Michael Zekulich, OAM
With research assistants Leonore Sikirich and Julia Leahy.
For centuries, the men and women of Croatia, along with their children, tilled the soils of their village land and tended their vines to grow grapes and make wine.
When they immigrated to Western Australia, many decided to focus on these skills in their new homeland with such success that they earned the great respect of all for their ability to make the land produce.
The year was 1897. A small fishing boat left Melbourne, bound on a rigorous and dangerous journey — across the Great Australian Bight to Fremantle in Western Australia.
On board were three Dalmatian men, Josip Katnić, Jerome Lussich (Jere Lušić) and Josip Marian who was destined to set up the first Croatian vineyard in his adopted State.
For his pioneering venture, he chose Armadale, about 30km from the centre of Perth, the State capital.
Josip Marian knew, as the many who followed understood, that without education, the only way to success was by the sweat of their brows and the strength of their bodies.
But they had a huge advantage that early English settlers to the Swan River Colony could only have dreamt of, generations of viticultural experience to guide them through their new environment.
Born in 1837 at Pitve on the island of Hvar, Josip Marian
who for a time was a sailor on the Mediterranean and worked on the construction of the Suez Canal, migrated to Victoria on his way to Western Australia. Initially, from an Ord Street Fremantle base, he fished the local waters bringing his nephew Anton to the State in April 1901. This was six months before the purchase of the 60ha virgin Armadale block — backed by a State Government land grant — that was to become the family vineyard.
The first wines, 4500 litres under the Slavonian label which was registered in 1902 with the telephone number of Armadale 8, were produced in 1905.
By 1912, production had increased to 36,000 litres.
A major vineyard in the area was Derrynasura established by English baronet, Sir Arthur Stepney. Derrynasura — Irish for valley of the vines – was a leading award winner for its wines and in 1913 was producing 15 per cent of WA’s production.
At that time, land in the region was described in the Cyclopaedia of Western Australia as “rich sandy loam mixed with ironstone gravel– being admirably adapted to the cultivation of wine grapes of different varieties.”
Slavonian leading hand and chief cellarman Zdravko Vranjican recalled of the pioneering operation: “Barrels of wine were delivered by horse and cart to the Armadale railway station and sent to various parts of the State mainly for consumption by fellow countryman such as timber workers cutting sleepers in the South West forests and those working in the Kalgoorlie Goldfields.” As well, wine was sold to visiting French ships. This required vineyard workers making trips to the nearby Wungong Creek “for water to adjust the wine to French tastes.”
Anton’s son Joseph Marian recorded that the Slavonian Vineyard became a nerve centre of migrants mainly from Dalmatia.
“There was always ample accommodation available and vegetables, poultry and eggs were in abundance on the property as was milk and meat, not to mention fresh fish as my father had an interest in a number of fishing boats.
“There was plenty of good wine to go with excellent food and first class cooking.”
Disaster struck in 1914 when Josip died and fire gutted the cellars built in 1906. However, they were re-built and extended.
During World War 1, Anton who had married Milka Franetovich in 1909 to have five children born on the property — Millie, Joseph, Milenko, Zvonko and Milos — became a leader of the Yugoslav movement in Australia. The Slavonian Vineyard was the headquarters with a head office in London “to strive for the unity of all southern Slavs in a single state on the basis of equality.”
For a time after the vineyard was sold in 1920, the new owners, Gerald (Gerry) McCarthy used interpreter Bozan Bavich to translate the many Croatian wine orders.
Meanwhile, in 1910, the Vladich family, brothers Ivan, Ante and Kris, under the most extreme conditions, planted hundreds of vines in a most unlikely location, Cowcowing in the Koorda district of the West Australian Wheatbelt.
They had taken up land dubbed the Austrian Corner by locals because this was perceived to be their nationality under the Austro-Hungarian occupation of their homeland, and set about as well, to establish a cropping operation.
Previously, Ivan had sent for his wife Tomica who arrived in the State in 1908, aged 23. Two days after disembarking at Fremantle, she caught the train to Dowerin where the “sun was still high in the sky and it was very hot” when she arrived.
According to a district history called From Afar a People Drifted compiled by Elizabeth Forbes at sundown, her husband tied a parcel of groceries on her tin trunk hoisted the lot on his shoulders and said it was time to walk to the farm, heading along Cowcowing road to the north east.
Every time Tomica asked how much further, her husband said “priko briga” just over the hill.
It was words she was to hear many times that long night.
When the sun arose the next day, they were still walking onwards, through the bush.
At last after more than 80 kilometres, they arrived at the small hessian hut at the Austrian’s Corner.
A sister in law joined her months later and both were as hard working as their husbands.
During the day, they cleared the land and at night, shared up the seed and fertiliser to be planted the next day.
But despite their earnest efforts, the vineyard did not survive the first year and later, in 1913, they abandoned the land.
John who had been interned during World War 1 with other Croatians at Rottnest Island and Liverpool in NSW, later moved to North Beach Road, Osborne Park to set up a vineyard and cellar door facility.
Called Victory Wines it became a well-known landmark on the busy road.
Sveta Maria, another suburban development, was established by Antonio Rerecich at a small Bassendean property in Ivanhoe Street, purchased in 1911.
Eight years after arriving in Melbourne in 1886, he moved to Perth, to become a fruit seller.
Between the vines he planted, he grew vegetables which he later carried on his back to the Guildford Railway Station for transport to the Perth markets.
Then, as the business improved, he purchased grapes from the nearby Swan Valley to expand his winemaking, sending his products to the Dalmatians and Italians who had found work in the Goldfields and on the Kurrawang woodlines which supplied the boilers at the mines.
Sveta Maria, the label chosen, reflected the family’s religious devotion.
Daughter Bessie Gabelich recalled having to wash bottles after school for their wines.
After Antonio’s death in 1927, the property was sold and the family moved to Perth though a vineyard for son Peter was purchased in Toodyay road Middle Swan.
THE SWAN VALLEY
In March 1916, the first Croatians settled on the fertile valley of the Swan River near Perth to help make it the heart of Western Australian viticulture. They included Ante Beus with his wife Antica from Boulder and Ivan Nizich, having previously bought land in Millendon. At the same time Ivan Kukura with his wife Perica also arrived from Kalgoorlie to take up an adjoining block, to run with his brother Paul.
These pioneers brought with them their customs and cultures to add a new dimension to the vineyard platform established by the early English settlers who, in a strange new land and in a strange new industry, had toiled the river slopes amid great difficulties, to produce the first grapes and make wine.
In his book On the Swan, Michael Bourke said the new subdivisions (the big estates having been cut up to provide for immigrants and soldier settlers) and the vineyards planted on them radically altered the landscape of the Valley which had previously consisted mainly of pastures studded with large trees and fields of oats, hay and wheat crops interspersed with extensive areas of uncleared virgin forest. There were few fences or side roads. The Valley became an intensive developed region, open in character, since most of the trees were cut down except along the riverbanks and some of the road verges. Small mud brick or weatherboard homesteads were sprinkled among the vineyards, he noted.
The times however, were just as tough and testing for the new (mainly) Dalmatian hopefuls for they had little or no command of English, faced an enormous struggle with heavy debt burdens and worried about their place in the sun in the foreign and at times, hostile fledgling State.
They knew the land they had longed for to ensure their security and self-sufficiency, was only as good as the maintenance of their mortgages.
Ante Beus for example, would walk as far as Belmont — a round trip of about 40km — to prune vines to earn crucial cash while developing his property.
In winter, to protect his feet while working among the vines, he would stand in kerosene tins because there were no gumboots available.
Naida Vidavich (Kukura) said her father Ivan at one stage walked from Millendon to Guildford to work, a daily trip of about 30km. He would leave home when it was dark and return at dark. As there was no electricity at that time he would carry a kerosene lamp to see his sleeping children, on his return.
Naida was just three when the family moved to the Swan in 1916 to make their bare paddock of 4.5 hectare produce.
The Vidovich brothers, Ivan and Paul who worked the land in partnership, lived in a small four-roomed timber house, a passage separating the families who had bedrooms on either side and their own kitchen where children also slept.
Mrs Vidovich recalled the brothers would not have left their native island of Vis for the unknown distant world of migration had prospects at home been reasonable. “The Croatian custom of splitting up limited land among big families, meant some had to go,” Mrs Vidovich said.
On the Swan, they dug wells for water, grew vegetables and some had pigs and cows.
All had fowls for meat and eggs, a challenge for children who were also a vital source of labour, to collect as the birds called chooks by all, roamed freely. (Losses to foxes however, saw them eventually penned).
The primitive homes had no floor coverings while women boiled clothes in coppers, used boards of wood and glass to hand wash clothes and would starch their linen and do the ironing.
Some carried kerosene tins of water from wells for washing or other domestic needs.
Women also developed skills like sowing and knitting to provide clothes for their families.
Mary Viskovich recalled the family irons being vigorously swung around outside to remove the ashes from the heating fire.
Croatian settlement on the Swan saw women and children working among the vines for the first time, as families sought to make their vines flourish.
As well, they introduced new dimensions in the appreciation of food and wine.
Garlic for example and their own red wine at meal times was as much a part of the Dalmatian table as knives and forks or bread and butter.
Keeping food was a serious problem. Before refrigerators were available or indeed, could be afforded, families used the great Australian Coolgardie safe to try and keep their perishables cool.
Its effectiveness was based on a metal tray on top of an upright container that was continually topped with water to keep the bagged wall surrounds moist so that any breeze provided cooling.
This was also a time when butchers delivered meat in a cart, slicing off whatever customers wanted. For the Dalmatian families, boiled meat was common fare for soups and stews prepared on kitchen ovens. Like the coppers, these were wood-fired, requiring consistent chopping and gathering of supplies, a regular task from the family woodheap especially for growing sons.
The woodheap was also the location for the rooster destined for the dinner table. For there it would be thrust, after a swift blow with an axe had severed its head, until the spurting blood had stopped.
