Lojze (Alojz ) Markič

After finishing my apprenticeship as a bricklayer in Slovenia, I decided that I would follow in my older brother’s footsteps and follow him to France.  In those days it was impossible to leave Yugoslavia unless one escaped illegally under the cover of night in search of better opportunities. My first attempt was foiled out of respect for my mother.  My brother Andej was already living and working in Paris.  We organized a meeting across the border in Nova Gorica, I was prepared to take a big risk and jump the border then, but being mindful of my mother’s presence, I postponed my plans. A week later, towards the end of August 1959 I decided to set out on my adventure.  The only person aware of my plan was my older sister.  It was late into the night that we said our goodbyes, and I took off on foot towards Trieste, Italy.  My path took me from Podnanos, past Štorje towards Sežana. Fearful of walking along the road, I kept a safe distance of some 50 meters between the road and myself.  About 5 o’clock the next morning I reached Opicina in Italy.  There I exchanged some money and proceeded to visit my aunt Metoda living in Trieste, hoping to meet up with my brother Andrej who was supposed to meet me there, as prearranged.  Alas, he left the night before.  My aunt told me to return to my mother who must be grieving for me: after all, I was still only a child. In a dilemma what to do next, I finally decided to report to a police station, handing myself in as a refugee. Following an interview I was transferred to San Sabo camp where I spent a whole month in limbo.  During this time I attempted to proceed to France, hoping to join my brother in Paris.  My brother once again came to my rescue, he visited me at the camp – we jointly travelled by train to Italian – French border. There we parted, he returned to France by taxi.  I attempted to cross unlawfully on foot over the mountains into Mentone, France, where we would meet up at a prearranged place. It was not meant to be.  I was caught at the border. Authorities searched my personal possessions; they discovered an immunization card from the refugee camp in Italy; meaning that I was already given a refugee status there. My brother Andrej happened to see me in a police jeep, he then followed me to the police station where he acted as my interpreter. There the decision was made to return me to Italy.  Andrej again followed me to the border by taxi, giving me some money; we said our goodbyes and I was then imprisoned for a couple of days in San Remo prior to being transferred back to San Sabo by train under a police escort.

I remained in San Sabo for two months, where I managed to obtain some illegal work from time to time. From there I was transferred to Napoli. A number of Yugoslav refugees were returned to Yugoslavia for whatever reasons only they knew.  In Napoli I was able to work temporally as a bricklayer on  renovation sites in preparation for return of Italian citizens from Egypt.  A number of refugees, including myself, were selected to partake in the filming of a war film; playing a minor part of a German soldier. It paid well. Three months on another move followed, this time to Latina where I was again employed as a bricklayer on a construction of new barracks to accommodate families that arrived as refugees. Here I was given a position of a supervisor reporting to an engineer that came from Rome twice per week. Here I also witnessed corruption first hand.  Much of the building material meant for this building site never arrived; it was claimed that the refugees stole it for personal gain.  Not so, but I was cautioned not to talk or my passport would be confiscated. I stayed at Latina seven months. As my numerous applications for France were turned down, I decided to apply for Australia. This was where most of my friends ended up going. Australia was developing fast and needed workforce.  At that time, to have our fare paid by Australian government, we had to sign an agreement to stay and work in Australia for two years,

In the middle of September 1960 I sailed for Australia on a ship called Flaminia from Trieste.  Our trip took 31 days, arriving to Port Melbourne, Station Pier towards the end of October.  I crossed the Equator on my 20th birthday.  This was a very memorable day for me, due to ceremonies taking place on this day on the ship. There were some 20 Slovenians on this ship, eight passengers per cabin: four double bunks. The ship was fitted to carry over 1000 passengers. The food was good, entertainment, English language classes and so on.  Here I also had the misfortune of being robbed of my earnings in the camps, arriving to Australia with eight shillings to my name.

