Joseph Slavko Marian (1911-1979)
JOSEPH SLAVKO MARIAN: an Autobiography
My parents came to Australia from the Adriatic Island of Hvar in Dalmatia, a part of Croatia, now in the Federative People’s Republic of Yugoslavia, and which was formerly in the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy until 1 December 1918, when the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes was created, subsequently to be renamed the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.
My father Anthony Marian (born in 1875) first arrived in Western Australia in 1900 and recently died aged 94. My mother Milka nee Franetovich (born in 1885) first arrived in Australia in 1909 and recently died aged 87. My parents married in 1909 at Fremantle and had five children, the eldest was my sister Millsie (born in 1910) (died aged 18) and three younger brothers of mine, born in 1912, 1913 and 1917 respectively, all of whom now live with their families in Perth.
My father came to Australia after having served four years’ compulsory service in the Austro-Hungarian Navy as a sailor. At Fremantle he joined his bachelor uncle Joseph Marian (born at Hvar in 1839 and died at Armadale, WA in 1914). Like my parents, uncle Joseph came from a vigneron-fisherman-sailor type of family and prior to coming to Australia he worked as a sailor in the Mediterranean. He worked for a while on the Suez Canal and when the works were completed in 1869 he came to Geelong in Victoria where he became a fisherman.
In 1890 when gold was discovered in Western Australia Joseph Marian came to Fremantle bringing with him his fishing boat (which is still being used in crayfishing). He is considered to be the first commercial fisherman in Western Australia subsequently to be joined by two Italian fishermen and Bill “the German”. Uncle Joseph never set his foot on the goldfields always maintaining that the gold is to be found in the sea. The gold rush days were the days of sailing ships with no refrigeration and long voyages. He used to say that one cabbage was fifteen shillings and one egg cost a sovereign. This twenty shilling’s gold coin (then the price of a suit of clothes) was spent not so much for the nutritional value of the egg but to show (mostly by the remnants thereof on one’s moustache) as to who could afford an egg. One could imagine that the price of fresh fish was in the similar range.
After having fished with his uncle for a short while, my father decided to start a vineyard. With the capital provided by Uncle Joe and with the land grant from the State Government, the above two hundred and fifty-acre vineyard was established.
This “Slavonian Vineyard” soon became a nerve centre of all migrants from all parts of Yugoslavia mostly from Dalmatia, then Montenegro, Istria, Bosnia and Slovenia. Until the end of the Great War apart from two other families ours was the only family of Yugoslav origin permanently living in the close proximity of Perth and Fremantle. In those days practically all Yugoslavs worked in the mines and in cutting sleepers. Most of them used to come to Armadale for their holidays or on business. There was always ample accommodation available and the vegetables, poultry and eggs were in abundance on the property as was the milk and meat, not to mention fresh fish as my father had an interest in a number of fishing boats. Of course, there was plenty of good wine to go with excellent food and first class cooking.
I am grateful to my parents for insisting that all guests should speak Yugoslav so that their children could learn the language properly. I was fortunate to learn a number of dialects, customs, peculiarities, cooking, songs, music, tradition, character, religious, tolerance and hatred, a sense of belonging, to have fun to enjoy life, to respect people and to be respected by others.
During the Great War my father was one of the leaders and organisers of the Yugoslav movement in Australia. “Slavonian Vineyard” was the headquarters of the Yugoslav Committee (head office in London) which strived for the unity of all Southern Slavs in a single state on the basis of equality. A number of Yugoslavs were recruited and trained in Australia by the Australian Army to join the Yugoslav Legion (comprised of Yugoslavs from all parts of the world) which fought under the British Command on the Salonica front for the liberation of Serbia and the unity of all Yugoslavs from Trieste to Salonica.
This was the atmosphere in which I was brought up as a child. I was very close to my father (whom I respected) who was always ready to answer any question put to him. He treated me not as a child but as a grown up person. As a young teenager I assisted him with the correspondence and the accounts and he soon entrusted me with the running of his wine business under his supervision. With the experience both in Australia and subsequently in Yugoslavia I was considered a wine making expert and a connoisseur of wines.