Then it would be put in a container of very hot water so that the feathers could be easily plucked.
Later, other tradesmen delivered bread and milk to the burgeoning number of vineyard homes.
In the Baskerville and Millendon areas, a Mr Adams would ride his motorbike around the district, ladling out milk from a stainless steel tank in his sidecar into billycans left in boxes at the gate.
Like other suppliers, the dairyman often had to wait for payment, at times until grapes and wine were sold, such was the cash- strapped community.
Old Road Board records noted: “the rates would be paid as soon as the currants were sold.”
The financial position could be so frustrating for the struggling settlers that in some years, a crop would be harvested before the last one had been paid.
Early social life so keenly appreciated and looked forward to as a relief to the daily burdens, was initially mainly based on district visiting of families and friends, the gatherings making their own fun.
For example, Mrs Vidovich’s father could play the accordion, so they would often be involved in dancing and singing.
The kitchen of the three-roomed weatherboard Viskovich house across Great Northern Highway from the Vidovichs was big enough to dance in. Later entertainment was at community halls.
BOULDER AND BEYOND
Stipe Bauk Mary Viskovich’s grandfather who was born in Brac arrived in Western Australia on March 12 1902, his wife Maria following in 1910 with a nine year old.
Three daughters were left behind with relatives on the island of Vis, till the family could become established.
Initially, they lived in Boulder, in a house of white washed hessian lined with wallpaper, just like everyone else, before moving to the Swan.
Ivan Yurisich also moved to the Valley from the Goldfields, having purchased the historic four-hectare Olive Farm property at South Guildford, extending from Great Eastern Highway to the Swan River, to grow grapes and make wine.
He had arrival at Fremantle on 26 December 1912 at the age of eighteen with just five shillings in his pocket — and had to find his own way to Kalgoorlie. Previously he had been in New Zealand with his brother, digging for gum.
By the end of the 1920s and now established at Boulder, Ivan would buy two tonnes of grapes a year from the Swan Valley and had the fruit railed in boxes to the Goldfields.
There at his ‘winery’, he would use a mangle to make wine for himself and a few of the boarders he housed. At first he would press the grapes down so that they would catch in the mangle. Then he put chicken wire around the rollers to catch the fruit, and later grooves so that they would mesh.
The resulting wines were very high in alcohol, about twice the dry red table wine levels of today, because sugar was added to the must before fermentation. The wine was consumed with water and there were never any problems with storage, for it was all drunk before the next vintage.
His Olive Farm property was initially taken up by British Botanist Thomas Waters, who arrived in 1829 three months after the first settlers to the Swan River Colony bringing cuttings and rooted vines packed in barrels of soil from South Africa for the property.
Waters had gathered stock at the historic Constantia vineyard near Cape Town, whose wines Napoleon Bonaparte had lauded. When he was imprisoned by the British on the island of St Helena, one of the privileges given was that he should be able to eat and drink in the style to which he had been accustomed as Emperor. He chose for his prison table champagne and claret from France along with wine from Constantia.
As well as the grapevines, olive trees were established along the old Guildford road (now the Great Eastern Highway), giving the property its name.
The cellar is thought to have been dug by Waters (or under his supervision) in the early 1830s. He was later to sell wine for two shillings a gallon, also using the produce to barter for stores, boots and newspapers with Guildford storekeeper Abraham Jones in the 1840s.
But by 1933, when Ivan Yurisich took over, the cellar was in a state of collapse and neglected vines were overrun by couch grass and scrub. The property was used to graze racehorses and trotters, and only a few fruit trees remained. Immediately he set about replanting the vineyard to produce dried fruit, table grapes and wine, generating early income by buying in grapes for winemaking, and purchasing a truck to cart logs.
Ivan Yurisich’s son Vince and then grandson Ian continued with Olive Farm, developing a popular hospitality facility on the banks of the river.
Later winemaking and cellar door facilities were moved to another location on Great Northern Highway in the Swan Valley where wine and cheese tasting are held.
By the time Ivan Yurisich had begun rehabilitation of the property, Croatian plantings in the Swan had become much more extensive.
With fruit purchased from other growers to supplement his own 4.5 hectare vineyard, Ante Beus was producing 50,000 litres of mainly dry red table wines a year a decade earlier.
But disaster struck in 1925 when his cellar burnt, including the barrels full of wine. Work began immediately on a new and bigger facility, using horses to scoop out an area of 15.5 metres by nine metres by four metres deep.
But fate was to take a hand again in winter the following year when the cellar was flooded, as a big drain behind the structure linked to the nearby Swan River broke its banks following three weeks of continuous rain.
“It was about 10 p.m. when the floodwaters pushed down a new concrete wall with the barrels floating to hit the wooden ceiling,” Joe Zekulich who was working at the vineyard at the time, said.
“Surprisingly, not a drop of wine was spilt. The barrels turned upside down but the bungs stayed in place. Some were big, of 2250 litres. The next day we rolled them out across the mud and into the stables.” Later the floodwaters were pumped out and the wall rebuilt, reinforced this time with sections of railway line.
For years, Ante Beus was in partnership in wine production with Mate Rakich who also partnered his brother Ivan trading under the name Rakich OK Wines on Great Northern Highway.
GIANT FIG TREES
Two giant fig trees fronting the property, purchased by the brothers in 1922, were district landmarks.
While Ivan worked in the Goldfields raising capital, Mate planted up the five hectare block. Ivan, with wife Ruza, settled on the land in 1926 with their first child Julie born in the same year.
For years, they lived in an old tin shed above an underground cellar, hub of their winemaking activities and focus of their lives.
They slept in one room and with numerous local friends, enjoyed music and dancing on a raised wooden platform next to the kitchen where many a card game was played. Another social attraction was keenly contested games of buce (wooden bowls).
In 1933, in the yard behind the big fig trees, they built a large gracious brick and tile home with surrounding verandah, where the youngest of six siblings, Len was born.
Mate, who was a bachelor, remained in partnership with his brother until his death in 1935.
According to daughter Julie once a year, the children were taken to the Boans department store in Perth to buy their winter clothes and shoes.
“I remember one time when my father spent 22 pounds and came home with 22 pence in his pocket,” she said.
Earlier, in 1922, they purchased fruit from other Valley growers selling their wines in various parts of the State. Later they sold to leading hotels in Perth and Fremantle.
During World War 11, a publican supplying American servicemen told them: “It does not matter how it tastes, as long as it looks like wine.”
English visitors to the property took numerous photographs of grapes being packed in cork for export to the UK market.
It was at the Beus cellar that Joe Zekulich saw his first crusher.
In Dalmatia, bare feet did the job but it was hard and uncomfortable work as the stalks scratched the tender skin of young legs and feet. As well, weather would get colder later in the season and at night, which made conditions even more uncomfortable.
Another memorable difference was the topography of the relatively flat Swan Valley compared with Dalmatia where vines grew on some extremely hilly country and among rocks.
Often, the soil could not be ploughed so that cultivation had to be completed by hand.
In some places it was too hard even for a donkey yet the irony was that such areas often produced the best wines.
The flat country was used for broad acre crops especially grain while vines it was reasoned could be planted anywhere.
In Western Australia, this was a time of dirt roads and in the Swan Valley, bush on either side of Great Northern Highway where the boughs of big trees on either side touched, when horse and cart provided much of the transport and where children for many years, had no shoes to wear on their often long walks to school regardless of bitterly cold and wet winter days.
Many could not speak English when they started at the age of six, adding to early education problems.
Said Naida Vidovich: “We were ashamed we were Slavs so changed our (first) names to make them acceptable.
“We were often referred to as dagoes because we ate spaghetti and used olive oil.
“The men were resolute, capable of doing so much. They had to. They could not afford to pay others to do it.”
But they made enormous sacrifices to ensure their children’s’ education realising its great value for they often had very little themselves.
By this time, people like Antica Beus and the Viskovichs were providing boarding accommodation, usually temporary stays for men who had just arrived and were heading elsewhere for work or were visiting Perth from remote areas.
Mary Viskovich’s father Marko Perich for example, would meet ships in Fremantle to greet family or friends or to see if there was anyone from his area, bringing them home to help give them a start.
Some would help out among the vines, labour instead of the very limited funds.
At West Swan in the 1930s, George Pasalich would ride a bicycle to the railway station at Midland, a distance of about 20 kilometres, balancing a five gallon keg on the handlebars, to send to customers in the Goldfields.
The family operated a nine hectare property purchased in 1933, retaining the Welsh name Glenalwyn.
Mr Pasalich of Tucep, had left the family property in Dalmatia after phylloxera destroyed the vineyard, migrating to Australia in 1926.
Son Len continued with the property for some years after his father’s death.
The Pasalich production also included fresh table grapes but the reputation was built on fortified wines and full bodied reds.
Among the unusual styles was its Moonlight cocktail that included a dash of prune and cherry essence into a ruby port. It was especially popular with American servicemen during World War 11 and a Kalgoorlie couple who had a standing order for ten gallons a month.
The Turkich family also settled at West Swan, a short distance up river from the Pasalichs.
Like others, Joe Turkich had come to Western Australia first, followed three years later in 1929, by his wife Ruza, son Matt and daughter May.
Their other three boys, Jack, Norm and Ron were all born in Western Australia.
Joze (Joe) Tolj Turkich, the latter adapted as the calling name because of the number of Toljs from their village of Stilje, arrived in the State in 1926.
With a deposit of fifty pounds, he purchased 4.5 hectares in Swan Street and adopted the label, Gnangara Wines. For more than a decade, the family lived in a corrugated iron dwelling with a dirt floor, the rooms separated by hessian bags coated in a lime and water mixture until a modern home was built during World War 11.
But Joe Turkich often moved beyond the farm gate, developing a handy trade in horses and helping many out as an amateur veterinarian, inspecting the big grinding teeth of the Clydesdales for signs of well-being.
