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2: The Migrant Circumstances

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This chapter deals with the general circumstances of the post-war migrants to Wyalkatchem and how they arrived from Europe. The following chapter examines specific migrant families.

polish/MapZoomOut (87K)
Source: West Moto Park

Wyalkatchem's Compact Migrant Tent "Colony"--The "Kemp"

Most of Wyalkatchem's initial post-war group of newcomers reached the town during the latter months of 1950 or during early 1951, with the majority, until late 1952 or even early 1953, living in tents south of the railway line and just west of the railway barracks complex which was situated directly south of the western end of the railway station. In other words, the newcomers initially lived on a specially designated tract of public bushland away from the township. This precinct lay within what is best described as the north-eastern corner of the intersection of the Dowerin-Korrelocking and the Wyalkatchem-Cunderdin roads. The initial group of migrants had all reached the town by train since Wyalkatchem still had regular passenger rail services from Perth and Northam. In Northam they had generally been housed for up to about six months at a former Army Camp on the Perth-Northam road several kilometres west of Northam or the Holden Immigration Accommodation Centre, a wartime Army hospital and recovery establishment – the 118th Army General Hospital - for soldiers wounded in the Pacific Theatre or what was then often referred to throughout Australia simply as “The Islands”, and specialised in caring for servicemen who had suffered serious battle burns. The Holden Centre was located just north of Northam town site and within that town's boundaries.

Camp or communal life was not unfamiliar to these people as all had been living in this manner since shortly after the end of hostilities in Europe in May 1945, so for well over five years. Some had even endured communal life for all or most of the war either as prisoners-of-war or forced labourers in the Reich. The one Polish family, the Kozlowskis, which consisted of a widow, a son and daughter, who never lived within Wyalkatchem's railway camp but instead within the town precinct, had reached Australia either via Soviet Siberia or Kazakhstan and British East Africa where they had lived in a camp on the shores of Lake Victoria, Uganda, called Koja.[1] All those who, unlike the Kozlowskis, reached WA via Hitler's Third Reich, not Stalin's Siberia or Kazakhstan and British East Africa, had, before the end of the war, lived in various forms of abode, from communal barracks linked to large German industrial establishments to single rooms on German farmlets, or in prisoner-of-war camps. In the case of Helena Poprzeczna, she had spent nearly two years in a sub-camp of the major Silesian-based concentration camp and SS killing centre, Auschwitz-Birkenau or Auschwitz II, called Babice. [2] Another feature of the Eastern Europeans was that to a man and woman they had not lived in their family home since the early 1940s, so for about a decade before reaching Wyalkatchem. All had been on the move so were transients all that time.

Wyalkachem's Polish migrants invariably described the camp as “kemp”. There was no “the” used before the word “kemp” because the Polish language is without the definite article. Whenever a Pole was therefore asked where he or she lived they would say, “W [pronounced “V” and meaning, “in”, or, “within”] kempie”, or, if an attempt was made to sound Australian, then, “In de kemp”, or even, “In de rul-vay [railway] kemp”. The English language was therefore being adapted, or more correctly, Polonized, in exactly the same way that it had been before and contemporaneously in England, Canada and the United States where Poles had also settled before and after 1945.

For the years 1951-53 the “kemp” area was a relatively compact, but not congested, tent settlement with each family having been initially allocated by the Western Australian Government Railways (WAGR) - one of the State's then biggest employers not only of migrants but also of Australians - two bright white canvas tents that measured about five by three metres. The entrances of both these issued tents faced each other and they stood about four metres apart. Soon after each of the dual tent “residences” had been allocated to the newly-arrived families a three-walled corrugated iron kitchen, with the open side facing the gap between or facing both tents, thereby enclosing the third side was built.

The WAGR-issued tents had another feature that helped ensure they were virtually waterproof, and that was an additional or separate sheet of white canvas that was tightly stretched about a third of a metre above the tents canvas roof's sheeting. This meant that the tents had two roofing sheets, a design that meant very little, if any, water penetrated a tent even on particularly gusty and rainy days and nights.

The migrant camp covered about two to three hectares of recently cleared scrub country, bush, and at its peak, from late 1950 until early 1953, had about a dozen families living within its unspecified boundaries. There was no perimeter fence or some such barrier, a major difference to what most “kemp” residence had experienced in Reich-controlled Europe. After about 1952-53 the number of tent residences, and thus dwellers, steadily dwindled to generally be taken up by single men, sometimes even Australian single men, with only three or so families remaining in the “kemp” until about 1958. What happened to most of the original “kemp” dwellers was that the WAGR had initiated a program of progressively relocating families to WAGR or government-owned houses within the town site, generally to Flint Street, especially at its western end, just east of the late Norman Eaton's farm or homestead paddock. Others were located on Railway Terrace, at its western end, opposite what was then Mosel's Garage. Notwithstanding this drift into the town site as the 1950s unfolded a handful of families remained in the “kemp”. In these cases, however, the tents were steadily replaced by WAGR-issued jarrah cabins, which were about the size of an average sealed WAGR railway carriage. Such cabins had a window at one end and a door at the other and a corrugated iron roof, sometimes triangular others a semi-circle. So, instead of living in two tents facing each other two larger cabins replaced originally issued tents. In these cases the corrugated iron kitchen continued to be standard residential issue. Even in late 2005, well over half a century after having left the “kemp”, the author can clearly visualize most of it and can still vividly picture the interior of both his family's tents and their corrugated iron kitchen and tarpaulin, metal and timber-covered ante “room”. One of the Poprzeczny tents was used solely as sleeping quarters, which had a parental and a child's bed and briefly a cot. Both beds were built by Jozef Poprzeczny from scrounged timber while the mattresses had been brought from Trier, which is situated on the banks of the Moselle River in the then French-occupied Zone of West Germany where the family had lived until late 1949, the year they left by train for Naples via western Austria. [3] The second or adjacent tent was used for general storage purposes and also as the room in which he carried out some tailoring since he had been trained in this craft in pre-war Poland.

None of the “kemp's” combination tent and corrugated iron structures had access to running water. Basins, buckets, and tubs therefore tended to dominate spare corners; generally resting on homemade stools that had been built from scrounged jarrah or pinewood from beer boxes which were in abundance at the hotel. However, each family was fairly quickly allocated a corrugated out-house or toilet, which, like the rest of the town, was on the weekly night-soil service. Water from the Railway Dam that was situated about 1.5-kilometres east of the town alongside the Korrelocking road, was obtained from a single communal tap located roughly in the middle of the “kemp”. Not far from the tap was a communal washroom, which had a large brick fireplace, in the middle of which sat a large copper basin, so was called the copper, or, in Polish, “koper”. This was where all families washed most of their laundry. Nearby were several communal wire cloths lines, though, as time passed, families tended to erect their own cloths lines near their tents. Near the communal weatherboard washroom a collective garden was quickly established and most of the “kemp's” dwellers informally acquired small patches of ground within what was probably slightly less than a quarter acre lot to grow vegetables, i.e. cabbages, tomatoes, lettuces and cucumbers. Watering was done by bucket from the communal tap so children became involved in this family venture, especially after school. Vegetable productivity was boosted by use of sheep and cattle manure that was always readily available since Wyalkatchem's stockyards were situated just south of the “kemp”, alongside or nearby the Dowerin-to-Trayning road. These yards were well endowed with sheep and cattle dung because stock auctions were held regularly and often. If manure was ever in short supply then it could be easily obtained by going to the station shunting yards when a train load of sheep passed through on its way to Midland Sale Yards. Since such trains often spent at least an hour or so in the station's yard manure could be quickly bagged by raking it from below the spaced flooring upon which the sheep stood.

