The following excerpts are from the memoirs of three Czechs who emigrated after February 1948.
Let’s start with the first impressions of Božena Šamánková, written on board a transatlantic steam boat as it pulled up into Sydney Harbour.
“We arrived to Sydney on the 23rd October 1949. We had been getting up every day at 6:00, and the day we arrived we couldn’t sleep in, even if we wanted to. There were plenty of us early risers standing on the deck ready to greet Sydney. It was Sunday. It was a beautiful Summer in Australia. I watched the sun come up, and when its rays turned the ground a warm gold, it was so beautiful that I couldn’t get enough of the view. The open sea was behind us and we sailed between the heads towards the city. Bays both small and large protruded from the banks of the harbour, formed by water lapping up against them for centuries. Enormous stones at the bottom of the banks were eroded into various shapes, as if the hand of the creator wanted to show them in their entire beauty in all shades of colour. Then the coastline shot up to the sky, and its steep banks were covered with beautiful houses and gardens filled with greenery. The gold of the rising sun caught the leaves of tall palm trees, flowed down the roofs of houses, until it spilt over into the waves licking around us. There was too much beauty here for the heart to take in (…) It is hard to express in a few words what our beginning in Australia was like. I can only add that we were well taken care of, put up in hostels, ate in large dining halls and even got pocket money…”
Former fighter pilot with the RAF, Jaroslav Novák, set foot on Australian soil in September 1951.
“The enormous problem of searching for employment had begun. Every day I got up around 4:00 am, bought the newspaper and looked for any job adverts and stood in line at various offices, until one day, about three weeks later, someone recommended that I visit a particular small wholesale dealer, who had a warehouse full of nylon stockings that he needed to sell. I borrowed a suitcase from him and traversed Sydney by train, selling pairs of stockings to small shops on the way until I had sold the entire stockpile in the warehouse. Of course, once the stock was gone I lost the position as well. I only worked on commission, never for a wage. When I made sales, I got to eat, and when I didn’t, food was hard to come by. I was constantly on the look out for newspapers with ads in them, when one day half way through December I saw an ad, in which a photo supply store was looking for a sales person. I reacted to it straight away, went for an interview, and got the job just in time for Christmas. It was in that moment that my whole life changed, because I worked in sales for more than 50 years…”
In 1953, ex-pat, Josef Procházka, wrote to his friends in the USA from Melbourne, and told them about discovering various corners of Australia:
“Lately I have been travelling around Australia and though it may seem homogeneous, I find it very interesting. Australians from all around the continent are similar in nature. The great distances between individual hubs of civilisation haven’t resulted in any strange or obvious cultural variations. I guess you could say that people from Queensland are somewhat more temperamental than those from the south, who unlike other Australians, inherited the character traits of a people influenced by industrialisation. The vast majority of the population lives in the south in large cities by the ocean and only about 1 million people live in the countryside – or “outback” as they call it here. People living on farms have their own slow accent and specific lifestyle…”
Text prepared by Martin Nekola.
Cover Image: Transatlantic steam boat about to leave Europe for Australia