Often that involved filing the teeth so that the animals could chew properly without dropping much of their feed, to lose condition and not be able to work as they should.
He also realised that being able to successfully sell the wine he made was just as important as its making.
So he purchased wine saloons in strategic locations such as Fremantle and West Perth, bold innovative moves at the time.
As well, two-three times a week, their truck could be found around the city and suburbs, delivering flagons, bottles and barrels of wine, in big quantities.
On different occasions, I travelled with two of the boys, Norm and Ron meeting mainly Dalmatians on the way. Many were well known to my own family for they had come from similar areas and were in constant touch at picnics and dances as well as at a continuous rounds of weddings with many marriages among the first generation of migrants.
Weddings were great social occasions with families keen to invite as many as possible to attend, so as not to offend.
Matt Turkich eventually developed his own vineyard at West Swan backing on to the old family property.
He did not make wine but focussed instead on fresh table grapes for export and the West Australian market as well as fruit for drying.
But while still working for the family, one of his more unusual tasks involved picking grapes from a boat.
For his father’s vineyard included high trellis vines on Swan River flats, not far from their home.
There they mainly grew Ohanez, a long living white table grape that did especially well in Singapore and other Asian markets.
At times of severe flooding when harvesting of the late maturing variety was still under way, floodwaters would rise to leave only the top growth of the vines exposed.
“Then we would use a dinghy to pick,” Matt said.
Like many other Croatians, Matt was called up for army service in World War 11 but had to make a sacrifice others did not. The army commandeered his beloved motor bike but paid him only half of what it cost. FRESH FRUIT EXPORTS Immediately after the war, there was an enormous demand for fresh fruit from nearby Asian countries and the Swan Valley was in an ideal location to supply with regular chiller shipping connections available.
But the task of preparing the fruit was intensely laborious.
Usually, the grapes would be picked very early in the day when they were still cool from the night before. They would then be brought to a shady area and kept under moist bags waiting to be processed.
This involved a group of people sitting around a bench or table cleaning bunch by bunch, removing small or bad berries that were later used to make spirit for fortifying wine.
The fruit would then be packed in granulated cork and the boxes bound with wire for shipment.
In preparation for the harvest the cork, which came in a compressed bale, had to be broken up and put through a sieve providing the granules for the grape packing.
Normally, this was a job for children and the dust would fly as the bales were speedily dealt with.
There were several grape varieties involved in the exports, red as well as white, mainly based on their ability to keep.
Matt Turkich became influential in the trade, as president of the West Australian Grape Export Pool, a voluntary grower body. With others, he would travel to Singapore to investigate the quality of the fruit after it had arrived.
As more and more supplies became available from producers in other parts of Australia and elsewhere; the trade became increasingly difficult with importers having a much greater choice.
Another Swan grower of Croatian descent, Steve Roscic also served as president while others made significant contributions on the organising committee.
It was a similar story on the Viticulturists Union of WA where men like Jim Ozich, Steve Udiljak, Joe Zekulich and Val Pervan gave countless hours.
For five of his 12 years as secretary treasurer, Val rode a bicycle around the district urging growers to join up and be involved.
Born in the Depression years, the union fought to get better prices for growers, to improve fruit quality and make vineyard work easier so cutting labour and costs.
The union was also a driving force behind the Agriculture Department establishing a research station at Upper Swan after early mainly voluntary work on a donated area of the Zekulich vineyard.
For his contribution to the development of Swan Valley viticulture, and especially his research on two of the grape industry’s most damaging diseases nematodes and phylloxera, Joe Zekulich was presented with the Lew Whiteman award in 1999.
The West Australian newspaper reported that he had searched the Swan for vigorous- growing wild root stocks and used grafting techniques learnt from his father, to produce vines resistant to nematodes. Grape yields picked up and vignerons and scientists marvelled at the unknown, backyard researcher’s work, the basis for his Order of Australia nomination.
Joe had arrived in Western Australia from Zavojane in 1924 at the age of 16, unable to speak any English and with just 10 pounds in his pocket. As the eldest of nine children, he had the task of earning money for the family in Croatia, in dire straits after World War 1, as well as establishing his own life.
Slowly, modernisation began to take some of the sweat out of the industry.
Labour saving innovations for example; saw the end of the laborious task of manually picking up cuttings after pruning to toss into a fire burning brightly in a horse-drawn heavy steel tank. Instead, they were cut up by tractor pulled discs for soil mulching.
As well to spray the vines, men no longer had to hand pump away from a barrel on a horse drawn cart to supply a disease-protective chemical mixture via long black hoses to two men walking behind who wore chaff bags over their clothes for protection.
But they had no masks, indeed nothing to avoid the risks of breathing in the chemicals they sprayed so diligently onto their vines, especially hazardous during windy conditions.
To combat mildew, they carried on their backs heavy metal containers to pump sulphur on to the vines.
To avoid using precious cash reserves, Croatians would exchange labour, working on each other’s property in times of need.
THE PROFESOR AND OTHERS
For nearly 50 years, the Pervan family who arrived on the Swan in January 1920 to take up a 4.5hectare block in Herne Hill grew currants and wine grapes. With wife Anne (Rakich) Val moved to Caversham on a similar sized property in 1950 to grow table grapes as well as dried fruit. During the next 12 years, he worked as well at the State Government’s Midland Railway workshops while studying with every spare moment to eventually become professor of the faculty of business at Edith Cowan University.
The Yujnovich family established Henley Park Wines neighbouring the Turkich property in 1935. It was without doubt, one of the best-maintained properties in the State and principal Mark Yujnovich developed a strong business on a sound range of wines including flagons. Fortified styles were a key component.
For years after the property’s sale in 1986, new owner Claus Petersen was able to market some of the State’s finest aged fortified wines that Mark had made.
Jane Brook Wines in Toodyay road at Middle Swan also had a Croatian heritage. It was owned by the Mateljan family who used the label Vignacourt taken from a French town with which previous owner Henry Mountjoy had been associated.
Unfortunately for the young Mountjoy, he had been forced to walk off the property in the late 1920s, unable to meet the commitments of the soldier settlement scheme in which returning servicemen were encouraged to go on the land. He had been hit by low grape prices in a deteriorating economic climate as the world moved towards the Great Depression.
Other soldier settlers were also affected, the small holdings often ending up in Croatian hands, the purchases sometimes helped by relatives and friends.
White Australians may have considered the blocks too small to be economic, the hard working immigrants believed it was their chance to succeed, given their skills and motivation.
Initially, the Mateljans focussed on table grapes but in the early 1950s they replanted with wine grape varieties with their first vintage of 450 litres in 1954. A typically dedicated, hard working family, they increased their production mainly in bulk wines until 1972 when they sold.
Toodyay Road neighbour was the estate established by Duje Garbin. On his 90th birthday in 1999, the family claimed participation in his 85th vintage because he had helped from an early age with the annual crush in his Dalmatian island village home.
As a migrant to Western Australia in 1937, he was soon to continue his craft, after a stint working on his brother’s Spearwood market garden. Money saved, he purchased a property at Millendon, in the Swan Valley, moving to Middle Swan in 1956.
The Garbin business was built up on bulk wine, some 9000-14,000 litres a year delivered around the suburbs or purchased by customers visiting the property. It was traditional winemaking and marketing for the times, catering mainly for a keen southern European demand, like other small valley producers.
Then Duje’s son Peter decided in 1998 to move full time into the wine industry, apart from some casual consulting in his profession as a design draftsman, extending the Swan home plantings to a new vineyard at Gingin, about 100 km north of Perth.
He was confident. After all, the historic West Australian industry giant Houghton had pioneered quality wine production at Moondah Brook, close to the Garbin development.
Previously, in 1990 Peter decided it was time for a new era for Garbin, a new marketing direction.
This was to lead to the first table wines in 750ml bottles, the following year.
As part of the improvement policy, he began to invest in equipment new to his founding father, especially a laboratory. In addition, the old vines on the two hectare irrigated home block were slowly replanted, to more modern varieties like verdelho, cabernet sauvignon and merlot.
In his long lifetime tending vines, Duje Garbin had to deal many times with problems like locusts. At Gingin, the pests feasted on the lush green leaves of about 2500 young Garbin vines, so that they had to be re-grafted.
While the family and others stayed to cement their place on the Swan and help make the Valley the heart of Western Australian viticulture, others sold up and moved on, as family interests went in other directions, some into the professions or business, some to work in factories and offices as education brought new skills.
As well, children forged links with the broader community, no longer concerned about the racial tensions of the past. In this regard, sport played a key role, especially cricket, Australian football and soccer.
In the 1960s, the focus of viticulture also changed, with extensive developments undertaken in cooler southern areas of the State.
John Kosovich of Westfield Wines (changed later to John Kosovich Wines) decided on a leg in both camps. While retaining the historic family property on Great Northern Highway, he also established a new vineyard at Middlesex, half way between Manjimup and Pemberton, investing because he had been so impressed with the area during a tour in 1988 after a wine judging commitment at the annual Mount Barker Wine Show.
Son Anthony followed his father into the business while another son Raymond, a computer expert, returned to the Swan to grow table grapes while studying winemaking.
But when their grandmother Ane arrived in the area in 1932, she noted: “If I could have gone back on foot, I would have.”
Ane sold wine to people who came from Perth in their cars, “slowly slowly” learning English, “a bit here and a bit there.”
“I learnt what I needed to know,” she said.
“I was happy when we were finally able to build a house because many people had houses and we did not.”
Before that, the family cellar also served as a residence and the place of birth for three of the four children including John.
The family moved into their new home in 1957.
Ane worked hard among the vines including pruning and dragging corrugated iron with heavy loads.
“Then when you get home, you got a bigger job, cook, clean, iron and wash bottles to fill and wine to sell,” she said.
“You had to make an effort to get people to try your wine.”