Although one could debate the pros and cons of “kemp” life, a question worth asking is whether it was satisfactory or otherwise to its inhabitants. In seeking to answer this question it is important to keep several crucial considerations in mind if one opts to take an overly critical stance. Firstly, WA in 1950 was barely out of its own period of so-called post-war reconstruction, one in which rationing and shortages were prevalent. Post-war reconstruction was essentially a socialist path adopted by the Curtin Government (1942-45) and implemented by the successor Chifley Government (1945-49) to development that was guided by the Australian Labor Party whose planks at this time had originated from the early 1920s, that is, from the immediate post-Great War Years. [4] Added to this was the fact that both the war and the post-war reconstruction years of 1945-1949 came hard on the heels of the Great Depression, meaning life in WA's wheatbelt towns was far from modern even by the early 1950s. The WA economy of the early 1950s differed markedly from the State's economy even of the early 1960s, and more so as the latter decades of the 20th century unfolded. In light of this it's fair to say life in the “kemp” definitely had certain obvious strictures – no electricity and no running water being the two most obvious. But there were other less obvious advantages. First and foremost, the new arrivals were truly free people, something many today tend to either forget, so easily overlook, or take for granted without thought. Furthermore, and most importantly, there was a feeling that one could now get on with one's life, to raise one's children and to expect to experience material progress, which happened in all cases. Salaries were low, true, but remuneration rose in real terms as the 1950s unfolded and people, after their initial two years work for the WAGR, were free to move elsewhere - both in Australia or overseas, which all did as the 1950s and 1960s unfolded - to improve their lot if they so desired. Not often realized by Australians at this time and even to the present is that all of Australia's immediate post-war migrants had come to this country on condition they worked wherever sent. If this condition for migration assistance – payment of passage and full board and keep until reaching Australia and during one's time in a transit camps – had not applied it is most unlikely that those who reached Wyalkatchem would ever have settled there. And finally, it is important to note that even though life in the “kemp” can be seen as having been communal this point should not be overstressed since each family had its own dual tent and kitchen complex, meaning privacy. In other words individual family life had commenced becoming a part of the new arrivals' way of life in a way that had not been possible in wartime and post-war camp life in occupied Germany and/or Austria. Underlaying all this was an assumption that one was, if not yet a naturalized Australia, then at last on the road to becoming an Australian. Indeed, migrants were officially designated as New Australians, meaning they were seen as Australians – though new ones - from the outset. Though it should be added that in the case of adult Poles gaining command of the English language proved to be quite a formidable task. Most, if not all, of Wyalkatchem's Polish families took Australian citizenship either in the 1960s, or soon after.

It should be noted that Wyalkatchem was not the only wheatbelt town to have a canvas “kemp” on its outskirts. The early 1950s saw such similar settlements arising in many of the State's regional townships. Tent camps had earlier been an integral part of the entire European settlement phase of WA's history, especially in the Goldfields as well as early timber or logging settlements of the South-West. It's also worth stressing here the fact that the year 1950 was only 45-years after Lindsay, Jones and Smith had reached the Wyalkatchem area and both men and those who took up land in the dozen or so years after they'd arrived lived in comparable if not far worse conditions. In other words, many of Wyalkatchem's farmers were the offspring of pioneers who had endured similar living conditions - no electricity, no running water, no refrigerators and none of the other accoutrements of modern day, that is, later 20th century, living.

Before further considering the life and times of the town's post-war newcomers it's worth highlighting the fact that Wyalkatchem's largely Polish migrant community was not the town's Anglo-Celtic Australians' first ongoing encounters with continental Europeans.

Wyalkatchem's Post-War Migrants in Historical Context

A major problem historians who focus upon civilian demographic aspects of World War II encounter is the wide variance in statistical estimates of people involved. Because of this the figures quoted by many writers should be regarded only as guesstimates, that is, as being only roughly in the order suggested unless specific and reliable sources are cited. With this warning in mind it is generally agreed, however, that the German or Reich war economy of 1940-45, through varying methods, resettled or transferred forcibly or otherwise, in the order of eight million non-Germans into the Reich (Germany and Austria) to work in various tasks to assist in the Hitler war efforts. After the war, so after May 1945, some six to seven million of these steadily returned to their homelands with most of these having left the conquered Reich by about 1947-48. In addition to these there were several tens of thousands of allied prisoners-of-war who were released and treated according to special purpose military protocols.

The single overriding factor that resulted in the remaining one to two million people who remained in the defeated Reich was their refusal to return to their homelands since the Red Army had penetrated as far as central Germany liberating from Nazism East-Central Europe; the three Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, Poland, most of Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Bulgaria and Rumania. In addition some people from lands inside the Soviet Union, Ukraine and Belarus especially, also found themselves in the Reich. Most of these also did not desire to return to the Stalinist USSR. Although it is fair and accurate to describe this deep westward penetration by the Red Army as liberation, since the ultimate Nazi aim was to expel all Slavs and most Balts into Western Siberia under the term of Hitler's top secret Generalplan Ost, Soviet-style liberation differed markedly from the liberation from the West that came with the entry of American, British and other, including Polish, forces. The up to two million Displaced Persons in occupied Germany after 1945 did not see the Red or Bolshevik form of liberation of their homelands as being to their desires since it had meant the imposition of a single party or totalitarian order. Furthermore, Stalin's USSR and Poland were capable of treating those returning from the West in a quite harsh manner.

The upshot of the two figures - the eight million people forcibly or otherwise allocated by German, including SS, manpower and demographic agencies to work in the wartime Reich and between one and two million who remained after about 1947-48 is that there were well over a million so-called Displaced Persons who refused to return to their homes. And it is from this pool of between one and two million people that Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States and even some South American countries drew varying numbers of immigrants during the late 1940s to early 1950s.

The repatriation of eight million displaced persons to their homelands in the post-war years was carried out through the joint co-operation of the United National Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) and the Allied forces of occupation. For the purpose of caring for and ultimately re-settling over one million displaced persons who did not want to return to their homelands, the United Nations created the International Refugee Organization (IRO). The assembling of these persons into camps and the housing, clothing and feeding of them was the primary consideration of the IRO. It was the organization's ultimate aim to have these persons re-settled in Europe and other parts of the world. Consular representatives of countries desirous of accepting them as immigrants were located in the IRO camps and displaced persons approached the representatives of the country to which they desired to emigrate. If it was a country outside Europe they were transported to a port of embarkation and awaited shipment to that country. [5]

It should be noted that the Displaced Persons scheme, which was responsible for all the non-Dutch migrants who settled in Wyalkatchem after September 1950, ran alongside other assisted arrival schemes as well as the intake of full fair paying arrivals. Not to be overlooked is the fact that Australia throughout its entire history – so since and during its convict era – has approach the question of immigrants in a utilitarian manner, that is, it has only sought to attract people with skills that were in need during particular periods.

The Eastern Europeans who reached Wyalkatchem were often unskilled workers. But nevertheless they were accepted since that's what the WAGR, various water supply authorities and Co-operative Bulk Handling (CBH) at the time required. Such a statement does not, of course, overlook the humanitarian motive in the acceptance of these people, nor does it ignore the fact that even in the early 21st century Australia continues to have a relatively sizeable humanitarian component within its annual migrant intake. What is being stressed, however, is the fact that migration has tended to reflect or been moulded around the needs of the national, as well as individual state, labour markets, that is, it was and remains essentially utilitarian.

Australia's post-war non-British migrant intake was to be 100,000 people and of this WA took about 19,000 with more than half from Poland. The author of one of the best standard texts on the ships that brought this component to Australia, Peter Plowman, says:

It was during 1944 that the Australian Government began looking towards post-war migration, and in 1945 established the first Department of Immigration. Late that year, a Commonwealth Immigration Advisory Committee made a tour of Europe, seeking suitable migrants, and suggested that people be accepted from many European countries as well as Britain. [6]

Earlier Plowman pointed out that the Great Depression of the 1930s had resulted in the virtual cessation of a migrant intake by Australia. The year that the war broke, 1939, saw just 3000 British migrants reaching Australia's shores. In that year also Australia agreed to accept some 15,000 political refugees, mostly Jews, from Germany and Austria, the Reich. Of this proposed intake, however, only 7000 arrived. The major Nazi figure behind these expulsions was the infamous SS-Obersturmbannfuhrer Adolf Eichmann, who faced trial in Israel in 1962 and was executed for his subsequent involvement in Aktion Reinhardt, Hitler's and Heinrich Himmler's top secret program to exterminate all European Jews. Aktion Reinhardt was headed by SS-Brigadefuhrer Odilo Globocnik, who, during 1938-39, was Gauleiter of Vienna. The Austrian capital had a sizeable Jewish population that was largely expelled from that city and other parts of Austria by Eichmann before the outbreak of war in September 1939. [7] Globocnik was based in the south-eastern Polish city of Lublin between November 1939 and September 1943. Ten months before he was transferred to Trieste he launched an ethnic cleansing action and settled Volksdeutsche in the villages and homes of the expelled ethnic Polish peasant farmers, with one of those affected by this being Helena Poprzeczna, who was expelled from her village of Skierbieszow by Globocnik's German/Austrian and Ukrainian policing units. This action was, in fact, the launching of little-known Generalplan Ost, the other major Himmler demographic program that envisaged the Germanization of all Slavic lands between Berlin and the Ural Mountain range. This plan was in fact the reason Hitler went to war against Stalin's Soviet Union after their initial short-termed friendship of 1939-41, to gain so-called Lebensraum (living room). Under Generalplan Ost all Slavs – Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Ukrainians, Belarusans and Ukrainians – as well as most Balts – Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians – would be expelled over a 25-years period into Western Siberia, so to the lands on the eastern side of the Ural Mountain chain. And Germans, including Volksdeutsche, would be settled upon the vacated lands.