Upon reaching Australia I was supposed to go on to Bonegilla camp, but as luck would have it, a Slovenian priest, Father Bazilij boarded the ship welcoming Slovenians to Australia.  A friend of mine, already in Australia had asked him to approach me with a promise of accommodation in Melbourne.  It was this meeting that paved the way for me in Australia. I left the ship with Father Bazilij for Kew, where he just received a lease of a large house from the Catholic Diocese to serve as a boarding house for new arrivals.  Thus I became one of the first boarders in this house known as Padua Hall, later renamed Baraga House.  I stayed here for seven years. It was also Father Bazilij that found my first job with Triglav construction in my trade as a bricklayer.  I travelled to and from work by bus and train until I bought my first car.

Life in Australia has been good to me. I enjoy a comfortable life that includes my three children and seven grandchildren.  My many trips back to Slovenia enable me to stay in close contact with my family and relative over seas.

Anne Markič, known in Slovenian community as Anica

I left Slovenia as a thirteen year old to follow my parents who left two years earlier as refugees, looking for a better future, better opportunities.  Under the communist system in then Yugoslavia, not being party members, my parents foresaw no future, no progress only discrimination; a fact that I was already well aware of as well. Therefore my fate, my move to leave Slovenia, was in the hands of others. I travelled to Australia as a regular passenger, with Yugoslav passport, to join my parents and my sister already living in Australia.  As a result, I was spared an internment camp. This did not however spare me the anxiety or trauma of separation felt by many that left their loved ones, like my parents, illegally under the cover of darkness. First it was parting from my parents at the age of eleven, then parting from my beloved grandparents, who I spent most of my young life with and all my friends.

My grandfather left me in Zagreb, from there I travelled on my own, but for some recent acquaintances I met for the first time at an Australian Consulate in Zagreb a few days earlier on to Trieste where I spent a week at a hotel waiting to sail to Australia.  The ship half cargo half passenger, called Toscana with facility for only some 750 passengers in all, was on its final journey before being retired into some ship yard. The journey took 42 days.  My accommodation was a top bunk in a primitive dormitory catering for 100 women, another similar dormitory catered for men. There were also cabins available for families.  Here too, I was left without any supervision. I remember a crew member paying me extra attention, getting too close into my personal space.  As a naïve teenager, I began to feel intimidated, uncomfortable. My instinct told me this was not normal, therefore I began to avoid him. Only years later did I become aware of dangers that I might have been exposed to, had I not followed my gut feelings. The most memorable events on my trip were, seeing for the, first time, black people in Port Said; travelling through Suez Canal, the half starved cows staring at us as we crawled by. To a naïve thirteen year old, this was all very intriguing.

It was June 16th 1959 that our ship sailed into Port Melbourne.  Six weeks was a very long time spent at sea, what a relief to finally step onto solid ground once again. My parents met me here, followed by a train journey to Wangaratta, where I attended school for the next four and a half years. Reunion with my parents, sister and some other relatives already living in Australia was sweet and overwhelming. Unforgettable to this day, upon the arrival to my new home late at night, my mother offered me some supper: bread, butter and jam.  To my amazement, this was such extravagance - fresh white bread, butter and jam!  Back in Slovenia I was used to home baked rye bread, at times moldy, up to 3 weeks old and no spread on it! Like many starting out in a new land, I too experienced loneliness, depression, isolation.  I longed for my grandparents, abandoned school friends.  Language barrier contributed greatly to my heartbreak. As a 13 year old I withdrew, locking myself into the toilet at recess, rather then interact with my peers.  It took 3 years before I overcame my shyness, gained confidence and accepted Australia as my new home.

I became a very independent person.  Chose nursing as my career and experienced many overseas trips back to Slovenia and other places. Even today, I still feel a very strong bond between my two homelands, ever mindful of my roots.