As well, she had chickens and piglets to provide extra food sources.
“It was very difficult in the Depression years, but we survived,” she said.
Over the years, Kosovich wines won many awards, none sweeter however, than the grand gold medal in Croatia in 1995 for a 1990 Swan Valley chardonnay John had made and submitted as part of an international wine competition for people of Croatian background.
In a sense, the medal represented justification of the tough task of re-settling half way round the world in a completely foreign environment.
It all began in 1911 with the arrival in Western Australia of John’s father Lilo. An old broad axe pinned to a massive seven-metre wooden beam in the family downstairs cellar perhaps signifies his challenge.
It was the tool Lilo used to cut down a gum tree in the foothills of the nearby Darling Ranges and then to hew the beam that remains an important part of the building.
On arrival at Fremantle Lilo Kosovich looked to the gold industry for work, and then to sleeper cutting amid the tall jarrah trees in the South West, a path that was to become well trodden by so many of his countrymen.
Eventually, he bought land on the Swan with brothers Nick and Matt leaving them to establish the vineyard while he provided the vital cash flow to keep them all. By the mid 1930s he had assumed full control, producing mainly dried fruit and a little wine.
John left school at fifteen and by the time he was eighteen he was responsible for winemaking, strongly supported by his mother, with Mr Kosovich in declining health.
Certainly few Australian winemakers could claim to have been involved with more than 50 vintages in their careers and to have won so many accolades from a family taught background.
John quickly became convinced that, for the Australian climate, table wines were the way to go, rather than fortifieds, no matter how good they might be. He argued, for example, that while a sherry might be ideal before lunch in England, it certainly did not fit the bill over much of sunburnt Australia.
So in the early 1960s he planted riesling, finding there were few premium varieties available in those days, and with not much known about them. For this was the time when any white wine was called riesling, and any red, claret.
But the riesling met the Kosovich needs for many years and was in fact a bread-and-butter line for the winery till other varieties became available. Later the flagships became chardonnay, verdelho and cabernet sauvignon.
John believes that the Swan Valley is an excellent location to grow chardonnay. ‘You only have to eat the grape and it tells the story’, he said. ‘It is fantastic, with lovely flavour and acid, and it holds its colour well. It is still green and gold when very ripe. In comparison, other varieties do not have the life.’
That was clearly demonstrated when the 1988 won the trophy at the 1993 Perth wine show for best West Australian chardonnay, a marvellous achievement, given the international qualities of some from the south. It also won the 1993 SGIO top Swan White.
Wines from Kosovichs have a common theme, being flavoursome, balanced and soft, very drinkable as young wines without the harsh tannins and biting acids sometimes found in wines made from the same varieties in other parts of Australia.
Produced from moderate crops of quality fruit, they have earned a respected position for John in the local industry.
A shield that hangs proudly on the wall at the cellar entrance, shows that the family have been capable of taking on the biggest and best of producers from all over Australia by being awarded best exhibitor overall at the 1978 Perth show, a major triumph for John.
It must be remembered that this was achieved from a very small production base, at the time only about fifty tonnes from eight hectares of vines, a thimbleful compared with some of the giant competing wineries.
The Swan John argues, is a consistent producer of quality fruit, seldom having a bad year.
But the Middlesex visit that resulted in the establishment of Kosovich’s Bronzewing label resulted in his comment: “I had never been there before and it immediately appealed.
“There was so much lovely land, so much water, so much green grass, so many fat cattle, there had to be potential.”
John’s wife Mary plays a key role in marketing through cellar door sales.
The family commitment was vital for John when he was languishing in hospital in 1998 following a terrible fall from a fermenting tank that resulted in a broken leg and hip.
Next door is Twin Hills, established by the related Kraljevich family.
Founder Steve was just 18 when he arrived at Fremantle in August 1926 with an enormous financial incentive to do well.
As he stepped ashore to meet a brother who had arrived a year earlier, he had just four pennies in his pocket.
So the strong young man headed bush and the tough life of contract sleeper cutting. His initial aim was to repay, as quickly as possible, the 35 pounds borrowed for the fare from a money-lender, at forty per cent interest.
After about a year he turned to farm clearing at Bindi Bindi, 150 kilometres north of Perth. It was the only job he could find while waiting for the grapes to ripen and picking to start at Kosovichs.
Steve was to manage the vineyard for six years, beginning a connection with the West Australian industry that lasted more than half a century to his death, and seen sons Mark and Eddie carry on the family involvement.
Production in that early period centred on dried fruit, clarets, ports and muscats.
But the will of independence, to be his own boss, was too strong; resulting in the purchase of a twelve-hectare property in the Perth foothills called Twin Hills. Interestingly enough, the name is not derived from a geographical feature; rather a local midwife called the area “twin hill” in recognition of the multiple births on neighbouring properties.
It was hardly a prime location as far as the Valley was concerned, but wine production began immediately and enthusiastic customers drove long distances to make their purchases. The main market was based on other Croatian migrants who enjoyed the big, soft table wine so similar to those they knew in their native land.
Wine production expanded with fruit purchased from other growers. So did their quantities of dried fruit.
This production involved spreading harvested currants on drying racks or trays while the handling of sultanas and muscats for raisins meant dipping loaded containers in boiling caustic soda, particularly trying work in the heat of summer.
For protection from the splashing mixture as the dipping tins loaded with fruit were immersed, withdrawn and then allowed to drain, men would wear old chaff bags with holes cut for their arms.
Under the process, the grape skin cracked immediately, so that the fruit dried quickly.
Otherwise, it could take six to seven weeks, a period difficult to rely on for dry weather.
Dipped fruit took about two weeks to dry after it was spread out on sizzlecraft, a thick paper-like product laid on the ground so that the fruit kept warm and was not penetrated by ground water.
Some growers put the sizzlecraft on boards.
Either way, if it looked like rain, there would be a scramble to cover the drying fruit with another sizzlecraft sheet or iron but the latter took much longer to handle.
With currants, wide sown bag lengths would be hung around the big drying racks and tray stacks for weather protection.
It if proved a difficult summer because of rain or continuous moisture problems, drying would be completed artificially at the packing sheds before processing for marketing.
There were several of these sheds, dotted around the Valley. One was Swan Settlers Co-operative where Andrew (Andy) Zilko worked from 1928 to 1977, retiring as foreman.
In the season he recalled, it loaned 40,000 sweatboxes to growers for their harvested fruit, equal to 1000 tonnes. Many more were needed, but growers had to wait until
boxes were emptied and available; for about 1700 tonnes at one stage. Some growers had their own boxes. The fruit was graded based on quality with growers provided credit from the associated co-op store while awaiting payments.
During World War 11, production was stopped several times when the shed was full, because of a lack of shipping.
“When we got a big order, for 500-600 tonnes and a ship was available, trucks would come from everywhere to take the fruit away,” Andy said.
For children, currants were a nightmare when they had to be “barked” as part of the process for fruit to set.
With a pocket knife, the kids would have to clean bark from around the vine so that their elders could cincture the vine.
Using special knives, they would cut a grove around the trunk to let the sap run out.
Sometimes they would have to cincture two or three times to be effective.
For the children, a slip of their knife during barking meant lost skin on their fingers and days of irritating pain.
Fortunately, hormone spraying ended the task.
Joe Zekulich said that in Greece, a grower tied a dog to a vine. Frustrated, it went round and round, effectively barking and cincturing the vine.
To their surprise, the grower found that the fruit had set and the method was adopted.
But for Steve Kraljevich, the low yielding vineyard in the foothills was struggling economically, and in 1955 the family moved to a much more fertile block on the Great Northern Highway next to where it all began for him, the Kosovich property.
Mark and Eddie took over in 1974, with Mark (until his death in 2004) and wife Dorothy assuming full control in 1991. They crushed about fifty tonnes a year as well as producing dried fruit and fresh table grapes. The varieties grown for table and fortified wines included shiraz, grenache, cabernet sauvignon, chenin blanc, verdelho, riesling, semillon, pedro ximinez and muscat.
In the Swan tradition the grapes are picked when very ripe with the wines full in body and having plenty of character. As well, they were high in alcohol so that consumers could readily add a quantity of water, or ice.
Made to be drunk when sold, the wines were mostly packaged in flagons and containers up to fifty litres.
Much of the business had been established on word of mouth. Old-established buyers regularly visited the winery to take advantage of its sound, honest wines that sold at modest prices.
Steve, a hearty man who filled a room with his strong voice and booming laughter, always appealed to people for his happy-go-lucky ways.
Once he estimated that at ploughing times, he would walk twenty-five kilometres a day, up and down rows of vines, controlling a single-furrow plough pulled by two horses. In those days the vineyard men of the Valley kept their blocks meticulously cultivated. It was a matter of pride and the accepted way of controlling weeds to ensure the best from the vines.Today neatness and intense cultivation is secondary to soil care and management.
Like others, the Kraljevichs did not have any formal training in winemaking; their knowledge built up through long years of experience. Steve did however; get a lot of help from Jack Mann, the legendary winemaker for half a century at historic Houghton not far down the highway, especially with acid balancing of his wines.
In their lifetimes, the two men had plenty in common, especially in their love of the Swan and in their criticism of some modern day wines. “A lot of them are just acid and water to me,” Steve recounted.
Jack Mann also helped Peter Talijancich, another colourful Swan identity with a friendly smile, hearty laugh and swamping handshake that aptly fits the description, “salt of the earth.”
Peter’s feet have been in the dirt from a very early age for he inherited the daunting task of looking after a vineyard when still a schoolboy.
He was just thirteen and a half when his migrant father Jim passed away in 1945, leaving the youngster to help his mother run their former Herne Hill property. That involved getting up early, at cultivating times, harnessing the horses, and ploughing a certain number of rows of vines before leaving for school, and doing the same thing again on his return home.