March 1946, so less than a year after the war had ended, was to see the signing of an agreement with the British Government for Britons to emigrate to Australia.

The first departure under the new agreement was taken by Ormonde from Tilbury on 10 October 1947, with 1052 migrants. [8]

According to Plowman, the next major milestone came in July 1947 when the Australian Government entered an agreement with the International Refugee Organization (IRO) in Geneva to take some 12,000 displaced persons annually out of Europe. This quite sizeable target was to be subsequently boosted. It should be noted that similar programs were being contemporaneously launched by the United States, Canada and New Zealand. One outcome of this concurrent running of migration programs meant a sudden demand for shipping was felt by the international maritime sector.

The first of these vessels to come to Australia was the American troopship, General Stuart Heintzelmann, which departed Bremerhaven 1 November 1947 with 843 Balts on board, and arrived in Fremantle on 28 November. [9]

It was the arrival of these early Balts that appears to have led many Western Australians to regard all DPs, as “Balts”. Australia in that year had a population of about 7.5 million people, of which 98 per cent were of Anglo-Celtic descent. According to Plowman, by 1961, so less than 15-years later, Australia's population had risen to 10.5 million, an increase of three million or nearly half Australia's pre-1945 population, with about a quarter of this increase being people of non-British descent. It's worth keeping these aggregate figures and proportions in mind when considering Wyalkatchem's tiny intake of non Anglo-Celtic migrants after September 1950, so when the railway camp commenced accepting the first families whose breadwinners had been dispatched to the town to become railway repair workers. And it should be noted that what Wyalkatchem experienced in this regard was repeated across many central wheatbelt towns as well as in WA's major regional towns like Northam, Albany and Bunbury, as well as in the Perth-Fremantle area. Also noteworthy is the fact that after 1950, the metropolitan area began to demographically outstrip the agricultural region as it had, after about 1910, the Goldfields. Prior to 1910 the Goldfields had demographically challenged the Perth-Fremantle area, so significant was the impact of the gold rushes that began in the early 1890s, just after Western Australia gained self-government from London.

Easily forgotten is the fact that Wyalkatchem's “Refos”, or New Australians, most of whom briefly inhabited the camp between 1950 and about 1953, were not the town's or the shire's first non-Anglo-Celtic or non-English speaking European newcomers. Wyalkatchem's dozen or so post-war East European refugee families were in fact preceded in the mid-1940s by Italian prisoners-of-war (PWs), who were officially referred to as PW (I)s. German PWs, who were also transported to WA, but not to farming centres like Wyalkatchem, were consequently referred to as PW(G)s. Austrians who made up a not insignificant portion of the German Army, the Wehrmacht, were classified simply as Germans. And Italians who were known to be fascists or ardent Mussolini backers were each designated PW(IX); meaning political allegiance was not overlooked or ignored by Australia's military authorities.

Both Axis PWs had, in the main, been captured in North Africa, either by British, Australia, New Zealand, or perhaps even by Polish troops, who, after 1941, saw service in Egypt and Libya, especially. As a rule the captured Germans and Austrians had been members of General Erwin Rommel's Afrika Korp. Despite this there was a smattering of German airmen and merchant marine personnel who had been captured elsewhere, including in the Persian Gulf area in the case of the latter.
Unlike the Eastern Europeans, all of the hundred or so PW(I)s who reached Wyalkatchem District after 1943 lived on outlying farms and were employed as farm hands whereas the subsequent “Refos” were generally employed by the WAGR as fetlock workers, also called navvies or even gangers, with some employed by CBH and later the Country Scheme Water Board, a northward and central wheatbelt extension of the much earlier Goldfields water provision program.

The North African Campaign resulted in some 17,200 Italian PWs being dispatched to Australia. Australia turned towards becoming a PW detention venue after prisoner-of-war camps in Egypt and other parts of North Africa, as well as East Africa and India, had been filled. In other words, because of ongoing Allied military successes. Continental USA was also used as a venue for German/Austrian as well as Italian captives, with many tens of thousands being held there. The steady filling-up of the behind-the-front African and Indian camps, which gathered even greater pace after the Battle of El Alamein (October/November 1942) – the decisive turning points of the North Africa Campaign meant that the transfer of PWs to Australia came to be seen as offering two advantages – firstly, removal of captured military personnel to a distant and virtually impossible location to escape from, and secondly, as a source of desperately needed farm labour, the role the Italians were to fill quite well. Allied economies, like those of the Third Reich, needed to replace manpower that had been drawn to various fighting fronts. Although a number of PWs escaped from camps around Australia none ever managed to leave the country simply because Australia was so far from Italy and the Reich. PW(I)s held in WA were earmarked for farm work while PW(G)s were employed as timber cutters since wood was still a significant fuel, especially in public hospitals, to generate steam, and for domestic cooking and heating as well as by the WAGR at railway stations and in workers' barracks.

The Germans were always held at Marrinup and were employed on the cutting of firewood in the surrounding forests. By 1945 over 60 per cent of this wood came to Perth as fuel for home heating, hospital and army use.[10]

A small number of PW(I)s were also employed in non-agricultural occupations such as repairing the Trans-Australia railway on the Nullarbor Plain, meaning they left the deserts of North Africa to labour on similar harsh terrain in Australia. In this regard those allocated to towns like Wyalkatchem were climatically speaking far better off. [11]

Of the 17,200 Italian PW transferred to Australia nearly 3500 or some 20 per cent were directed to WA. Most were initially dispatched to a camp near Dwellingup, south of Perth, called Marrinup. However, as the war continued PW(I)s were increasingly detained in a smaller holding compound at Karrakatta which was designated Number 8 Prisoner-of-War Labour Detachment from No. 13 Camp, Murchison, Victoria, and dispatched to farms in the wheatbelt. In the latter stages of the war another smaller transit compound became operational in Moora and used to distribute PW(I)s across the State's northern wheatbelt districts.

From Marrinup, Karrakatta, and later, the town of Moora, the PW(I)s were placed under the local jurisdiction of so-called Prisoner-of-War Control Centres (PWCC), which were located in larger wheatbelt towns. Wyalkatchem had such a PWCC. From these PWCCs PW(I)s were individually disbursed to surrounding farms, meaning they were hired out at one pound per week as farmhands.

The Italians were mostly employed in threes or pairs on farms in the South-West, the Central or the Northern wheatbelts of WA with the farmer paying the Australian Government one pound per week for their labour. The farmer was responsible for the feeding of the prisoners, and the farms were inspected once a fortnight by the Australian Army local Prisoner Control Centres. [12]

According to Perth historical researcher, Ernest Polis, Wyalkatchem's PWCC commenced operating on 19 April 1944, so about a year before the war in Europe ended, and it had an initial strength of 100 PW(I)s to administer. Administration included payment for work, provision of prisoner attire and overseeing their proper treatment by farmers. Wyalkatchem's PWCC ceased operations 13 months later, in May 1946, when all its PW(I)s were transferred 100-kilometres westwards to the Northam Army Camp for eventual repatriation to Italy which was to commence by September 1946, so just four years before the first Eastern Europeans began arriving in the town and the erection of the railway camp.

When the repatriation of prisoners commenced in August 1946 they were assembled in Marrinup for processing before being shipped from Fremantle to Genoa or Naples in Italy. The Marrinup Camp closed in September 1946 and POW activities transferred to Northam Army Camp where No. 4 POW Compound was established. All but a few POWs had left WA by December 1946. [13]

Wyalkatchem District's historian, John C. Rice, dates the PWCC's closure at March but adds the proviso that some of its PW(I)s were still being employed after that date, which explains the difference.