Interview: The Slovenian

TV SLOVENIA Interview:  Pričevalci Anica in Lojze Markič

Matija  Cimerman

Matija Cimerman, born in the village of Koračice. Parish of Sveti Tomaž pri Ormožu, Slovenija in 1926 as the second youngest of 5 children to Ivana (born Rihtar) and Matija Cimerman. At the age of 31, living and working in Maribor, in May 1957 along with my wife Marija, jointly decided to take a drastic step to leave our homeland in search of a better future. Employed at Tovarna Avtomobilov Maribor, a factory that held no prospects for advancement for anyone refusing to join the communist party.  The political system at that time rewarded only the faithful ones, regardless of their ability.  I was not  considered one of the loyal ones. There was also difficulty finding adequate  family accommodation for the same reason. My wife Marija and our seven years old daughter Stella ( Stanka ) left Slovenia under the promise of secrecy.  Only a limited number of close family members were aware of our intentions.  We left mainly on foot without additional luggage or food so as not to attract any unnecessary attention from the authorities, or even from the neighbors.  We took a chance, if caught attempting to cross into Austria illegally, we could have been shot at worst, or captured, returned to Yugoslavia and I would have been thrown into prison for any period of time as a traitor for undermining the authority of the then strict Yugoslav system that refused to allow its citizens moving outside of its borders for fear of under minding their supremacy. We crossed into Austria under the cover of night hiding along the way in the bushes and the forests during the day. Possessing no such luxuries as a map or a compass, we followed our natural impulse/ instinct that we were heading into the direction of Slovenian/Austrian border.  Darkness added to our confusion as to what direction we were heading.  Our young daughter was firmly lectured not to talk out aloud.  Whispering was the order of the day, so as not to be discovered by the Yugoslav border guards at any cost. As we moved along, being extremely cautious, we noticed a house a short distance ahead with lights on.  Leaving my wife and daughter a safe distance away, I crept closer to check on our whereabouts by approaching the house and checking the location identity plate above the main entrance to the house.  As I reached the house, I decided to peep through the lit up window.  Shock, horror!  Inside the house were Yugoslav border patrol guards loading their guns and rifles in readiness for their patrol. Holding my breath, I dropped to the ground, ran to where I left my wife and daughter and told them to just run as fast as they could to get as far away as possible. Both obeyed unquestionably. As dawn advanced we found ourselves to be safely in Austria.  Here we handed  ourselves in to the Austrian local police station, begging them to accept us as refugees.  After interviews, made easier due to my knowledge of German language, I was imprisoned for a few days, separated from my wife and daughter while Austrian authorities checked on our background. We spent some four months in a refugee camp in Linz awaiting our next move.  Our intention was to go to Germany or USA where I had an older brother.  Both were in great demand. Coincidentally, by sheer luck, attending one of many meetings at the camp promoting various possibilities, an official singled me out, informing me that I made an excellent choice opting to go to Australia.  I did not have a heart to tell him that this far away land was never an option.  From here things just fell into place and before we knew it, we were on our way to Australia with the assurance that after two years we could move elsewhere.

While in the refugee camp in Austria I was fortunate enough to find some work as a gardener and handy man on nearby farm to earn some money for our immediate needs.  Clothes were supplied by the generosity of the Red Cross. While in Linz refugee camp we were accommodated as an individual family unit, however shortly before leaving for Australia we were transferred to Eins where we were in shared dormitory with a few other families.  Both places provided good food. In both camps we met and befriended numerous other Slovenians awaiting the same fate. Early in October 1957 we travelled by train to Trieste where we embarked onto a ship called Aurelia that took us on to Australia. We disembarked in Port Melbourne on 2nd November 1957.  The ship accommodated about a thousand passengers.  Husbands and wives were in separate dormitories.  Here we had a chance to attend English classes, movies, dances and other activities.  Food was again beyond our expectations that included refreshments, even wine. Upon reaching our destination we were both happy and sad.  We were happy to reach Australia, but sad realizing the distance that separated us from our families back in Slovenia. From Melbourne we were taken by train to Bonegilla where we arrived during the night. Here we were accommodated in timber barracks on wooden stumps, much to our surprise. The surrounding was already very dry due to early hot weather.  Here we had a chance to attend daily mass, participate in English language classes and various recreations. At the camp, amongst many nationalities, we also met other newly arrived Slovenians eager to commence a new life in Australia. Luck was once again on our side.  We stayed at Bonegilla camp for only three weeks before moving on to Wangaratta where Marija was offered a job by a wonderful farming couple from Targoora, Mr and Mrs Webb. It was as a cook for their family. I too was employed temporally as a farm hand on this farm while looking for a job in Wangaratta.  My first job was as a bricklayer, a trade I learned in Slovenia prior to transition to a welding trade. During the seven year stay in Wangaratta I had a variety of jobs, finishing off at Wangaratta Welders prior to moving on to Melbourne due to better employment opportunities. Our lives in Wangaratta were very enjoyable. We formed many friendships, most of all we will for ever be grateful to the Webb family for their welcome, friendship and guidance; giving us a great start and support in this new country.