In the middle of 1920 after having disposed of his vineyard pre-party and wine business at Armadale my father decided to settle with his family in Yugoslavia. On the way to his homeland we stopped several months in London, then Paris and after travelling through most countries of Central Europe my father (then considered a wealthy person) returned to his native place on the island of Hvar, where practically every person became a relative and friend with outstretched hand seeking some assistance. The island was then under the Italian occupation and the food supplies were meagre. There was no flour so my father decided to go and get it where it was plentiful so that his family would not starve. This is where I met poverty and starvation the first time. I went to many homes and shared whatever meals people had. There I learnt that there is a lot of food in the fields and bushes, there are birds in the sky and fish in the sea. You have to adapt yourself to the circumstances and you soon learn and keep on enjoying life with a smile and a song (whether happy or sad) accompanied by the music of the sea, of the whirling winds from the overlooking mountains. One can never forget the sight of numerous fishing boats carrying lights at night attracting millions of sardines; I cannot imagine any artist describing the moving silvery colour of the masses of fish caught in the nets of hard working fishermen; it is even more difficult to paint such a scene. Yes, there was plenty of fish, but no bread.
With a gang of men my father went to the rich Danube plains and purchased twenty tons of flour and had to escort same by sleeping in the wagons armed with rifles to protect the flour from the bandits along the mountainous Bosnian part of the railway line. From a port on the Dalmatian coast the cargo had to be smuggled onto the island, because flour was considered by the Italian occupation forces as a prohibited import. The fishing boats managed to smuggle the bags into a secluded bay, where the cargo was quickly loaded onto the waiting mules and carried through the night into hiding places in the village. The fishing boats went on fishing; the fishermen returned to their homes with fresh fish enjoying from the distance the marvellous smell of the freshly baked bread. That day every house enjoyed a decent meal and everybody joined in a happy song blessed with special wine out of dusty bottles covered with a spider-web.
The flour lasted only a few days so my father moved his family to a place named Vinkovci, a centre of a wealthy district between river Danube and river Sava (border between Bosnia and Slavonia). I will never forget the cold winds with extremely low temperatures during long winter months. Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed my experiences in this paradise on earth as far as food goes.
On account of my mother’s health we moved within two years to Šibenik on the Adriatic Coast and after four years finally settled in Zagreb, the capital of Croatia and the cultural centre of Yugoslavia.
I attended the primary school at Armadale, and a few months at Fremantle prior to leaving for overseas. I continued in Yugoslavia and then went through eight years of classical gymnasium and finally finished with the degree of Doctor of Law (LLD) at the Zagreb University.
At the classical gymnasium Latin was an obligatory subject every day of the week and after the third year Greek was taught three times a week.
There was the Geography and History, Logic and Psychology, Mathematics and Physics, Botany and some Chemistry. We learnt some Italian, German and French. And, of course, Religion, was an important subject. I did not agree with the method of teaching of a very clever Roman Catholic priest and when certain Church functions at very early hours of Sunday morning were made compulsory, I rebelled and got my father to change my religion from R.C. to the Old Catholic Church, which was more modern in every respect (it allowed priests to get married, permitted divorces, etc.). This was my first open rebellion; and I was then only fifteen years of age. There were many more to come.
I was a staunch fighter for ideas I believed in; at the same time, I was a cautious tactician; a patient listener and believer in convincing people by persuasion and logic and not by force. I learnt a lot from the game of chess.
I was a very good student and participated in all student activities. Although I never missed going to school a single day, I was about to be expelled on several occasions on account of my “behaviour”: openly expressed vies on “dangerous” political matters. My liberal thinking and progressive as well as democratic ideas were not compatible with views of the organs of the police state and subsequently of the dictatorship. However, I survived without being exposed to many brutalities my colleagues had to suffer; I was a British subject with a British passport (in those days it meant immunity). My parents’ home became a haven and a meeting place of young student leaders of all political parties and groups which opposed the political system. I knew of important decision before they were made, and was instrumental in influencing the final decisions and carrying out some of them into effect.