The POW Centre in Wyalkatchem closed in March 1946. Some prisoners were still working on farms in the district, but they were being brought in to the Northam Army Camp and there would be no more of them in the Eastern Districts after the end of May. [14]

For most of the time the Wyalkatchem PWCC was commanded by a Captain Harold Tindale Coppock (WX3404) who was then aged 32-years. The Wyalkatchem Centre was officially designated W16 as part of the war establishment of the state's line of communication and was one of 28 such precincts within the state. [15]

According to University of Victoria historian, Anthony Cappello:

Eventually the PWs returned to Italy, beginning in August 1945. Out of the 17,131 Italian PWs in Australia, eighteen committed suicide, one was shot by a guard and 116 died of natural causes. . . The Italian PWs had brought manpower to Australia's home front. Some writers argue that the pro-migration policies, which followed the war got their inspiration from the example of the Italian PWs. [Emphasis added] [16]

Of these 116 PW(I) natural deaths, 22 of these in Western Australia, with one of these, a 35-year-old Private Felice Marasco (PWI-63204), who died in the Wyalkatchem District. He lost his life in an accident on 7 September 1945 at a Benjaberring farm, exactly four months after the cessation of hostilities in Europe. Private Marasco, a member of the 1st Compagnia Radio, was killed by falling off a tractor into the scarifier that he was towing. He was to be buried within Wyalkatchem Cemetery's Roman Catholic section, in grave number 14. Private Marasco had been captured at Amba Alagi, Abyssinia, on 19 May 1941 where the Italians had unexpectedly surrendered three days earlier to the Indian “Ball of Fire” Division. He arrived in WA in February 1944, having being interned in British India since 17 October 1941. In civilian life he had been a clerk and was born in Nocera Terenise in the Catanzaro area of Calabria, southern Italy. [17]

According to Polis, a general order was issued by the Australian Government in the mid-1950s for the exhumation of bodies of Axis servicemen so that the remains of the more than 100 deceased PW(I)s could be re-buried in a single cemetery where they would be more easily overseen in accordance with treaty arrangements and obligations that also affected Australians buried beyond Australia's shores. Although Marasco's remains should therefore have been treated in accordance with that general order this appears not to have happened in his case, probably due to a bureaucractic oversight which means that Wyalkatchem's Cemetery has the unique distinction of continuing to be the resting place of a World War II Italian PW.

Little has been published by Western Australians who employed PW(I)'s. Fortunately Wyalkatchem farmer, military historian and author, Paul de Pierres, has not overlooked this episode in the history of his family farm, named Derdebin. He has highlighted this forgotten minor chapter of the district's past in his self-published history of his French ancestors, which highlights the achievements of his pioneering grandfather, Vicomte Guy de Pierres (1880-1954), who settled south-east of Wyalkatchem after 1912, following nearly a decade of sheep grazing on the eastern shore of South Australia's Lake Eyre.

Derdebin was allotted three Italian Prisoners of War named Giovanni, Francesco and Andre, to help with the work and they were billeted at the original farmhouse where they cooked and looked after themselves. . . The POWs were peasant farmers in Italy and really not much use for anything but basic labouring around the farm. One of them, Francesco, was not happy and was replaced by another named Joseppe. [18]

The wartime Wyalkatchem or Derdebin farming experience must not have been that unpleasant for at least one of these, since he gave serious consideration to returning to WA as a free migrant from Italy after having been repatriated after war's end.

. . . Guy [de Pierres] received a letter from their [Guy's and his wife's] former Italian Prisoner of War, Giovanni di Fabio, asking if he could return to Derdebin. He [Guy] immediately wrote back advising Giovanni how to go about the migration process and offering to sponsor him. [19]

However, di Fabio failed to follow-up on the offer of migration assistance from his wartime employer. Paul de Pierres' claim that PW(I)s were “not much use for anything but basic labouring around the farm” probably needs some explanation. As de Pierres points out, the three PW(I)s employed at Derdebin were all of peasant farming background. What this meant, amongst other things, was that they would have been quite unfamiliar with farm machinery and WA's farming techniques and practices even though much of Italy and WA's wheatbelt shared similar climatic conditions. And the PW(I)s had little time to learn so as to become adept since they were only employed in Wyalkatchem for slightly over one year, so less than just over one full farming season.

One of the often overlooked aspects of WA's wheat and sheep farming sectors' development was the role of adolescents – farmers' children, most of whom could drive a truck, a tractor and/or motorcycle by the time they were in their early teens, knew how to handle large sheep flocks adeptly and undertook many other farm chores, including being generally quite competent mechanically. Farming childhood backgrounds meant having the opportunity to develop aptitudes that were generally lacking in the case of the PW(I)s since these men had hailed from vastly different agricultural backgrounds or perhaps even urban environments. This meant wheatbelt farmers would have found such inexperienced labourers, initially at least, not fully up to the tasks at hand. Moreover such a lack of experience from their adolescent years may well explain, in part at least, the fatal accident of 35-year-old Felice Marasco, a clerk in civilian life, whose remains still lie at Wyalkatchem Cemetery. Marasco lacked the years of practice that so many wheatbelt farmers had been able to gain often since their childhood years.

Cappello's latter point, that the Italian PWs may well have contributed to mellowing or modifying Australia's pre-war reluctance to accept non-English speaking migrants is, however, most pertinent.

The more than dozen Eastern European families who reached Wyalkatchem within five years of the Italian PWs departure from Wyalkatchem District's many farms, to return to Italy, as required under international law, were therefore not an entirely new factor in the town's economic and social history. This point is made despite the fact that the Italians were prisoners, even if they experienced a fair degree of freedom, while the migrants were free people, just like all other Australians. And this point is worth stressing because one of the major reasons most of the East Europeans chose to emigrate to Australia was to ensure they did not live in a Soviet or bolshevized society which required an inordinate degree of social and economic regimentation, a political order than had been imposed upon Poland after 1944 with its occupation by the Soviet Red Army. Another reason the Italian PW experience is worth noting is that most of the migrants reaching Wyalkatchem in 1950 or soon after had been farm labourers in the Reich so undertook work similar to that of these PWs.

Another possible reason for growing post-war acceptance of non-English speaking migrants across WA was the fact that most rural Australians had become increasingly aware that a huge backlog of maintenance and repair work was required to publicly-owned infrastructure. WA's quite extensive railway network was in disrepair, as were its roads, and many other public assets. WA by 1950 was therefore in quite desperate and urgent need of a boost to its skilled as well as unskilled worforce. Not widely realized today is the fact that on many of the wheatbelt's railway lines trains were often compelled to travel at extremely slow speeds so as to ensure that the under-maintained and dilapidated tracks did not give way beneath the loads. Sleepers below the tracks were prone to sink into unhardened surfaces thereby leading to derailments.

Differences Between Italian Prisoners of-War and Post-War Eastern European Migrants

As already stated, unlike their Italian predecessors the Eastern Europeans were not prisoners. They were like the freemen and women who migrated to the Swan River Colony, as the Perth area came to initially be known, during and after 1829, so were not like Western Australia's convicts of the 1860s to 1880s, who it is more accurate to compare to the PW(I)s when working as farm labourers. It should be added, however, that the PW(I)s were paid and after the war many indicated they wished to remain in WA rather than be repatriated to Italy. In this latter respect they were like Western Australia's 1860s to 1880s convicts. Permitting the PW(I)s to remain in the state afters the war had ended was not an option for the Australian Government since it was required under international law to return all such prisoners to their homeland. Notwithstanding this some PW(I)s opted to simply escape and hide rather than return to their post-Mussolini homeland. Others returned to Australia soon after reaching Italy. In light of this one should therefore be cautious about being too hard and fast when making the comparison with WA's convict era. [20]

The Eastern Europeans and Dutch also came with spouses, and in most cases at least one child, whereas the Italians were an all-male contingent having been soldiers in North Africa who had been captured far away from kith and kin. As will be seen below this meant that wives accompanied the post-war intake and thus the town's workforce was further boosted since most of these women quickly found employment either as private domestics on outlying farms, or else at the Wyalkatchem Hotel, the hospital and/or the drycleaners.

Because most of those reaching Wyalkatchem in 1950 and shortly after also had children this was to mean that the town's post-war baby boom of farmers' children as well as those in the town began to mix and make friends with non-Australian children from the outset of the 1950s. This new generation of Western Australians was therefore the first to be exposed to non-Anglo-Celtic sensibilities and cultures, a major difference between themselves and their parents' childhoods.

