ZILKO, Mortimer


Mort Zilko was born in Boulder, WA on 26 April 1918. He was he youngest of three sons born to Maria (nee Kuzmanich) and Peter Paul Zilko.

The father Petar and Maria had come from the Vis. Petar arrived in 1905. Vis was part of the Austrian Hungarian Empire, so they were listed as Austrians. Not till after 1918, when Yugoslavia was formed, did they receive their true title – Croatian. They had left their homeland to start a new life on the goldfields in Kalgoorlie-Boulder. The boys were Andy (born in 1912), Mick born in 1914 and Mort, born in 1918.

Mort’s father was a prospector at first and then worked for 13 years underground at the Chaffers Mine, Boulder. He contracted tuberculosis and decided to give up mining.. The family migrated to the Swan Valley in 1920 – to Herne Hill, to work with grapes, which he knew well, from Vis. The father was 40 years of age, and Mort was two,.

The father hewed out his vineyard from the bush along the Great Northern Highway – it was tough going – clearing, planting (no crops for several years) so Father worked where he could get work eg., at the brickworks at Middle Swan.

The boys started school at the Herne Hill State School. The eldest boy, Andy, was vey clever – he became the spokesperson for his Croatian parents – particularly with traders, the banks etc. But tragedy in 1925 when Andy became stricken with pneumonia and died at the Children’s Hospital, Perth, aged 12. This was a tragic blow for the family, Mick was 10 and Mort was 6.

After primary school Mick went to the Christian Brothers School in Adelaide Terrace for a few years and returned to the vineyard to help his parents. After primary school, Mort went into Midland for Junior or was it Sub Junior? He sat for a Scholarship for Perth Modern School in 1932. He gained the Scholarship and proceeded to Modern School in 1933. During this time, when Mort was aged about 15, his father said to his son “What do you want to do with your life, Mort”? Mort answered “ I’d like to be a doctor, Dad”  His father’s response (in the Swan Valley) was “Well, If you’ve got the brains, I’ve got the money”. (the farm was prospering). Father hesitated for a moment, then said “I’m glad you want to be a doctor, son, because the doctor is a person looked up to in the community, and what’s more he’s the healer”.

These were profound words from a man who did not have any formal education. Mort lived up to those ideals – he was an excellent G.P., highly regarded in the community Narrogin (1948 – 1972) and he was a great healer – witness to this were the many, many letters from patients (after his death in 1994) telling of the medical facts he had accomplished.

After completing his M.B.B.S. degree at Melbourne Uni, (1st year done U.W.A. Perth),  he married on 18/9/41. He did his residency and registrarship at R.P.H. and immediately joined the RAAF in 1943. He earned his Wings in Geraldton in 1944. He was posted overseas and served in Borneo, Tarakan and Morokai in the Philippines. He was demobilised in 1946.

Mort opened a general practice in Geraldton for 2 years plus, before moving to Narrogin for 25 years, then Perth from 1972 – 1992 when he retired due to ill health (he was 74 years of age then). He died on 26.11.1994.

During the Narrogin years (’48 – ’72) he was a member of the Council, for 19 years, and Mayor for 3 ½  terms. He secured a Certificate of Appreciation from the Minister to Local Government, Mr L.A. Logan on 2/9/1969 for his “Service to the State and its people as:

Councillor, Municipality of Narrogin 1949 – 1956

Deputy Mayor, Municipality of Narrogin 1956 – 1961

Deputy Mayor of Narrogin 1964 – 1969

According to Dr. Val Pervan (PhD.), Mort was the first University graduate from among the Croatians in the Swan Valley.

Mort and his wife had six children who all received tertiary graduation in: Nursing, Medicine, Teaching, Law, Teaching and Library Studies, and Journalism.