As we moved to Melbourne, new environment opened up. I was employed at Baker Perkins as a welder/leading hand and stayed there till my retirement many years later. I became involved in the Slovenian community, club Planica and served as a president for many years.  We also had an opportunity to visit Slovenia three times, first time in 1970.  Reunion with family members was very emotional, but always happy to return to our new homeland Australia.

Anica Markič

EULOGY - Matija Cimerman

Marija Cimerman (nee Kosi )

Marija Cimerman was born in the village of Hranjigovci, parish of Sveti Tomaž near Ormož, Slovenija in 1925 as the eldest child in family of five children to Neža ( nee Munda )  and Anton Kosi. My husband Matija and I decided to go in search of better life outside of Slovenia.  This meant leaving behind my parents, other family members and friends.  Our option to leave everyone dear to me was very difficult and heartbreaking.  My conviction in supporting my husband’s idea was made easier when my two brothers decided to take the same step.  My younger brother Anton left first. My other brother Jože, his wife Milica together with their daughter Sylvia and my husband, younger daughter Stella and myself decided on a joint departure. Unfortunately my sister in law met with an accident, broke her leg and had to return to Maribor with the help of some faithful friends before the family was reported as missing, to avoid repercussions from the authorities.  My husband, younger daughter and I continued our journey on our own after saying goodbye to my brother’s family.  They tried again and succeeded some months later. We left Maribor early in May 1957, where I worked as a machinist at a textile factory.  Stella ( Stanka ) was seven years of age, about to start school.  My older daughter, eleven years old  Anne  ( Anica ) was left behind with my parents where she spent most of her young life living on the farm. Our odyssey was not without extreme dangers.  With many heart wrenching moments, feeling cold and hungry as we proceeded on our way during the night, hiding and resting during the day, scanning the surrounding landscape planning our direction to successfully cross the border into Austria without being caught by the Yugoslav border guards that would have gladly returned us back to Maribor to face the consequences for daring to dream of a better life away from Yugoslavia; if they did not take aim at us before that.  Yes, our journey was a matter of life and death. We eventually crossed into Austria where we presented ourselves at a police station as refugees hoping to move on to Germany or USA.  Australia was never an option. We spent almost five months in refugee camps in Austria; first in Linz then in Eins. Neither place was a place for a young child, but Stella was a survivor guided  and protected by her parents.