Furthermore, since most of the migrants were Catholics the town's Catholic population was also markedly boosted and this helped to act as a catalyst for the construction of the Presentation Sisters' Convent in 1953. Of the 40 students attending in that inaugural year at least 10 per cent were offspring of migrants from the outset. But this number and proportion was to rise with the birth of a first generation of Australian-born offspring of the migrants. [21]

Captured in Battle or in a Lapanka

Finally, it is necessary to highlight what may not be an obvious similarity between Wyalkatchem's wartime PW(I)s, who worked in the district during 1944 to 1945, and the town's post-war primarily Polish and Ukrainian refugees who were residents between 1950 and about 1970. Both the PW(I)s and the succeeding refugees reached the town or district because they had been captured, one way or another. In the case of the former, the PW(I)s, they were captured by British or Australian forces on one of the battlefields of North Africa or in states of the Horn of Africa, such as Somalia or Abyssinia (Ethiopia) by British colonial Indian troops. However, many of Wyalkatchem's refugees, despite being civilians, had also been captured, or, more accurately, kidnapped by members of one of the Reich's many policing agencies. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say that they were press-ganged into working in the Reich. In other words, they were subjected to the same treatment experienced by so many 18th and early 19th century Englishmen who had gone to sea forcibly with the Royal Navy by being press-ganged, that is, caught on a street or in public house and taken to a ship against their will. Several of Wyalkatchem's migrant menfolk, of course, experienced military capture and thus internment, like Wyalkatchem's earlier PW(I)s. What this meant was that virtually all those who reached the town in 1950 or soon after had begun their journey to this representative WA central wheatbelt town a decade or so earlier, by being forcibly removed from their home, and therefore Poland. In light of this it's little wonder that during the war the Poles used a word to describe such kidnapping or press-ganging of civilians, a permanent threat hanging over the entire population between 1940 and 1944. And that word was “lapanka” with the first letter, “l”, pronounced like the English letter “w”, so it is pronounced, WA-PUN-KAH. This word is related to the Polish verb, “zlapac”, meaning, “to catch”, and is related to another Polish word, “lapa”, meaning, paw or claw, in other words, the end portion of the limbs of an animal like that of a lion or a tiger, which seems appropriate in light of the treatment that so many civilians endured. The Kosciuszko Foundation Dictionary defines “lapanka” as a: “(police) round up (of civilians during the German occupation, 1939-1945).” [22]

As the war continued and the German or Reich economy required ever more workers to replace the German and Volksdeutsche (ethnic Germans living beyond the Reich's 1938 borders) menfolk who were being conscripted into Germany's armed forces. This meant there was to be an increasing reliance on forcibly recruited Polish, Ukrainian, Yugoslav and other including even from Western Europe workers to help maintain industrial and farming output to pursue Hitler's war aims, which were primarily focused upon defeating and destroying the Red Army so that the top secret Hitler/Himmler Generalplan Ost could be implemented. This little known plan envisaged the steady expulsion of millions of Slavs into Western Siberia and the settling of Germans from the Reich and other parts of Europe upon traditional Slavic lands - Poland, Bohemia-Moravia (Czech Lands), Belarus, Ukraine, Russia, and Slovakia. [23] But it is the demand for wartime labour explains why so many of those who reached Wyalkatchem – including women - after 1950 had been victims of a “lapanka”. Unless such people had been soldiers they had invariably or generally been press-ganged into working in the Reich. As things transpired this was to be their first step in coming to spend the remainder of their lives in Australia.

The Third Reich's Insatiable Demand For Labour

Georgia Institute of Technology academic, assistant Professor of modern German history and history of technology, Michael Thad Allen, in his book, The Business of Genocide – The SS, Slave Labor and the Concentration Camps, has focused on the role of foreign workers in the Hitler war effort. [24] Although the primary focus of Allen' study is the role and treatment of concentration camp labour – like that endured by Helena Poprzeczna in and around Auschwitz-Birkenau for nearly two years - the work undertaken outside such camps by nearly all the Poles reaching Wyalkatchem was also crucially important in the Reich's war efforts. Those reaching Wyalkatchem, with the exception of Helena Poprzeczna, were generally PWs or simply press-ganged labourers, who had endured a lapanka, and were then forcibly directed to farming chores, like her husband Jozef who had been dispatched to Lorraine. One of Allen's observations is worth quoting here since it helps put into context the treatment most of Wyalkatchem post-war settlers underwent.

To German management fell the daily task of configuring modern production around these [foreign] labourers in a last-ditch effort to match the Allies tank for tank and plane for plane. Foreign civilians made up the majority of this compulsory labour force. Limited recruitment campaigns for foreign workers had started as early as 1940, but after March 1942 a special “General Plenipotentiary for the Labor Action” began large round-ups of “Eastern Workers” to ship west to German factories. Over 700,000 concentration camp prisoners laboured under the most brutal conditions, and even if they formed only a small part of the overall German war economy, by 1944 hardly a single locale with any factory of note lacked a contingent of prisoners. [25]

It is worth seeing the fate of those who reached Wyalkatchem in light of the decision to launch large round-ups across Poland after March 1942. Although I have been unable to establish the exact date that each of Wyalkatchem's “eastern workers” was press-ganged into working in the Reich it is likely that most, if not all, were caught after March 1942. I know that my father was arrested in March 1942 for no cause while at Koluszki railway station waiting for a train get to Piastow, which is to the west of Warsaw, because he was placed on a Reich-bound train in Czestochowa, where he was interned for a brief period, on the 17 March, his birthday. This suggests he was press-ganged in the first wave of arrests.

The Ships That Brought Them to Fremantle

TheE information about individual ships identified in this section has been largely obtained from leading Australian maritime historian Peter Plowman's classic, Emigrant Ships to Luxury Liners: Passenger Ships to Australia and New Zealand, 1945-1990, which was published by the New South Wales University Press in 1992. This book not only carries quite detailed historical descriptions of each ship but also photographs of most of them so is worth consulting, especially if one wishes to be reminded what the ship one arrived in Australia looked like. If not all, then most of these ships have now been broken up for scrap so can never be seen.

Anna Salen [26]

The Anna Salen was built in 1939 and initially known as the Mormacland. Her builders were Sun Shipbuilding & Dry-dock Co., Chester, and the contract was for Moore-McCormack Lines. This 11,672 gross tonne vessel was 494 feet by 69.2 feet, with a single screw and had a service speed of 17 knots. In 1940 she was acquired by the US Navy and refitted to become an auxiliary aircraft carrier. However, in 1941 the Royal Navy commissioned her, HMS Archer, and she served as a convoy protector. These were the days of American Lend-Lease with US President Franklin D. Roosevelt's moving to save Churchill's Fortress Britain in the face of domestic isolationism in the immediate post-Dunkirk era. As HMS Archer she collided with, and sank, the American SS Brazos on 13 January 1942. Because she was so badly damaged HMS Archer had to be towed stern first to Charleston, South Carolina, for extensive repairs. In 1945 the US Ministry of War Transport took her over and renamed her simply Archer and had her refitted as a cargo ship. She was managed by the Blue Funnel Line and subsequently renamed the Empire Lagan. In 1946 she was returned to the US Maritime Commission.

Her next owners were Sven Salen of Stockholm with her registration under the ownership of Rederi A/S Pulp. Now rebuilt as a passenger ship, with accommodation for 600 single class passengers, Anna Salen was set to become an emigrant ship for destinations as far away as Australia.

In December 1949, Anna Salen broke down off Aden and her passengers were transferred to another legendary migrant ship, the Skaugum, which at the time was making its way back to Europe from Australia. This mishap was to be the only such incident in the transfer of well over 10,000 migrants to Australia over the late 1940s and early 1950s, the years of Australia's peak migrant intake. Anna Salen next docked in Fremantle on 31 December 1950, even though this trip was destined for Melbourne, and a result, WA's population was unexpectedly boosted by 1500 people with Victoria missing out on that number. After mid-1953 she was used for round voyages between Bremen and Quebec.

In 1955 Anna Salen was sold to Cia Nav.Tasmania, Piraeus in 1955, renamed Tasmania and put on the Piraeus-Melbourne service for the Hellenic Mediterranean Line. Three years later she was rebuilt to be a 7638 gross tonner and in 1961 was sold to China Union Lines of Taipei and renamed Union Reliance. In November that year she collided with the Norwegian tanker Beran in the Houston Ship Channel, Texas, and was beached on fire, after which she was towed to Galveston and sold two months later to be scrapped at New Orleans. The Piekarczyk family were to reach Fremantle aboard the Anna Salen.


