The Life of Lojze Brgoč - told in an Eulogy at his funeral - by his son Aleš.
Dobro jutro. Mama, Igor, Jana In jaz, bi se radi zahvali vsem, ki ste prišli, in za sožalje. Bi rad en par besed povedal od naš’ga očeta, Alojza Brgoča. Bi rad povedal po slovensku, ali po trnsku, ampak kešne besedi in izrazi so čist moj’ga učenja. Tako pa bom po angleško. Oprostite.
It seems that our lives are dictated by times places and dates. We are forever being asked to identify ourselves using these three markers. At birth the time, date and place are diligently recorded and again at the time of our passing. But this tells us nothing of ourselves. They are mere statistics, numbers and words written down and saved beside our names. They do not tell us who we are, where we’ve been, where we are going, who we met and how we ended. But it is a universal convention so I’ll begin at the beginning and try to maintain some semblance of chronological order. Some times, dates and places may be incorrect but if nobody objects I’ll maintain these to be true.
Alojz BRGOČ was born to Alojz BRGOČ senior and Agatha, in Trnje pri Pivki (Trnje near Pivka), Slovenia, on the 24th of March, 1928. He was Alojz to his parents, Lojze to his friends, Lou to his workmates and plain old TATA, or Dad, to us. To this day I don’t know how close I came to being named Alojz the third?!!? He was the second eldest son behind his brother Jože. Six sisters completed the family. I’ll skip over his early years and let those that knew him at that time to tell tales of his youth.
Born after the horrors of World War I, and with no idea of what World War II would bring, I can only imagine what his early years were like. Schooled under Italian rule - his education, like many present today, was limited. Yet what he achieved throughout his life was truly amazing.
When dad was 11 years of age World War II broke out in Europe. At 17 he joined the army in an unofficial capacity. Too young to fight, he instead drove army personnel from battle fields to their barracks and guarded prisoners of war. At 20, he was conscripted into national service for 2 years. Unfortunately that is all I know of this period of his life. I must have had a thousand conversations in relation to the war and the part he played in it, yet this is as much as he would divulge. I guess he had his reasons.
At 22 he took a job at a post office in Pivka, Slovenia, sorting and delivering mail. In mid February 1954, at the age of 26, he was still working at the small post office. He closed up, and bordered a train for Sežana, a small town close to the Slovenian/Italian border. Still wearing his postman’s uniform to avoid suspicion, he illegally crossed the border into Italy risking imprisonment for espionage if caught. He had no possessions with him and had told no one. Now to some of you here today this is a common story. To me it is almost incomprehensible. It is the stuff of Hollywood movies, James Bond and Mission Impossible. To reconcile these actions with the Dad I knew, is hard.
Now having crossed the border he was put into a camp and from there onto a ship bound for Australia. I doubt that Dad even knew where exactly Australia was, or what was waiting for him. I guess, it was just the luck of the draw, that he came here. It was just as likely that he would have been placed onto a ship bound for Canada. Funny how things work out.
Like so many others, Dad landed at Port Melbourne in May 1954 and made his way by taxi to Collingwood. He had the address of a long lost friend and a few pounds in his pocket. As luck would have it, he had travelled thousands of kilometres over many months and the day he lands, was the day his friend decides to go out… Dad spent much of that first day waiting on the footpath for his friend to return. I often wonder what he was feeling at that time. At some point he landed at Bonagilla Migrant Camp and was offered work in far North Queensland, cutting sugar cane. He declined, and so I never learned to surf – pity!
Over the next few years, he was employed in a number of factories in, and around, the city. During this time he also hosted his brother and two of his sisters and their families, who had also made the move to Australia. Dad, the pioneer! Who would have thought?
Dad eventually settled into the job that would see him into retirement. That: of a roof tiler. A dirty, back breaking trade if there ever was one. But he managed to get through 35 plus years in almost one piece. I look at that trade now with all the safety requirements in place, and wonder, how Dad did it. His trade saw him work on the Olympic Village in Heidelberg and this was one of only a handful of stories that he would tell. He never bragged, just mentioned it in passing. Come to think of it - we passed that village very often.
Once again the period between 1956 and 1968 when he returned to Slovenia is hazy. Occasionally he would tell us how he took a train to work carrying all his tiling gear, learning to drive on the other side of the road, teaching himself English with a newspaper and a Slovene to English dictionary - but those stories were few and far between.
Now Mum likes to tell us that Dad couldn’t find a suitable wife in Australia during the 12 years he was here, so back to Slovenia he went where she was waiting for him. If that story works for her, then it works for us as well. Anyhow, in the space of four years he returned to Slovenia, married, had two sons and returned to Australia for what was to be a short trip to earn some extra cash and tidy up loose ends. A daughter, and 44 years later… still here.