It was not always easy to buckle down, because like any normal young lad, Peter liked to play football with some of his neighbouring mates whereas his mother held a different viewpoint. She knew that Peter, her only son, was the vineyard’s manpower; outside labour was just not affordable in those days for a family in their situation. Peter recalls clearly her opposition to him wanting to spend leisure time with his friends, and her ultimatum for him ‘to finish those rows tonight’ as part of the need to shoulder responsibility.
Hard work, however, was very much a family tradition. Peter’s late father was another to arrive in Western Australia in 1926. The former fisherman also headed for the bush to hand-cut jarrah sleepers.
Later he ran a wood yard in Wellington Street, Perth, carting firewood around the city in baskets. In 1931 he moved to the Swan to concentrate on bulk wine production, supplementing income with various off-farm jobs.
It was a lead Peter was to follow, working as he developed their Hyem Road property Mrs Talijancich had decided to move from the previous block because it was much easier land for her young son to work.
In the early days the business was based on dried fruit, table grapes and bulk wines made for general delivery and for a major market in Carnarvon.
Slowly, however, the vineyard was converted totally to wine grapes, especially shiraz and grenache, and it was during this period that Peter looked elsewhere to provide a much needed cash flow.
He worked in the fishing and timber industries, felling, milling, carting and truck driving for a local carrier. At night he would put in time at the winery, sometimes till the early hours of the morning.
These were the days of hand crushing and pressing with present-day technology a dream away.
Peter and his wife Mary whose father Jack Hrabar was known as bacvar (bachvar) for his coopering skills, even turned to establishing a market garden in Osborne Park, with a relative, to help maintain the Swan operation. “It was something different and a challenge.” Peter said,
“But after five years I felt the wine industry was the place to be.”
Son James joined the family business in 1977, providing new goals with an increase in premium grape varieties for greater table wine production as he moved gradually to take charge of wine making. It was also to lead to changing the label from “Peters Quality Wines” to the family name.
While economic factors have inevitably led to a reduction in the winery’s fortified range, some of the most outstanding have been retained, for they have earned the plaudits of many as rich, luscious, classic Australians.
Take for example, the results of a day-long tasting of such wines by the Eastern States consumer magazine Winestate. This saw the 1974 Talijancich tokay unanimously voted top wine from Australia’s best by the judges and given the highest rating, five stars.
“There is no question that this tokay would hold up its head with the best from Rutherglen or Hungary for that matter,” the magazine reported.
“It begins with that delightful dark, olive green, almost khaki colour which is so intriguing.” The wine was bestowed with a barrage of complimentary remarks such as luscious, perfectly blended, excellent spirit, brilliant rancio, finesse and style. “Suffice to say, it was a very, very good wine,” the report added.
Such comments were extremely satisfying to a man with no formal training in the industry, apart from help like that from Jack Mann.
Peter adopted his technique of using a butcher’s mincer to shred the very ripe grapes for processing and to enhance flavour intensities.
Peter has based his business on a favourite Dalmatian saying: “good news travels a long way, bad news travels even further.”
Trickle irrigation on the Talijancich vineyard keeps the vines happily producing the premium grapes for the range of fine wines.
Peter it is said, had a love and understanding of every individual vine, based on the sweat of his brow.
Such dedication led (the late) Bill Jamieson, State Government viticulturist for many years to say on a visit to the Swan Valley:
“The efforts of the Croatian and Italian migrants who took up land in the area made them outstanding vignerons, spot on in areas such as disease control and pruning.
“‘They got the best possible result from the land.”
A Talijancich wine that grabbed Statewide attention was the release of their 1961 liqueur muscat, twenty-five years after it was made. Packaged in half bottles it set new price horizons for a small Swan Valley producer.
The much-awarded wine was beaten by the narrowest of margins at an international exhibition in London in 1986. It lost to a South African wine by 0.5 points for the gold medal with twenty-seven countries competing.
Initially however, the muscat was sold in flagons when first made for the equivalent of $1.50 each, a fraction of its later price of $350 a 375ml bottle.
Peter confessed that about half of the production went in flagons before he realised the true quality of the wine.
So he put the rest in wood and forgot about it.
Regrettably, it was the first and last, the fruit having been bought from a Swan Valley producer who had decided there was no future in the variety.
Peter was devastated when he visited the property to negotiate further supplies of fruit, only to find the vines ripped out, and stacked in heaps, ready for burning. The wine was still being acclaimed at national tastings more than 30 years after making.
Talijanich’s make a sound range of table wines as well as the fortifieds which also include liqueur tokay and hermitage and a four year old rich ruby port.
James, an innovative marketer and popular speaker at wine industry functions with his commanding presence, introduced international verdelho tastings because of his respect for the variety and the special wine it produces from Swan Valley fruit.
The functions were attended by more than 100 enthusiasts at leading Perth hotels or resorts who taste dozens of Australia’s best wines made from the variety.
“We have tried the finest from around the World and do not believe they compare with the depth, complexity or richness of flavour from the Swan.” he says.
The fruit for its fortified “brother” the liqueur hermitage is left much later for picking, so that it is as ripe as it can possibly be.
Inherent in its make up are rich, dark chocolate and liquorice characters, its backbone enhanced by nestling in small French brandy barrels while the liqueur tokay is about ripe dried-in-the-sun raisins and splendid nutty flavours, developing in maturity. This wine is matured in English oak adding soft, sweet flavours with subtle and refined tannins.
Critics have also lauded the Talijancich red table wine made from shiraz over the years for its rich flavour depth, sometimes spicy or lightly peppery, and its excellent oak balance.
For years, Peter’s sister Katy worked at Rakich’s store on the corner of Great Northern Highway and Haddrill Road, before she married and moved to New Zealand to live.
The store, opened in 1934, was a nerve centre of the Swan, a place to visit regularly for the social interaction as well as its goods and services.
It was in reality, an extended family meeting place, to find out what was happening in the district and to whom.
The key to the place was Ivan Rakich, known to all and sundry as Kochi though the origins of the nickname have been clouded by time.
The fourth eldest of eight children, Ivan moved to Western Australia with the family in 1923, to settle in the Swan to grow grapes and other produce.
For many years, a landmark behind the family shop was a tall corrugated iron clad distillery, an important part of the Rakich winery.
A boiler from Armadale’s Derrynasura winery towed on steel wheels behind a truck was a key part of the distillery.
Because of its height, about three storeys, it could be seen from kilometres away.
The family wine label Visnica was taken from its Dalmatian village.
Ivan who was educated at the Upper Swan Primary School and Midland High School was given the challenge of running the business without any previous experience and proved to be a shopkeeper of the old world, where a man’s word was all that was needed.
For this, he earned enormous respect from customers when account payments were late due to adverse seasonal conditions affecting production in vineyard and farming areas.
The influence of the business gradually extended way beyond the Valley serving many districts outside the area.
Ivan’s faith in the promise of a future payment was well rewarded according to his daughter Eva Hampson.
“He was patient enough to wait with them, the primary producers, for the good season which he always believed was just around the corner,” she said.
The business survived the difficult post Depression years, World War 11 and the increasing competition from the nearby town of Midland into a major shopping and service centre.
Another Croatian store, the first in the valley, about 4km along Great Northern Highway was run by Stanko and Drina Letica and their three daughters while Sons Joe and Stan worked the vines.
But originally, the family set up in Olive Road where they were ratepayers as early as 1916.
At first, Stanko who was one of the few to own a truck used their house as a base for continental goods Dalmatians liked to eat especially macaroni, cheese, anchovies and bakalar (dried fish).
The store and adjacent home on Great Northern Highway was established in 1932 and run initially by Drina despite her limited English until the girls were old enough.
In time, the shop became a district focal point where, along with other locations such as at Kraljevichs and Sumichs, men gathered at weekends to play buce and cards, often for a glass of wine, the Letica production marketed as Ilira.
Initially however, to clear the land for their vines, they had to use explosives to blast big trees.
Part of the produce they sold included smoked goat and lamb meat.
End of vintage was party time when Drina would make prsurate and her husband would roast a lamb on the spit for all to enjoy.
A delicacy was kompet made from the residue of the crushed grapes after the wine was made. Added were spices and wholemeal flour.
To serve, it was cut in thin slices and consumed with the grape spirit rakija.
In their book To Make a Better Life, authors Ena Czeladka and Carolyn Polizzotto recorded that the growing Yugoslav community was a counterweight to the racial discrimination that existed among the Australian’s who boycotted the shop.
“All Southern Europeans were regarded as racially inferior to persons of British origin,” they said though acknowledging many kind acts by individual families.
“During the inter war years, the technique of mutual support which had been essential to bare survival on the Goldfields, could now serve to knit a community together or to help it prosper and make it grow.”
The authors also recorded that: “in the 1920s, when Australia stipulated that prospective immigrants needed to possess the sum of 40 pounds, a further financial obstacle was imposed, though the repeated use of the same 40 pounds passed around from hand to hand as needed among members of the Yugoslav community could alleviate the problem.”
At this time, men who were not Australian citizens were ineligible for government employment or for unemployment relief; and citizenship required five years residence in Australia, as well as a fee of five pounds.
For people earning two pounds a week for more than 100 hours’ work. five pounds was a substantial sum.
In 1927, Stanko Letica drove the family truck to Fremanlte to meet the Ormonde on which he believed his sister to be travelling. She was not but he befriended Jack Hrabar, an 18-year-old who had no family in Western Australia. A job was organised in a dried fruit packaging shed but his skills as a cooper were soon in demand, gaining work with the major winemaker Valencia, with numerous small producers around the Valley and at New Norcia where the Benedictine Monks had established a vineyard and winery at Wyening.
Six years after arrival, he purchased a property at West Swan with a partner. Soon however, he took full control planting a range of varieties while maintaining his coopering activities.
The family lived in a small house using horse and cart for transport until they were able to afford a car. A favourite family outing was the pictures at Guildford. But one night when the car refused to start, “Jack harnessed the horse to the car pulling it around and around until it finally started and we got to the pictures,” said his wife Nellie.