Plowman points out that what came to be known as the Castelbianco was one of the so-called “Victory” ships built in the United States as part of its wartime armament program. Ships in this class were mass-produced like the far better known “Liberty” ships of that global conflict. The Sitmar Line acquired the Vassar Victory from the US Maritime Commission and renamed her Castelbianco, which was refitted in late 1947 so as to be capable of carrying some 900 passengers in segregated quarters. Furthermore a single deck of superstructure was also added. [27]

Vassar Victory had been built in 1945 by Bethlehem Fairfield Shipyards in Baltimore. She had a gross tonnage of 7604 tonnes and was capable of a service speed of 15 knots. Propulsion was by geared turbines with a single screw. Her dimensions were 455 feet long and 62 feet wide (138.7 x 18.9m). In July 1947 mass resettlement of refugees in the former Reich commenced with the signing of a contract with IRO for a number of ships that would be used to transport these people to countries beyond Europe that either had already or would be accepting them. Castelbianco was among the first group of ships earmarked for this task. The first voyage to Australia by one of these ships was that of Castelbianco, which arrived in Sydney on 23 April 1948 from Europe via Madras. She was to make a further trip later that year leaving from Genoa and several more over 1950 and 1952. In 1952 she was reconstructed and had her tonnage increased to 10,139 tonnes and was re-named Castel Bianco. From 1953 she began operating between Genoa to Australia, with this later being changed to Bremerhaven. Sitmar sold her in 1957 to the Cia. Transatlantica Espanola, known also as the Spanish Line. Castel Bianco was again renamed, this time to Begona.

Dundalk Bay

The 7105 tonne Dundalk Bay was built in 1936 by Bremer Vulkan, Vegesack, for the North German Lloyd. It was named Nürnberg and was to be one of five sisters which carried the name of a significant German city. The others were: Dresden, Leipzig, München and Osnabrück. These general cargo ships plied between Bremen and the west coast of the United States, via the Caribbean, and could each carry up to a dozen passengers. Nürnberg turned around in San Francisco and was used to carry tropical fruit such as bananas from islands like Jamaica during these years. With the outbreak of war in September 1939 Nürnberg was put into service as a mine layer in the North Sea and later became a German military accommodation and storage vessel in the Danish port of Copenhagen for occupation forces where it was taken as war booty by the British in the spring of 1945.

Two years later the Nürnberg was sent to Britain and used for a short time as a depot ship then sold to H.P. Leneghan & Sons Ltd, of Belfast, who operated the Irish Bay Line. As the Dundalk Bay – so named after a bay south of Belfast - was used as a refugee transport vessel. Plowman said of her:

Very austere quarters for 1025 persons were installed in the former cargo spaces, but the superstructure was only slightly enlarged. [28]
The Dundalk Bay made her first trip to Australia, out of Trieste, on 15 March 1949, bringing some 1000 passengers. She made two more trips to Australia and New Zealand the same year. In early 1950 she was based in Naples and it was from here that she made two sailings, the first in January, to Melbourne, and the second in March to Fremantle. It was on the Dundalk Bay's second or March trip in 1950 that the Bajkowskis, Baluchs, Marcinowiczes, Olejaszes, Poprzecznys, Przybywoliczes and Zuglians came to WA. [29]


The Goya commenced its life as a fast cargo ship under the name Kamerun. She was built by Bremer Vulkan, Vegesack, for the Woermann Line and was launched in May 1938. Kamerun and her sister ship, Togo, were employed on the Hamburg-West Africa run. With the outbreak of war she was requisitioned by the German Navy for use as a repair ship and carried out these duties throughout the entire war. In May 1945, the month Hitler's Reich unconditionally surrendered, the Kamerun was handed over to the Norwegians as war reparations. Two years later she was renamed Goya and acquired by the Norwegian line, L. Mowinckels Rederi, for use as a cargo ship. The Goya was a 6789-tonne vessel, and was 438 feet by 58 feet (133.8 x 18m). She was diesel powered with a single screw and could travel at a service speed of 15 knots. Two years later, in 1949, Mowinckels Rederi gained a contract from the IRO to transport refugees so Goya was converted to a passenger carrier. The refitting and refurbishing meant that the Goya was capable of carrying 900 passengers.

Goya made four migrant carrying trips to Australia. The first was in March 1949 from Genoa and it was on this voyage that Janis and Helena Saveljevs were passengers. Plowman writes:

During September and October 1947, authorities from the Australian Government visited camps in Germany housing displaced Balts, people from Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, whose homelands were now under communist control. A total of 842 were selected to be taken to Australia as migrants, and this group was taken to Bremerhaven . . . [30]

Goya's three remaining Australian trips were all from Bremerhaven, Germany, and were made during 1950. In 1951 Goya made three trips to New Zealand also carrying migrants. Plowman says that this marked the end of her career as a migrant ship. In 1953 the Goya was to be again as a cargo ship.

The Mowinckels Rederi's Goya should not be confused with a passenger/cargo ship of 5230 tonnes of the same name that had been built in Norway for the Hamburg-America Line. This other Goya was acquired by the German Navy to help in the mass evacuations from the Hela Peninsula in the Bay of Gdansk (Danzig) of some two million people and nearly three-quarters of a million soldiers during 1945. This operation, sometimes referred to as Germany's "Dunkirk" was undertaken to move Germans from present-day northern Poland who were fleeing the Red Army which was advancing upon Berlin.

When the Norwegian-built Goya was nearly 100-kilometres off the Baltic port of Stolpe, and carrying members of the 35th Tank Regiment plus several thousand refugees, she was attacked by the Soviet submarine L-3. Two torpedoes struck her amidships after which she broke in half and sank in less than five minutes. Of Goya's nearly 6400 passengers fewer than 200 survived, meaning this 16 April 1945 disaster witnessed many more deaths than the sinking of the Titanic. [31] Of the estimated 7000 aboard Goya only 183 were rescued

General W. C. Langfitt

The General W.C. Langfitt was one of 10 American World War II fast troop carriers that were to be used on the IRO's program of relocation of refugees from post-war Europe to the New World, including Australia. Most of these people were, at the time, housed in camps in Germany and Austria, so the former Reich. These ships were collectively referred to as the “Generals” since they had all been named after an America general. [32] According to Plowman the General W.C. Langfitt made her first refugee or migrant trip to Australia in June 1949. Its second was in September the same year and the third in February 1950. This last trip was from Mombasa, Kenya, to Fremantle and was the one that the three members of the Kozlowski family was relocated to WA on after they had spent the second half of the war and the remainder of the 1940s in East Africa having reached there via Iran out of either Kazakhstan or Siberia where hundreds of thousands of eastern Poles had been deported in 1940 and 1941 by Stalinist ethnic cleansing agencies.


The Skaugum was German-built and was to be rebuilt in 1949 by Germaniawerft, Kiel and Howaldswerke, Kiel. Skaugum had a tonnage of 11,620 tonnes and her dimensions were 552 feet in length and 66 feet wide. She was powered by a diesel electric engine with twin screws and had a service speed of 15 knots. When launched Skaugum was known as the Ostmark, and was sister ship to the Steiermark, a ship that has considerable and tragic relevance in the history of the Royal Australian Navy.

With the outbreak of war Steiermark was renamed Kormoran and was converted into a raider. And it was this ship that sank the HMAS Sydney off Carnarvon, WA, resulting in the loss of 648 Australian seamen; so all hands. [33] Ostmark, or the future Skaugum, was launched in January 1940, so four months after the outbreak of the war. The fact that the building of the Ostmark was completed after the outbreak of war meant that it was “towed to a quiet backwater and laid up in this incomplete state for the duration of the war.” [34]

When the Allies entered Kiel in May 1945, the British claimed Ostmark as a prize of war, and she was placed under the control of the Ministry of Transport. In 1948, the Minister of Transport sold Ostmark to the Norwegian shipowner, Isak M. Skaugen, who owned a number of freighters and tankers. [35]

A year later, after Isak M. Skaugen gained a contract to transport Displaced Person for resettlement beyond war-devastated Europe, she was re-built for this purpose and made her maiden voyage nine years after being launched. She made trips to Melbourne in May and July 1949. During November the same year she left Naples for Newcastle with 1700 passengers. Plowman provides an account of an incident that many migrants, even those who were still minors during the 1950s in Wyalkatchem, are likely to recall having been occasionally discussed by adults.

In December 1949, Skaugum was crossing the Indian Ocean returning to Europe empty, when another IRO ship, Anna Salen, developed engine trouble while outward bound with 1600 persons on board. Anna Salen had to return to Aden, and Skaugum was also directed there, to take on board the displaced persons from Anna Salen and carry them to their destination in Australia. [36]

Skaugum made four further trips to Australia during 1950; in March from Naples to Melbourne; from Bremerhaven to Fremantle in June; in August also from Bremerhaven to Fremantle; and her last such trip in November from Naples to Melbourne. In 1964 she was sold to Ocean Shipping & Enterprises and renamed Ocean Builder and sailed under the Liberian flag. The Roszak family reached Fremantle aboard the Skaugum in July 1950, along with the Chorza-Purkhardt and Szczesny families.


