alien and interned on Rottnest Island. His fate was similar to many others of like background. Rottnest detainees became construction workers — the holiday isle honours their effort with a commemorative plaque.

Joe’s mother, Milica Glavina, was from Makarska, often described as the jewel among Dalmatian coastal towns. She had married in Yugoslavia and given birth to a daughter with Down syndrome. When prematurely widowed, she corresponded with Ivan in Australia before migrating here to marry him.

It was not a straightforward matter. The Commonwealth government refused to accept her daughter but such was the attraction of Australia that Milica, after much soul-searching, left the child in care in Yugoslavia.

Once here, the couple were married and settled in Kalgoorlie — bleak surrounds for those who had known the Dalmatian coast — where Ivan worked as a miner.

Ivan had a high intellect and became multilingual, acting as a mentor and interpreter for many Croatians. When riots ripped through Kalgoorlie in 1934, he was appointed to a committee to liaise with the State government over compensation for affected miners.

In 1937, Milica gave birth to a daughter, Anne. By 1939, the family had relocated to Fremantle where Joseph Stephen Antunovich was born on September 7, 1941.

During the difficult war years, immigrants were treated with suspicion but Joe’s childhood was safe and carefree. He recalled staying with friends in the Swan Valley when the port city was vulnerable to attack and its schools were closed.

Milica was widowed in 1952 and had two children and a miners’ pension of £3-a-week. Joe remembered her housing boarders. She bought live chickens which she killed, plucked, boiled and prepared in traditional European style and, in her senior years, she marvelled at ordering instant roast chicken from fast-food outlets.

Joe excelled at football, athletics and cricket at Fremantle CBC and left at 14 to hold down several jobs while attending night school to gain his high school certificate. The experience steeled his resolve to succeed in business.

Never jobless in the economically tough 1960s, he became a Commonwealth public servant in social security and rose through the ranks to be a field officer. He was fluent in Croatian and helped many Croat migrants while honing a social conscience.

His life changed during a European trip in the 1970s, when he worked in a London liquor store. On his return in 1973, Joe was determined to open and own a liquor store in Perth.

But first he married schoolteacher Jeanie Moss, having met her in Carnarvon years earlier. They settled in Palmyra, where Joe perfected his project and opened Carrington Liquor Store in 1977. He developed a comprehensive knowledge of wine and stocked a vast range. The store became one of Perth’s most successful independent liquor outlets.

With more time on his hands, he indulged an interest in fishing and the South Fremantle Football Club and, latterly, the Fremantle Dockers. Importantly, he travelled extensively to Croatia, revelling in the culture and lifestyle. When he returned, his friends and visitors enjoyed traditional Croatian food and music.

The WA Croatian History Group was formed in the 1990s to chronicle the impact and influence of Croatian people in WA. Joe preserved their stories in hours of interviews as far away as Kalgoorlie and Carnarvon.

Joe and his wife sold the liquor store in 2005. Shortly after, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer but was determined to enjoy retirement. Last year, he bought a liquor store in Balcatta for a son.

Joe Antunovich died in Murdoch Hospice on May 17. He was 68. He leaves his wife and sons, John and Michael.

Torrance Mendez

with Jeanie Antunovich