The Bakranich family, also to be found on Great Northern Highway and who accordingly, chose the label Highway Wines, have been major fortified winemakers, basing 80 per cent of production on such styles.
So can be found almost at any time, about 40,000 litres quietly nestling in casks and storage tanks, maturing away before release.
Founder Tony Bakranich and son Velko, with strong family support established a sound customer base for these wines over the years, full bodied, smooth, sweet sons-of-the-Swan.
The biggest sellers were a vintage port, from ripe shiraz and grenache, and a big, rich, sweet liqueur port, from shiraz.
Other wines in the range include a liqueur and fortified muscat, tokay and sherries, sweet, medium sweet and dry, part of a list of 20 fortifieds that goes on and on.
Father and son are self-taught; experience and knowledge passed from one to the other based largely on trial and error.
As well, their prices are modest. The dearest wines are the rich, sweet, full bodied liqueur muscat and liqueur sherry, 1980 vintage wines packaged in 375ml bottles selling for $18 each. (2004 price).
The families have 10.5 hectares of vineyard, producing more than 100 tonnes of fruit a year.
An unexpected boost in 2000 came from a paddock at the rear of the winery, previously considered useless because it was too low lying and wet.
But $40,000 worth of filling resulted in a flourishing new vineyard with high hopes for fruit quality.
Three years after Tony Bakranich migrated to Western Australia in 1930 as a 16-year-old, he was looking to buy land in the Valley for his own vineyard. The first, in 1936, was a virgin bush block he cleared by hand. The second six years later was an existing vineyard. In 1945 the Highway property was purchased and the winery and cellar door sales established.
The first wines were made in 1954 in a small shed at the rear of the premises, bulk lines mostly delivered to Perth suburban customers. During these development days, Tony supplemented income by working at the Midland railway workshops and traded the other blocks for better land in the valley, to produce table grapes and citrus fruits as well as wine grapes.
Velko joined the business in 1960, taking over with wife Helen in 1990.
Of the bottled range, the liqueur port, a blend of various vintages some up to 15 years old, is the most popular. Made from ripe shiraz and cabernet sauvignon, it is big and full bodied, nothing wimpish about this Swan proudct.
Highway also makes a basic dry red and four light easy to drink styles, riesling, semillon, rose and moselle.
All the wines were sold at cellar door, a lot to passing farmers who call in to have containers often of 20 litres filled. The service provided by Helen, a girl from the suburbs and a former bank officer who admitted to knowing nothing about winemaking before marrying into the family. Now her tasks are vast and she ruefully recalls sore wrists from pruning and bogging in gum boots in winter.
Helping with winemaking in a cool winery seems pleasant in comparison.
A near neighbour is Milka Borich who arrived in Western Australia in 1937 to join her husband.
At the age of 90, she was still tending the one hectare vineyard she had planted more than 50 years previously at her Middle Swan property on Great Northern Highway.
As well, there was a big vegetable garden to tend and big house to clean.
But her small vineyard was only a fraction of what she tended on much bigger properties the family had owned.
In her liftetime, she has thrived on hard work and adversity, the great grandmother believing she could still outlast many of her much younger offspring on a very hot day among the vines.
When she arrived from Croatia at Fremantle on August 18, 1837 with her one-year-old daughter Mary, her waiting husband Ante told her they were off to Perth to buy a new house.
He later emerged from the old Boans department store in the city carrying a big roped parcel.
It was a tent, their home in the bush at Red Hill in the Darling Ranges for the next 2 ½ years where she also helped him cut sleepers during the day even when pregnant with their second child.
At night she cooked in a kerosene tin set on rocks over a fire and then undertook other domestic chores like washing clothes at night or on Sundays.
Milka recalled being terrified when lost one night on her way back to the tent as rain began to fall with darkness setting in.
She stumbled across a tin shed and the startled owner realised what happened by the only two words of English she knew: “no camp, no camp.”
He led her by lantern light back just as her worried husband was about to seek help.
Milka moved on to live in a shed with her expanding family on their first Swan vineyard before finally, moving into their first home, after 15 years, on another Swan Valley property.
While Ante worked off the property, she did the work of a man, in jobs like harnessing horses to cultivate and lumping a heavy container of liquid when spending a day spraying for grapevine disease control.
Then there was pruning and picking, the growing of cash crops like peas and melons between the vines, the milking of goats and caring for about 100 chooks.
During this time, Milka would be “baby sitting” her children, left to play near where she worked. This was a world apart from the seasickness endured on the rough seas during the long voyage to Australia, the fear of an unknown land and the tears at the tent.
Milka’s mother had died when she was three and life under two stepmothers had not been easy.
Schooling was spasmodic, when there were no chores. There was none at all after the age of ten.
In Western Australia she made cheese and baked bread and washed clothes by hand in a trough under the vines and carted water from a well. But she said it was a life of progress.
Daughter Nancy believes the hard work was her mother’s motivation.
“She is content among the vines and seeing the grapes ripen.”
For four years, Peter Stanich also lived in a tent. After arriving in WA in 1926 at the age of 15, he and his brother Ante who had pre-ceded him by two years, cleared land in the bush for five shillings an acre with all the meat they could eat — and nothing else.
Peter moved on, to become a sleeper cutter in the forests of the State’s South West.
Later he recalled standing among the giant trees with axe in hand that he had “come to some sort of hell” compared to the tranquil family village in Brac with its peaceful outlook over a small bay that he had fished so often and yearned for so much.
In 1937, Peter purchased a seven hectare Swan Valley property with an orange orchard and some vines, later expanded for table grape production for export and the domestic market.
Other income sources were developed with a new truck for contract carting, and a sawmill to make trays to market peaches and boxes for oranges and grapes.
With near-neighbour Peter Talijancich, he travelled to the hills to fell and cut logs, body strength applied through a cross-cut saw and to load much of the timber.
Such was his trust in his business dealings, that Peter never used a docket book.
Many strainers and posts were cut at the mill for the local vineyards.
Others to work at the mill included Tony Dundo, Joe Babich, Peter Matijasevich, Mick Perich and Frank Kovacevich.
Having trucks also meant a major role in the Valley’s social life, the vehicles often used as the transport to dances and other functions.
Gruelling work in the South West forests cutting railway sleepers and bridge timbers was also crucial to Ante Cobanov enabling him to pioneer the family Stock Road Herne Hill vineyard.
From humble beginnings when only a few hundred gallons were made, it developed into a strong business with deliveries of mainly bulk wines around the suburbs for more than half a century to long established customers.
Initially, most of the vineyard was geared to dried fruit. However, wine volumes soon increased. Within a few years, an annual production of more than 13,000 litres was being achieved. Most was dry table wine with a lot railed to country clients.
Third generation Tony managed 21 hectares on two blocks made up of varieties including chardonnay, chenin blanc, verdelho, sauvignon blanc, pedro, cabernet sauvignon, shiraz, merlot and grenache marketing under the label, Windy Creek.
For a time, fruit for wine making was also produced on a Bindoon vineyard that had been purchased but the emphasis was then switched totally to the Swan.
A boilermaker-welder by trade, Tony Cobanov returned to the Valley in the early 1980s, growing watermelons initially on vacant family land next to his father Steve’s vineyard. Then he planted a few chenin blanc vines, next some chardonnay. “It just kept growing and growing from there,” he said.
Tony developed the business to about a third in bottles with wines like the unwooded, dry, fruity and grassy sauvignon blanc and cabernet merlot, a soft, round, ripe red, as well as an eight-year-old port and a slightly sweet light tawny.
Fruit for the ports is picked after everything else is finished, usually in April, to achieve maximum ripeness. Sometimes, the grapes for the eight-year-old port that are picked last are slightly raisiny, with low juice yield. However, the name (eight year old port) suggested by a relative, is not the wine’s age. It is a blend of four varieties taken from a range of years.
For water to his Swan Valley home, Jakov (Jim) Ozich would harness his horse to pull a sled carrying a loaded 44 gallon drum from a soak well up a slope to the family house. If the horse went too quickly, most of the water was lost.
What an ordeal! Catch and harness the horse, pull up the water in a bucket from the well transfer it to the 44 gallon drum and try and get the horse to go uphill without losing any of the precious supply.
Jim, who owned several properties from 1939 and started, making wine in 1947, bought a truck five years later, to sell his wines.
Production was increased to 4500 litres in 1960 but at various times, he also focused on dried fruit and fresh table grapes.
But Croatian wine and vine sustained interests went well beyond the Swan.
In 1933, the Banovich brothers, Jure and Jakov, bought 200 hectares in Toodyay with small areas of sultanas and currants planted by the previous owner.
The Banovich’s cleared and planted vines to expand the vineyard to 16 hectares.
In 1935, they also purchased 13ha of vacant land on Great Eastern Highway Belmont, a few kilometres from the centre of Perth, to produce table grapes and make wine. They sold out in 1946.
Franko Andrijich, who had worked for the Banovich’s, bought the Toodyay property in 1935 and continued to work on the vineyard.
In 1936 Franko’s daughter Marija (aged 15) arrived and took on the role of housekeeper and vineyard worker. She was later to marry Ante Bakranich and they started up Highway Wines in the Swan Valley.
But on her arrival at Toodyay, she protested the small hessian house was more like a stable.
When she leant on a wall it shook such that she shouted: “Boze moj, ovo je potres.” (My God, it’s an earthquake).
Language was a terrible problem for many of the migrants. When Marija went to the shop in Toodyay, she was mocked for her English speaking efforts. Such was her humiliation; she wished
“her boat had sunk” before arriving in WA.
From 1953 Franko’s son Branko took over the property until 1968, when drought took its toll and the vines were removed.
Alongside this property a cousin also named Franko Andrijich purchased 280ha in 1935. He had 16 hectares of dried fruit and at this time was said to have been the largest dried fruit grower in WA.