Arrival Date

Total Landed

General Stuart Heintzelmann

1948-February 13






1949-April 19



1949--May 21



1949-June 22



1949-July 22


Anna Salen

1949-August 24



1949-September 9


Anna Salen

1949-October 10



1950-January 6


General Langfitt

1950-February 15



1950-March 2


Dundalk Bay

1950-March 29/



1950-June 11



1950-July 12



1950-September 24


General Hersey

1950-November 3


Anna Salen

1950-December 31




Of the 19,000-odd Displaced Persons reaching WA over the three years 1948-50, 8236 were from Poland. Those categorized as hailing from Yugoslavia numbered 2892, with nearly 2000 from Latvia. Those from Ukraine, or more correctly, the Soviet Socialist Republic of Ukraine, numbered 1254, which was just below the Hungarian component of 1320. The other large group was from Lithuania, numbering 1051. Other countries represented were: Estonia (524); Romania (174); Czechoslovakia (842); Russia (318); Germany (152); Bulgaria (91); Albania (25); France (7); Belarus (5); and one each from Belgium, Luxemburg, Spain and Switzerland.

These figures should not be seen as reflecting exactly the ethnic break-up of these newcomers since some may well have been Jews, while others who hailed from pre-war Poland were Ukrainians. It is also possible that some of those giving Czechoslovakia as their country of origin may have been Sudeten Germans. The same may also apply to some giving Hungary as their nation of origin since that country had a sizeable German minority, some of whom had adopted Hungarian names under Budapest's pre-war Magyarization program. [38]

Finally, of the 19,000-odd Displaced Persons reaching WA during 1948-50 about 14,200 were adults with children making up nearly 5000, so roughly a three-quarter to one-quarter breakdown.

Although a precise average age cannot be given a scan of the Dundalk Bay's passenger roll shows that most males were in the 25-35 age group while females were markedly younger, probably averaging around 25, certainly below 30. What this meant was that Australian migration officials were selecting on the basis of age and that those who arrived did not retire from the workforce until about 35 to 40-years later, so in the late 1980s or the early 1990s. With migrant women generally entering the workforce most of the 14,200 adults were therefore additions to WA's workforce, meaning the program succeeded in the sense that it gained a sizeable number of workers. Offspring of these migrants entered the workforce alongside Western Australians who were in the so-called post-war baby boom cohort, therefore adding signficantly to the state's need for workers when it witnessed a marked boost in economic development and growth following the emergence of the Pilbara as a major international mining region after 1964. In this regard, therefore, this WA migration chapter must be judged as having been successful.

Western Australian Immigration Centres

Between 1947 and 1954, the years which well and truly cover the post-war refugee or Displaced Persons intake that's pertinent to Wyalkatchem, the Commonwealth Department of Immigration had no fewer than 11 immigration centres in WA that were transit residential establishments. The one most of Wyalkatchem's migrant settlers lived in was the Holden Immigration Accommodation Centre in Northam, which opened in 1949 and remained operational until 1957, and again during 1962-63. During 1949-51 there was also what was generally referred to as the Northam Army Camp (Northam Reception and Training Centre). The Holden Centre had a capacity of some 850 persons, while the Army Camp could hold up to 4500.

Cunderdin was also briefly a venue for a transit camp, the Cunderdin Migrant Centre, which had a capacity of between 700 and 750 persons. It was operational between 1949 and 1952. During the war years it had been the RAAF base where air crew were trained under the Empire Air Training Scheme that saw several thousand airmen trained across the British Empire, especially for Bomber Command that operated out of England against Reich cities and industrial targets. In addition to Cunderdin, Albany and Collie had migrant hostels that could each accommodate about 200 persons. Both these were operational during 1951 and fell under the control of Commonwealth Hostels Pty Ltd.

In metropolitan Perth, Graylands was the venue for the Immigration Centre (1947-54). Graylands and Dunreath Hostel in Belmont were also Commonwealth Hostels Pty Ltd venue. Swanbourne Migrant Centre, with a capacity of 500 persons, was operational between 1947 and 1949. This, however, was a refurbished military camp and had been loaned by the Army to accommodate migrants. Nearby Karrakatta's Army Camp was briefly used during 1947 to accommodate Polish servicemen from Britain who were en route to work on the Tasmanian Hydro-Electric Scheme. And after 1947 the Point Walter Migrant Hostel, with a capacity of about 500, was also utilized.[39]

[1] Perhaps the most comprehensive English language account of the movement of some 120,000 Poles out of Soviet Siberia and Soviet Central Asia, primarily Kazakhstan, in 1942-43 to East Africa and Rhodesia, via Iran, Iraq and British India, and later on to Australia, Canada, the United States and England, is carried in: Krolikowski, Lucjan, OFM. Conv. Stolen Children: A Saga of Polish War Children. (Buffalo, New York). 1983. The author is grateful to Elizabeth Patro of Dianella for information about the Kozlowski family. Mrs Patro attended the same school as Rozalia's in Koja Camp, Uganda, throughout most of the 1940s. She also intermittently met Rozalia after both had reached Fremantle in February 1950, the last time being in 1954 or 1955 in Perth. None of the Poles who knew the Kozlowskis, either in Uganda or WA, were able to advise the author of their whereabouts after the mid-1950s.

[2] For a detailed but concise study and analysis of Auschwitz-Brikenau see: Sybille Steinbacher's: Auschwitz – A History. (Penguin Books), 2004.

[3] The Poprzeczny family lived briefly in a transit camp at Dietz, on the eastern side of the Rhine and to the north of Frankfurt-on-Main.

[4] The single most important contributions to Labor's socialisation and centralization (abolition of the states) planks was Melbourne lawyer, Maurice Blackburn. Labor's thinking since the days of Blackburn and the late 1940s, indeed, right into the early 1980s, was essentially unchanged. Since then, however, Liberal-National Party Government, especially the one led by John Howard, have moved for ever greater centralization by Canberra's bureaucracies.

[5] Reginald Appleyard; "Displaced Persons in Western Australia. Their industrial location and geographical distribution: 1948 to 1954", University Studies in History and Economics, Vol. II, No. 3, 1955, pp. 63-64.

[6] Peter Plowman; Emigrant Ships to Luxury Liners: Passenger Ships to Australia and New Zealand, 1945-1990. (University of New South Wales Press), Kensington. NSW. 1992. p. 7.

[7] Joseph Poprzeczny; Hitler's Man in the East: Odilo Globocnik. (McFarland & Co. Inc. Publishers). Jefferson, North Carolina. 2004. p. 64.

[8] Peter Plowman; Op. Cit. p. 7.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Information Sheet. The Army Museum of Western Australia, Artillery Barracks, Burt Street. Fremantle. WA. 16 August 1995.

[11] The author cannot provide the source but vividly recalls reading an article either about or by the well-known former electronics retailer, Dick Smith, who specialised in travelling long distances by helicopter. At one stage Smith undertook a helicopter flight along the Trans-Australian Railway Line either from Kalgoorlie to Port Pirie or vice-versa. To his amazement Smith noticed a symmetrical or orderly arrangement of several hundred white stones near the line in the middle of the Nullarbor and for some time wondered what this was and who had set them out in such an orderly manner. It was later determined that the stones had been laid out in a pattern as part of demarcations between tents of and pathways of a work camp that had been used by PW(I)s employed on this railway line.

[12] Army Museum Information Sheet.

[13] Ibid. (The Army Information Sheet says that by December 1946, 32 POW escapees were still at large in WA. Of these one was never recaptured while the last was captured in 1951 and returned to Italy. Four Italian and 13 German POWs were permitted to remain in Australia. The author met and interviewed one of these Germans, Gunther Kuhlman, in the 1990s. He had been a civilian cook aboard a German merchant marine vessel that was blockaded at the western end of the Persian Gulf by the outbreak of World War II. Kuhlman was captured in 1942 in the port of Basra, Iraq, following an Allied action against Kuhlman's ship and several other Axis vessels that had by then been blockaded for nearly three years. Kuhlman was brought to Western Australia and was detained at Marrinup POW Camp. After the war Kuhlman requested that he be allowed to remain in Australia and was permitted to do so since he had never been a member of the German Navy or any other Axis fighting arm He was a merchant marine man. After his release he developed a successful bakery and pastry business in the Fremantle-Mosman Park area. Consequently, Kuhlman and the other dozen Germans were technically the first post-war German migrants to Western Australia, even though they had reached Australia's shores ahead of Wyalkatchem's Polish and other East Europeans.)

[14] John C. Rice: Wyalkatchem – A History of the District. (Wyalkatchem Shire), 1993. p. 314.