In 2008 Dad’s health deteriorated considerably and he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. The first few years were manageable but the slow and steady decline was obvious. The Dad we knew, was slowly being replaced by a stranger: by one, that no longer recognised us, and we him. Outwardly he was still the same man tough, nuggetty and with a sense of purpose. This was all a lie.
As the years went on he became increasing dependant on Mum and she diligently cared for him above and beyond what most people would be capable of. The love for her husband did not waver. She literally kept him alive through those years at home. Eventually his condition deteriorated to the point where home care was no longer an option. Reluctantly we moved him out of his home of 40 years and into a nursing home. Although he was well taken care of, and his needs were being met, Mum still visited nearly every day with soup and a sandwich. As long as they were together, all was right in the world. Now, our home soup was said to be a cure for all - perhaps.
On Tuesday the 3rd of January, in the early morning, Dad closed his eyes for the last time. That evening, as we came in to say our goodbyes, he took his last breath. Extreme sadness was tinged with relief that he had finally found peace after all these years.
Now those that knew Dad can attest to the fact that he was a mild, even tempered, humble, honest and quite a man, but with a sense of humour. I think, that Dad thought he was the one that came up with Dad jokes. So coming up with highlights of his life has been difficult, but there are a few moments that I would like to share. We would often joke with Dad in regards to these. They are not meant as a mark of disrespect and are all told with love.
- The first car dad owned, which I remember was a 1970 Ford XW station wagon. It was a workhorse during the week carrying cement, tools and tiles. On Saturday afternoon it was washed within an inch of its life ready to take us out on Saturday night and church on Sunday. Cleaning the windows with scrunched up newspaper was considered acceptable.
- It was perfectly acceptable for kids (us) to ride in the very back of the station wagon. Trips to Adelaide and Canberra were no exception. Teaching kids (us) to drive in that car with a three on the tree gear configuration, was considered character building.
- Drive at, or under the speed limit - unless it was Friday and the bocce lanes were calling. Then all bets were off. Also acceptable was to drive to Albury and back in the same day if a Bocce tournament was on.
- It was OK to buy another XW station wagon in order to replace one damaged panel on the existing car.
- “Work builds character!”. It is acceptable for 12 year olds (us) to work during school holidays, operate the tile conveyor belt, fasten batons onto the roof, carry tiles across the roof (often two stories high) and mix cement. All without prior training or any kind of safety equipment. Paid $20.00 for a weeks work - seems fair?
- Weak tea and a cheese sandwich can sustain any man during a 10-hour workday in a 40-degree heat. Add an apple if its below 5 degrees.
- Formal slacks, that can no longer be worn out to a dance, are suitable work wear.
- If you step on a rusty nail or have a piece of tile embed in your eye, finish the day, and seek medical help later.
- Yes, Dad has travelled the world: Italy, Egypt, Canada, the Middle East through the Suez Canal and Australia. For us, Rosebud and Lake Eppalock (Victoria) were suitable holiday destinations. Why would you want to go anywhere else? Queensland? Are you crazy? Too hot and sunny… yes too hot and sunny!
- Turning up to the beach covered head to toe with socks and shoes on, is not only sun smart - it is good judgement. Not getting into the water – ever - also seems OK.
- Spending the school holidays in the back yard with just a garden hose is considered a holiday.
- One ride, and one show bag, are enough for any kid at the Royal Melbourne Show.
- At one point or another Dad took us to, and watched us kids participate in football, soccer, athletics, basketball, karate, golf, tennis, cricket, bocce, swimming, netball, cross country running, squash, fishing, water skiing and others, too numerous to mention. Not once did he offer any advice on how we should play, or criticize our performance - and for that we are grateful.
- Animals have to earn their keep - sort of. Allow the kids (us) to have any number and type of pet they want. Dogs, cats, chickens, budgies, lizards, fish, turtles, doves, spiders, frogs etc., and bury the said animals in backyard after they die from lack of attention.
- Pretend that the dog is a nuisance, and an expensive addition to the family. Pat, and talk to the dog in Slovenian, when you think, nobody is looking. (My son asked me once how an Australian dog could understand Slovenian? Sunday school perhaps?)
- To be spoilt rotten at all times. Don’t spare any expense. Their wish was his command: McDonalds - no worries… Mum and Dad said NO - too bad!
Thank you for listening. It is extremely difficult to sum up one man’s life, one that spanned 89 years, in a few short minutes. I hope that we have done him justice. I’ve often been told that my Dad was the quiet one, the one that would rather listen than talk; the one, that preferred to work as part of a team rather than be out in front. A sincere and honest man. On some occasions this was said as if it were a bad thing.
Now I know, that there will be no monuments built for Dad, nor will his name adorn buildings, or feature in newspapers. To the very end he was a humble man: a true gentle man in every sense of the word.
And when people ask what legacy he left behind, I’ll point to Mum, his wife of 47 years, us three kids, and our partners, and his 6 grandkids.
Now: that’s a legacy any man would be proud of!
Rest easy Dad, you have earned it. Počivaj v miru!