We were offered to go to Australia.  A far away land hardly heard of till now. This was a cruel blow for me as I grieved for my older daughter back in Slovenia.  We were almost refused a travel permit at the eleventh hour because of our second child being left behind in Slovenia.  Matija was making plans to make a secret return trip to Slovenija to collect Anica, when the authorities decided to let us sail without her. We left Austria early in October.  A train journey took us to Trieste - Italy, there we embarked onto a ship named Aurelia.  As we sailed, leaving the port my heart sank. I shed many tears, thinking of this far away land we were travelling to and all my loved ones back in Slovenia.  The trip to Australia was pleasant enough.  Accommodation was comfortable, food plentiful. Stopping at Aden and Ceylon, sailing through the Red Sea, I became extremely concerned about our future. Gazing at the poverty these people lived in was worse than what we left behind in Yugoslavia.  What was Australia going to be like?  Where is this ship taking us?  What is our future going to be like?  There was talk of cannibalism; husbands being taken away to work in the bush for very long periods. Suddenly fear overtook me knowing absolutely nothing of Australia. My husband and I began planning how we were going to return to Europe. As we sailed into Fremantle, a very modern city came into view dismissing my fears.  This was a civilized country after all! We reached Port Melbourne on 2nd November 1957.  Here we were met by a Slovenian priest living in Melbourne, Father Bazilij Valentin.  He invited all Slovenian passengers on the ship to gather together and united us in a Slovenian song. This was a very memorable welcome to Melbourne. After our brief encounter we were transferred by train to Bonegilla, a migrant camp full of European refugees to this vast land in search of a new start like us. I was very lucky to be singled out by a lovely Australian husband and wife, Mr. and Mrs. Webb from Wangaratta, to be employed as their cook on their farm just outside the town. Cooking was never my choice, my cooking skills were very basic, but anything was better then sitting in the camp. Three weeks after our arrival to Australia I began my first job.  It was not easy due to language barrier, unfamiliarity, new culinary expectations and new surroundings; it was a start.  I stayed there for seven years. As we arrived to the farm, a fully furnished cottage awaited us only meters from the main house. Another cottage, also fully furnished, was offered to my brother Jože and his family when they followed us to Australia the following year. His arrival made my loneliness and grieving for my family back in Slovenia considerably more bearable. Mrs. Webb was a very patient, caring lady who treated me like a daughter. Whenever she caught me crying, she would hug me, reassure me and tell me that it was going to get better.  It did so gradually. The kindness of Mr. and Mrs. Webb and their family never ceased to amaze me. They never criticized my poor skills, my mistakes.  No food was ever returned unconsumed. Years later she would laughingly tell me the silly things I did from time to time due to my misunderstanding. It was due to family Webb, in particular Mrs. Webb that my older daughter was able to join us in Australia two years later; that my brother and his family were able to join us in Wangaratta.  It was the Webbs that arranged a brief visit and a reunion with my brother Anton over our first Christmas in Australia, who arrived to Australia a short time prior to us; his whereabouts unknown to me.  Mrs. Webb found him working in Queensland in cane fields.

Early in 1960s Mr. and Mrs. Webb took a trip to Europe.  They insisted on visiting Slovenia, our parents and family.  They wanted to know where we came from and to reassure our loved ones there.  How can I forget Mr. Webb, who stated upon being asked how was the communication ( though they hired an interpreter )  that there was no need for words, eyes spoke!  Years later their two sons also visited Slovenia and our relatives.  What an amazing family. It was heart breaking when we left to move to Melbourne, having to say farewell to Mrs. Webb in particular, my substitute mother, who comforted me as I learned of my mother’s much to early passing in 1964; but she understood.  We never lost contact and appreciate their goodness and kindness to this day for giving us such a good start in a new country. I was truly lucky to have had such a wonderful boss.

Anica Markič, 2014

EULOGY Marija Cimerman

Slovenians Reminiscing

Other Available Resources

  • Ivan Kobal: The Snowy - Cradle of a New Australia
  • John Adams: Slovene migrants in Australia: The reasons for migration and the nature and distribution of social and cultural activities
  • Draga Gelt and Veronika Ferfolja: Pax et Bonum - Mir in dobro; The Presence of Slovenian Franciscan priests and nuns in Australia from 1951 to 2001
  • Glenda Sluga: Bonegilla "A Place of No Hope"
  • Viktorija Zabukovec: The Second Landing


Lojze Markič

Anica Markič

Marija and Matija Cimerman