Others settled in places like Wanneroo, Maddington and Orange Grove where Wally Radojkovich established Jadran Wines in
Reservoir Road, 20km South East of Perth in l927 and the winery in l929.
Wally was just thirteen years old when sent from the family village to live and find employment in Western Australia’s Swan Valley. He worked hard and saved every penny he could with one aim in mind, to buy his own land and to grow grapes. In just two years he had accumulated enough to buy, with a partner, four hectares of virgin land at Orange Grove on sloping land less than a kilometre from the foothills.
A cousin living in nearby Maddington and other fellow migrants, who had planted orchards and vines in the district, had attracted him to the area. The pattern of hard work continued with clearing by hand at weekends, and before and after other jobs. By 1932 he was able to buy out his partner and produce his own wine.
Many years later, in 1975, wines made by Orange Grove ended the domination by Olive Farm of the Perth Wine Show’s most successful small winemaker trophy.
In all, the winery’s entries received eight gold and two silver medals, an impressive performance for a producer who had only begun showing two years previously. For years after Jadran did not show again. “We felt we had made our point about the quality of the wines we can produce,” Wally’s son winemaker and principal Stephen said.
“We decided to concentrate on making wines our customers wanted, rather than putting effort into show wines.”
Over the years, the emphasis of production from the nine hectare Jadran vineyard has been on bulk table wines and fortifieds but later emphasis has seen an increase in bottled premium wine to about a third of the production.
A feature of the property is the four magnificent flame trees, landmark of Jadran where visitors enjoy tasting the range.
The vineyard is not a big producer, yielding only about six tonnes to the hectare from the sandy loam soils over clay.
The production means that most of the fruit for the crush is purchased from other districts, especially the Swan Valley and Great Southern.
Six of the eight gold medals awarded to Jadran in 1975 were for fortified wines reflecting the quality of such styles.
Stephen took over from his father in l974 with son Paul employed in the business. One of the lesser-known varieties they handle is sercial, also known as ondenc, and Irvine’s white, grown mostly in South Australia and Victoria where it has been particularly successful in the Great Western area for sparkling wine production.
Jadran also has a bubbly in its range, a spumante, plus marsala, muscat, vermouth and sherries to meet all tastes. “Our aim is to cater for every visitor making the trip to Orange Grove,” Stephen said.
Another Orange Grove vineyard was established by Frano Piskilich who left home in 1906 for Africa to live and work with an uncle. He moved on to Sydney and then New Zealand to become a gum digger, only to be interned on an island in Wellington harbour during World War 1 because of his Austrian status. Then, after hostilities had ended, he was sent home. In 1926, after working in France, he travelled to Fremantle, to be followed five years later by his wife and two sons, purchasing six hectares of uncleared land in Orange Grove in 1932.
He also developed the property part time, clearing by hand while using explosives to blast tree stumps. Income was generated with part time work in the Goldfields.
Ultimately, in 1935, he was able to plant his vineyard, to produce table grapes, dried fruit and wine, enough it was said, “to give you a headache.”
Along the property boundary flowed the Bickley Brook and it also had a natural spring. Water was carted to the house by Mrs (Marija) Piskilich in two kerosene tins on a yoke and pole, a journey of about 200 metres.
“But we were well fed and had lots of fun,” recalled a daughter.
In the 1930s the family sold its unbranded wines for a “bob a bottle.”
During his time as a miner, Frano was awarded a bravery medal by the Chamber of Mines for saving a workmate. He had cut his hands to pieces in pulling a cable from a higher level to hoist the man to safety but refused to accept the award. He considered saving a life was sufficient reward.
In the late 1950s, he travelled to WA’s Pilbara region to dig holes for manganese samples. Later, in Perth, he sought work through the Commonwealth Employment Service. Instead, he was told to apply for the aged pension.
Nearby, in Albany Highway Gosnells, Mijo Borich established Luckville Wines in 1939. During World War 11, it was especially popular with American servicemen stationed in Western Australia who became regular visitors.
The business was purchased by Joze Maras in 1953, the 2.5 hectare property then known as Lakeville yielding from four to seven tonnes producing up to 4000 litres of wine from grenache, shiraz, and muscat.
For 50 years, the family have sent their wines around the State and have sold at the cellar door, the adjacent Albany Highway being slightly diverted to preserve the historic winery which proudly carries the sign: “Wine produced and sold here, try before you buy.”
Wine industry historian Ian Boersma enjoyed making trips to the winery just to be served by Joze’s wife Milica who also provided eggs from her free range fowls, garlic, Dalmatinski kupus (cabbage) and tomatoes from her vegetable garden to special customers as well as table grapes.
A practice from her homeland is boiling up scraps mixed with pollard and bran for her fowls leading one visitor to comment: “They are the best looking chooks I have ever seen. Their feathers glow with good health.”
When a fire destroyed a timber yard in Wellington Street, Perth that Mate Pecar operated with Jim Talijancich, he turned to the land buying four hectares at Maddington to clear and set up Range View vineyard.
Wines were sold at the door, some 18,000 litres of claret that fetched $1.60 for a flagon in the 1960s and 70c for a bottle.
Income for the family which included five daughters was supplemented by growing broad beans, peas, swedes and turnips for the Perth market before the property was sold in 1969.
A few kilometres further south at Byford, Paval Vlasich who arrived in WA in 1930 managed eight years later to buy four hectares.
Initially he cleared the land by hand, also using gelignite to remove troublesome tree stumps.
The first vintage of his Sunrays wine was in 1948 with a winery established from discarded bricks while unwanted railway steel held barrels in place.
The production of 20,000-30,000 gallons was charged out at a shilling a bottle and two shillings, for premium wine.
Increased wine sales led to the purchase of
muscat planted at the Whitby Falls Coach House property at Mundijong, owned from 1933 to 1940 by Victor Silich. As well as this variety Silich’s also grew currants, table grapes, melons, vegetables and fruit. Often the returns from market sales were not enough to pay the carrier and market expenses.
A spring-cart loaded with their prime produce, picked in the early morning and taken to Mundijong, would yield but twenty five shillings for a long
As a result, home comforts were sparse.
Washed potato hessian bags for example, were used as blankets.
At least they were never hungry, their hard work providing plenty of produce to eat.
Records reveal that social life was “non existent” apart from the odd dance at the local road board hall and the occasional football game.
Silich Court in Mundijong was named after the family.
TRAGEDY Jack Kunisich also sought to make his mark at Byford but alas, his efforts ended in tragedy.
In 1939, he established six hectare of grenache and shiraz and also ran cattle on his 40 hectare block.
But in a terrible accident, the bachelor was killed by his own bull, he had reared from birth.
Meanwhile, at Osborne Park, Josip Rodin, who purchased a property of seven hectares in 1928 where he established a large cellar, was granted a licence to sell his products in 1937.
By 1946, he was marketing almost 100,000 litres a year of mainly sweet wine to the United Kingdom.
Called Hillside Vineyard, the wines won prizes for their quality. In one shipment to the UK 30,000 litres were exported. Production ended in 1964. The property is now a valued housing estate.
The pioneering vineyard of Peter Parin who in 1921, with brother Roko purchased 20 hectares of crown land. A further 23 hectares was added two years later. In 1929, the brothers split with Peter who had worked in railway construction gangs, sawmilling, wheat harvesting and wheat lumping, developing a major vineyard and wine cellar. It was the district’s first commercial venture using limestone from an old Church of England school building on another two hectare property he had bought.
More stone was used for the cellar excavated by horse and scoop. Timber cut from bush sources and trimmed with a broad axe was used in the construction.
Behind the cellar, two concrete vats were built to ferment the wine, the grapes processed by a specially geared two-wheeled hand crusher that revolved copper blades at high speed.
Grape spirit purchased from the Swan Valley with the approval and supervision of a Customs officer necessary for all fortified manufacture was added for fortification.
A hand-dug 5.5 metre well provided for the family and, without a refrigerator, acted as a cool storage facility. A watermelon for example, would be put into a bucket and lowered into the well.
The property was given the name Peter’s Vineyard. A humorous twist was a notice that read “free wine tomorrow” but of course, tomorrow never came.
Less humorous however, was the need for Peter and his brother Roko who had travelled to Australia with Austrian passports as a result of the occupation of the time, to report weekly to police.
In its time, before the vineyard gave way to progress in 1956-57, it sold bottles of claret and muscat for a shilling each and “Italian style” liqueur vermouth for five shillings.
Fortified wines were extremely popular during World War 11.
Great Northern Highway in the Swan Valley was a busy route for military convoys pouring north.
Servicemen would jump off their vehicles to grab grapes or buy wine.
Fortunately for some of us, they had no idea of the Australian currency of the time, pounds, shillings and pence.
So if they would stop to buy a billycan of mushrooms in season for example, they would ask how much.
We quickly learnt not to give a specific price and out would come a handful of change, much more than the three or six pence we may have had in mind.
“Say kid is that enough,” they would say, pouring coins into our sweaty palms.
While younger men from the Swan went to war, most older men stayed on the land, providing food for the nation.
Some went into the Homeguard for family protection in case of attack while at our schools; trenches were dug in the playground by our fathers in case the invading Japanese headed south from their bombing missions in the north of Australia.
The end of the great conflict led to lifestyle improvements, the celebrations of Christmas and New Year’s Eve extremely popular with men travelling around the district in trucks to wish friends and relatives well, sharing a drink or some delicacies prepared by the women who stayed at home, such as hrostule and fritule.
A drink many enjoyed at special times was rakija. Like the Italian grapa, it was an illegal product, usually made in homemade stills.
The government kept strict controls on such products requiring release from bond stores for use in fortified wine making. They feared if freely available, the rakija could be added to drinks in milk bars enticing young girls into areas of disrepute.