As a student I was actively engaged in many sports, particularly in athletics and boxing. When on account of the infection of the tip of right lung I had to curtail all my sporting activities. I concentrated my energy on the administration and organisation of sport, particularly athletics; at the age of eighteen I became the secretary on the Yugoslav Athletic Federation and remained in that office until I returned to Australia ten years later.
As the manager of the athletic team I travelled quite a lot outside Yugoslavia to various athletic meetings, the biggest being the annual Balkan Games, which were held every year in a different country of the participating Balkan states. I was involved in organising two of these miniature Olympics, one at Zagreb and the other one at Belgrade, on each occasion the spectators reached the one hundred thousand mark.
As the representative of the Yugoslav Athletic Federation I was expected to and I did deliver speeches at banquets held in foreign countries. As of necessity I learnt to be diplomatic on such occasions; use many choice words (with the smile, of course), never make a statement which is expected of you, never forget to mention brotherhood of nations, never get dragged into glorifying any of the dictators (you dare not run them down), if you have to refer to the country speak about friendliness of the people and the beauty of their women; shake hands or, if necessary, embrace the other fellow and sit down – still smiling. The following morning you will undoubtedly read different versions of the same story at the same time praising the speaker for his frankness and sincerity.
I mentioned women. Yes, I have always been for women’s equality, but not their superiority. I oppose servility to the “weaker” sex, but I agree that a man should be a cavalier.
I like travelling. Except Portugal and USSR I have been to every other country in Europe. I travelled extensively throughout all parts of Yugoslavia, mostly walking, and have accepted hospitality of numerous homes. I could not see a difference in a wealthy or a poor home. The man is all important; whether you are received or you receive with any open heart or not.
The world depression caused the loss of my father’s wealth. The moratorium did the rest; one of my brothers and I had to go to work to keep the home fires burning. With our knowledge of the English language we were lucky to get good jobs; my brother with Vacuum Oil Co. and I started as a clerk with the Yugoslav Lloyd, the largest Yugoslav shipping company with its head office at Zagreb. I commenced to work before I knew of my results of the final examination at the Gymnasium.
By arrangement with my employer I managed to attend most of the law classes at the nearby university, but I had to work in the evening and at week-ends. I soon became a manager in charge of the personnel, which meant in charge of thousands of men engaged and waiting to be engaged on the ships of the company’s fleet consisting of thirty four cargo ship engaged throughout the world, two passenger ships, one of them being a luxury Mediterranean cruiser during summer months. I also became the head of the correspondence with the captain’s section. I learnt everything I could about the law dealing with shipping and wrote several articles dealing with the subject and in particular with the maritime law of the Adriatic.
Notwithstanding that I had to work eighty hours every week in the office, I managed to pass all my exams at the law faculty in the normal time: four and a half years.
On my return to Fremantle in February 1940 I decided to practise law, which I could not do in Yugoslavia, because I was a British subject. I became articled to Mr Roy Nevile (who died as Mr Justice Nevile) and after completing my term of five years with Mr Keith Olney. I was admitted to the bar on the 23 December 1947. In 1940 I became enrolled as a law student at the University of Western Australia, having been given credit for certain subjects I had passed at the Zagreb University.
In 1942 I joined the Army (WX25522) and served with the 3rd Field Regiment (Artlilery) which was attached to the Armoured Division. As it was anticipated that our division would land at Java. I was one of selected few to study Malay, but the Americans decided otherwise. Hiroshima ended the war in this part of the world. I volunteered and was accepted to go to Italy and then to Yugoslavia (which country I knew very well and spoke the dialects) to be a liaison officer, but decision was made not to invade Europe via the Balkans.
Upon admission I began to practise on my own as a barrister and a solicitor. I was rather successful as a lawyer and acted for most Yugoslavs and then for new Australians when they commenced to settle in Australia. I handled their legal matters for nearly thirty years and became well conversant with all of their problems. And there are quite a few problems which have been neglected and which need immediate attention. After all, nearly every tenth person in Australia is a newcomer.
I have been connected with many industries in Western Australia through my clients. My biggest contribution was to the fishing industry, particularly crayfishing.