[15] The author is grateful to Ballajurra historical researcher, Ernest Polis, for the details on Italian prisoners-of-war detained in WA and disbursed across the state's wheatbelt region, most especially the information about Wyalkatchem's Prisoner-of-war Control Centre. For further information see Polis's: “Marrinup: A Cage in the Bush. (2005).” Additional information on this aspect of WA's wartime economy can be found in Rosemary Johnston: Marrinup Prisoner of War Camp - A History. (1986) and a broader general survey of this aspect of Australia's wartime agricultural sector by Alan Fitzgerald: The Italian Farming Soldiers: Prisoners of War in Australia, 1941-47. (Melbourne University Press). 1983. WA-born author, Barbara Winter's, Stalag Australia, which is primarily a study of German POWs in Australia, also considers Marrinup.

[16] Cappello, Anthony; Quadrant, July-August 2004, “Mannix, Modotti and the Italian PWs”. p. 40.

[17] Paul de Pierres Military Documentary Collection, Wyalkatchem.

[18] Paul de Pierres; “Loyalty Sustained”: The Story of the de Pierres Family in Australia and New Zealand, 1903-2003. (Self-published), Wyalkatchem. 2003. p. 45.

[19] Ibid. p. 56.

[20] Valma Downing (Compiler); Corrigin District residents talk about their experiences of Italian prisoners-of-war; Former Italian prisoners remember. The Price of Peace: Corrigin war memories [Compiled by the Year 8-10 students, Corrigin District High School and the Corrigin community].Published Corrigin, WA: The School, c 2001. "An Office of Citizenship and Multicultural Interests Project." Battye Library, Perth. 940.5481. Regrettably, to the best knowledge of the author, Wyalkatchem farmer employers of PW(I)s never undertook an oral recording exercise like that of Corrigin. Paul de Pierres' references to the PW(I)s employed on his grandfather's farm are the only published accounts known to the author. It is perhaps also noteworthy that John Rice's history of Wyalkatchem (referred to in footnote 16 above) only briefly refers to the post-war migrants being described in this monograph. Unfortunately that history carries only a four-line reference to these people and is headed: “Immigrants and Refugees” and reads in toto: “Wyalkatchem felt the effect of post-war immigration, especially resettlement of Eastern European refugees, many of whom were obliged to work at assigned and guaranteed jobs for two years in return for their passage to Australia.” p. 350. Comment added on May 11th, 2009. On re-reading this comments about the PW (I)s I was surprised to read in a newspaper either in 2008 or 2007 that one of the German survivors, so someone who had been interned in Australia – perhaps even at Marrinup south of Perth, of the German raider Kormoran that sank HMAS Sydney in November 1941, off Geraldton, was actually living in eastern Australia. Precisely when he returned to Australia I do not know.

[21] Marchant James, Ruth; Cork to Capricorn: A History of The Presentation Sisters in Western Australia, 1891-1991. (Congregation of the Presentation Sisters of WA), 1996. pp. 515-521.

[22] Polish-English, Vol. II. Kazimierz Bulas, Lawrence L Thomas and Francis J Whitfield, (2nd printing) The Kosciuszko Foundation Dictionary. Mouton & Co. 1964. London, The Hague, Paris. p. 223.

[23] For a brief survey of the Hitler/Himmler top secret Generalplan Ost see the author's, Hitler's Man in the East, Odilo Globocnik, (McFarland and Co. Inc. Publishers), Jefferson. North Carolina. 2004. passim.

[24] Michael Thad Allen; The Business of Genocide – The SS, Slave Labor, and the Concentration Camps. (The University of North Carolina Press), Chapel Hill and London. 2002.

[25] Ibid. p.3.

[26] Arnold Kludas; Great Passenger Ships of the World. Volume 4, 1930-1950. Translated from German by Charles Hodges. (Cambridge, Stephens.) 1977.

[27] Peter Plowman, Op. Cit. p. 56-57.

[28] Ibid. p. 92. (Although the author, then four and a half years old, can recall, if only vaguely, these on-board quarters their austerity certainly does not come to mind. Bunks, two high, were made of steel. The most vivid recollections I have are of Naples harbour; a smoking Mt Etna at Sicily's eastern end; Port Said and the Suez Canal, with desert on both sides; either Aden or Colombo, a whale blowing water, probably somewhere in the Indian Ocean, and finally disembarking at Fremantle. I also recall the rusty roofs of Claremont, Subiaco or maybe Mt Lawley as we were transported by train to Northam.)

[29] In 1993 I wrote a feature article that appeared in The Sunday Times highlighting the Dundalk Bay's March 1950 trip from Naples to Fremantle. This was prompted by the fact that I had recently obtained a copy of the ship's passenger roll from the Australian National Archives on Berwick Street, Victoria Park. Soon after I received a much-welcomed letter from a George S. Christie of 47 Bamboore Crescent, Wanneroo. Mr Christie wrote: “I was pleasantly surprised to read your article in The Sunday Times of 21inst. relevant to your arrival in this country on the vessel, “Dundalk Bay”. I served as third Mate on the aforementioned vessel during the period February to December 1949. During this period we brought migrants from various countries in Europe; passengers would embark at Trieste (Italy) and were landed in Melbourne. I understand they were housed at Bongeala (excuse spelling) for a period prior to obtaining employment. We did land a contingent in Wellington, New Zealand, during the period I was on the vessel.”

[30] Ibid. p. 36.

[31] For a concise account of the evacuation of Germans ahead of the advancing the Red Army across present-day northern Poland at the turn of 1944-45 the book, The Cruelest Night: Germany's Dunkirk and the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustlaff, by Christopher Dobson, John Miller and Ronald Payne, successfully captures the atmosphere of the times. The loss of the Wilhlem Gustlaff to a Soviet submarine resulted in the death by drowning of almost 7000 people "nearly five times as many as went down on the Titanic."

[32] Named in honour of Major-General William Campbell Langfitt, Class of 1883, USMA, who served in Cuba, 1906-07, and with the American Expeditionary Force in Europe during World War I.

[33] The Kormoran has significance to Wyalkatchem because the parents of one of the seamen, Peter, who perished aboard HMAS Sydney were briefly Wyalkatchem residents, with the father, Mr Kitchin, being the National Bank manager in the town during part of the war. Moreover, their other son, David, was a merchant seaman who was captured aboard his ship when it was off the coast of India by the Kormoran. This meant David was briefly interned aboard the raider. David was subsequently transferred to the Kormoran's supply ship at sea somewhere in the middle of the Indian Ocean to be taken to Germany to be held as a POW. But that supply ship was sunk – probably by a torpedo fired by an allied submarine - in the mid-Atlantic on her return voyage so that David also perished at sea. In a very direct sense therefore both young men although not long-term residents of Wyalkatchem were associated with it, adding a truly tragic wartime chapter to the town's history and to the Kitchin family which later settled in South Australia.

[34] Peter Plowman; Op. Cit. pp. 58.

[35] Ibid.

[36] Ibid.

[37] Peters, Nonja; Milk and Honey – but no Gold. (University of WA Press), Nedlands. 2001. pp. 292-93. Readers will note that Peter Plowman says that the General Stuart Heintzelmann reached Fremantle on 28 November 1947, while Nonja Peters gives 13 February 1948, as the date of arrival. The author is unable to confirm which of these dates is correct. It may well be that both are correct with the Heintzelmann having made two trips.

[38] In December 2004 I met a Mrs Fay Lieblich of North Perth, who, with her sister, had been a passenger on the Dundalk Bay during the March 1950 journey from Naples to Fremantle. Both women had survived the Rzerzow Ghetto. She advised that as well as the two of them there were two other Jews on that March 1950 journey to Fremantle. When I later inspected Dundalk Bay's passenger roll I noted that she as Fala Lindenbaum had been listed under religion as being Orthodox (“orth.”) which I naturally interpreted to mean Greek Orthodox. According to Mrs Lieblich, however, she was probably thus categorized by Australian immigration officials working in Germany because all migrant ships destined for Australia passed through the Suez Canal and there was a distinct possibility that Egyptian authorities could have objected to Jewish passengers transiting through this waterway since Egypt was in a state of war with the newly-created state of Israel. To ensure there were no incidents Australian officials appear to have opted to place an ambiguous description under the religion category in the case of the small number of Jewish migrants. Since practicing Jews can be either Orthodox of Liberal if someone interpreted the former to mean Greek (Christian) Orthodox, so be it.

[39] Information from this section was obtained from Nonja Peters Milk and Honey – but no Gold.

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