But in the Croatian culture, the high-powered drink was enjoyed regularly on cold nights, and even used to rub on rheumatic joints. In their own countries such production was freely allowed, and the new settlers found it hard to understand the restrictions which prevented them from making a bottle or so for their own pleasure.
Heavy fines were imposed for people caught trading the products and many a still was said to have been dumped in abandoned Swan Valley wells, as owners feared the consequences of being caught.
In the 1950s and 60s, governments paid big sums for leads on anyone producing rakija or grapa.
CHANGE During this time, the Swan was at a critical stage, the vineyards starting to sag with declining yields due to nematode problems. So the Croatians brought their grafting skills into play using resistant rootstock as their base resource.
In the cool of the early morning when the sap flowed best, men could be seen on their knees binding up their latest graft with plastic tape or wool.
In an article headed The Dalmatian Green Graft, the Western Australian journal of Agriculture of October 1968 said that training of the grafted vine to the trellis wire was possible within a few weeks.
About this time, Jack Mann’s son Dorham who had married Sally Rakich, daughter of a Baskerville vineyard family, was playing a key role in helping the small Valley winemakers move to the production of quality table wines.
An extension officer with the Agriculture Department, he advised on new technology and techniques with the move of emphasis away from fortified and bulk wines to table wines.
The numerous changes were also reflected in the improvements to lifestyle.
While the hard work never stopped, there was more time for fun, especially with tractors taking over from horses and the steady increase in vehicle purchases.
Drinking at the numerous Valley dances by the Swan boys however, was moderate, sharing the odd big brown bottle of beer outside the increasing number of dances.
A popular venue was the Herne Hill hall. A former army drill hall from Kalgoorlie, dating from World War 1, it was dismantled and transported by rail in 1924 to a site near the Herne Hill primary school.
Together, Australians old and new re-built the facility to become a place of concerts, wedding receptions, sporting club dinners, picture shows and a venue for meetings as well as the dances.
In addition, a Catholic priest would celebrate mass until St Michael’s church was built on Great Northern Highway in 1935.
For their part, the young girls attending Valley dances, stayed inside, supervised the whole night by their mothers who sat around the hall watching closely who danced with their daughters, looking for any indication of interest that may lead to marriage.
Supper was provided as part of the entry, usually trays of sandwiches and cakes with big pots of tea, catered for by the women. These were extremely sociable family affairs with young children pulling each other around the polished wooden floors, sharpened by candle wax or corn flaks, in between the dancing.
Many couples met at such places or at weddings or were discreetly pushed towards each other by keen parents.
Some had never been out with their partners on their own, before marriage.
Many of their mothers, as recorded earlier, had come to Western Australia following their husbands much earlier immigration, waiting at home with their children until money could provide for their passage.
Some however, extremely apprehensive about the lonely move to the other side of the world, were brought out to marry men they had never met often linked together by a relative or friend through a photograph.
PICNICS and SPORT Another important social area was regular picnics. Half the Swan for example, would be at South Beach near Fremantle on Boxing Day. There men would play buce, the children swim and the women socialise.
At the Jedinstvo Club in the Swan, another feature at the many dances were lambs roasted on spits, treats for all.
The main sport for girls was netball while soccer at the neighbouring Swan Athletic and Swan Valley clubs became key parts of sporting interest in the State as both clubs proudly competed at first division level. The Herne Hill Football Club later to become part of Swan Athletic and based on many Croatian players won numerous premierships in competitions in the Hills and South Midlands.
Cricket in the summer was keenly contested by teams on both sides of the river but summer grape picking could play havoc with players available to take part.
Forming the clubs often involved major family contributions.
Women for example would cater for fund raising afternoon teas, suppers and dinners requiring the donation of the inevitable plate.
It was not a matter however, of outdoing anybody with some super cake creation, rather a contribution to the betterment of the community and so their own lives.
A modern valley label, Oakover Estate, has a rich history. Nikola Yukich who arrived in WA in 1923 aged 16 and would have walked home had he been able, purchased a two hectare Swan Valley block seven years later. With wife Danica who he married in 1934, two years after her arrival in the State, they began developing table grape production for sale at home and later, abroad.
Sons Norm and Mark expanded with further land purchases until they went their own ways in 1996. Then Mark with sons Graeme and Kim rapidly developed other land holdings to establish major wine grape vineyards and the Oakover Estate winery and restaurant next to historic Houghton, the biggest wine producer in Western Australia. Purchased by Yukich’s and renamed Nikola Estate after the family’s founder.
In a few short years, the Yukichs were producing almost 2000 tonnes of grapes, making the family one of the State’s biggest.
A major share of their winery’s processing was for other producers, made under contract.
The past has also been the future for Lovreta brothers Jim and Tony.
Their father Stipan, who arrived in WA in 1927, spent five years’ sleeper cutting in the South West with cousins Matt and Joe Beros. Pooling their resources, they purchased a 25 hectare property at West Swan, producing dried fruit, table grapes, wine and citrus.
A few years later, they branched out on their own.
Stipan Lovreta moved to a 13ha Caversham property where by horse and hand, he laboured to rid the vines and fruit trees from beds of couch grass, a curse to production.
Jim recalled later: “During the war years, he was able to trade the wines he made for tyres, batteries and other badly needed vehicle parts. He told us this saved him.”
While others sold their land and returned to Croatia after the war to help rebuild their battered homeland, Stipan instead left his cousin Vic Beros to tend his land.
A year later, he returned bringing out wife Karme in 1951, developing his vineyard to focus on fresh table grape exports.
But Jim and Tony decided instead to target the domestic market, building a production of 30,000 10kg boxes a year in direct sales to the major supermarket chain Coles where they had become a preferred supplier.
To avoid losing market share to earlier ripening northern crops, they built an 18,000 square metre hot house, one of the biggest in Australia.
For fruit shelf life improvement in the stores, they developed systems to place fruit packed among the grape vines, into cool storage within 30 minutes of being harvested.
They also introduced new trellising systems and trickle irrigation and fertilising regimes while significantly increasing their vineyard areas.
Like others in the Valley, they realised the need to be flexible, changing varieties to meet changing consumer demands, especially the big swing to seedless varieties.
“We have been prepared to take risks,” said Jim.
“That has been our path to progress.”
When the Katich family left their village of Kozica for Australia in 1955, Cedo then just four was sat on a white horse led by his Aunty for the start of the long journey. Immediately they joined relatives Mate and Zorka Miocevich at Caversham where they all lived for 12 months in a tiny two bedroom house.
A former shoe maker, family head Milenko gained employment at the Midland Railway Workshops in the tarpaulin shop allowing for the purchase of a vineyard at Caversham where his wife Mila and the children provided much of the necessary labour. Further purchases extended their land holdings, with clearing by hand for table grape and dried fruit production.
Cedo and his brother Matt became fulltime in the early 1970s when the operation was totally focussed on table grapes.
“With fresh grapes, you have to be flexible, to change quickly and give consumers what they want,” Cedo said.
“That means seedless grapes without tough skins and attractive colours. This is critical otherwise you end up with fruit you cannot sell or that achieves poor prices.
“But labour has been a problem especially with the old pioneers passing on.
“With continually rising costs, you have to be efficient to survive.”
By 2004, Katichs were tending 25 hectares producing about 300 tonnes, a size that made the family a major WA player.
Ned Erceg, whose family was among the 1960s wave of migrants was forced to cut short academic studies to look after the family’s Swan Valley 4.5 hectare vineyard following the death of his father.
Under his enterprising management and marketing skills, property ownership was significantly expanded to include more vineyards and a South West orchard at Donnybrook.
Urged on by a university friend who had become a buyer for a supermarket chain, Ned took up the challenge in the early 1980s to supply grapes and fruit.
Such was the success that he soon moved to take in quality-accredited crops from many growers throughout the State to distribute mainly from his Swan packing shed and cool room centre.
By the early 1990s, Ned had become a preferred supplier to the major national retailers Woolworths and Coles, achieving Australia-wide sales.
Mick Erceg was just five when he arrived in WA in 1959, a year after his father Josip (Joze). With community backing for they had little money, the family purchased a six hectare riverfront vineyard at Caversham, mostly planted with currants for dried fruit production.
Dermatitis in 1961 put Joze out of work for 14 months, stressing the family.
But a determination to survive saw them overcome the setback with various alternative crops until 1972, when Mick quit a bank job to become a fulltime vigneron, with brother Ilija.
By this time, they owned a second vineyard, at West Swan and had leased another growing grapes on 14 hectares, a sizeable venture. During the decade they also replanted with exciting new varieties especially seedless and by the late 1980s, production had increased from 6000 10kg boxes to 15,000,
mostly for export.
As well, to improve returns, they invested in cool storage in 1978 as well as marketing direct to remote mining areas and Darwin in the Northern Territory.
In 20 years, the Ercegs who continued to expand, had become a Swan Valley table grape leader as well as setting new horizons for packaging and presentation of their fruit. CARNARVON
In addition, they became a significant force in harvest changes to improve efficiencies, wholesale marketing and in motivating grape production at Carnarvon, to a major horticultural industry.
Modern day pioneers at Carnarvon 1000km north of Perth include the Durmanich family who planted their first table grapes in 1995.
The eight hectares of red globe dawn and flame varieties covered by nets to protect them from the wind and birds, yield an average of 150 tonnes of fruit a year.
The earlier ripening grapes from the warmer region to the later maturing crops from southern vineyards, has meant premium prices on the Perth market where the fruit is sold over a period of about two months from November.
The Durmanichs have been at Carnarvon since 1964.
Backpackers play a key role in the production and so does the Swan Valley with a team of flying Croatian pruners including experienced vignerons like Joe Rakich, John Ozich, John Bozich and Len Radalj making the long trip to the town on the Gascoyne River for the annual task.
“Dalmatia is, so as to speak, made for the vine and the vine is made for Dalmatia.
“There is no survival for us without wine.”
Rudolf Kraljevic, 1893.