Guest Post: Splat Acrobat – On being Australian

I have not been around much lately due to my Father’s failing health. He finally passed away last Friday aged 82 and I know that he is now in a better place.

I will be delivering the eulogy at his funeral and as such been busy gathering up facts, stories and history of my father’s life. Pretty well all of them I already knew because I have always been close to Dad. Even though we lived in different states I have always tried to ensure my children had as much contact with their grandparents as possible because life is fleeting and regret is lifelong.

During this time I have been driving around making arrangements for the funeral next week and listening to the ABC. With Australia day coming up they have been interviewing people about what makes us Australian. Various politicians, community leaders and media personalities have all given their thoughts and opinions as to what makes us Australian and predicably most comments were about mateship, egalitarianism, and a fair go. Fair enough. I guess for those who life experience in Australia has only been shaped by our history rather than the values and beliefs that underpin those historical facts.

I thought deeply about this question in the context of my father’s life, what he had contributed to this nation, and what he instilled in me to make me the person I am today.

With your indulgence I would like to share some of his amazing life, his footprint on my life, and numerous other people he met along the way on his life journey.

Born in Riga Latvia in 1931. When his father joined the Latvian Legion he moved to Dresden during the German occupation of the Baltic States in WWII. It was expected of him to join the Hitler Youth which he did and carried out fire watching duties and acted as a runner between anti-aircraft batteries. He was there during the infamous February 1945 air raids and lost his Grandmother when separated during the confusion. They were literally digging through cellar walls to escape from the burning buildings above. At the end of the War his mother, who could speak English, was employed by the Americans to do translating. Coming under the suspicions of the Russians she was arrested and imprisoned for allegedly counting troop and train movements.

Separated from his sister and not knowing if his father was still alive he moved into a displaced persons camp where he moved around for a number of years. He eventually found passage on a refugee ship that left Naples in 1949. He had been fed propaganda during the war that the British were evil and murderers and after being told he was being sent to Canada wept when the ship docked in Australia when the first sight he saw was the Union Jack! He thought “My God they have taken me half way around the world to kill me.”

After a short stint in the Bathurst migrant camp and armed with only with a German book titled “How to read an American newspaper” he set about building a new life. Marriage and children quickly followed and he struggled to make ends meet doing menial jobs. After living in a rented garage for a number of years my parents managed to save enough money to buy a plot and started building as and when they could afford to buy the materials. Self-taught and with rudimentary tools he single handedly created the home that they lived in for almost 30 years.

Always striving to assimilate and contribute to his newly adopted country he hardly ever spoke about his place of birth or participated in Latvian and German social activities. He was reunited briefly with his mother in the early 60′s when she came out to Australia but found this country not to her liking and promptly returned to Germany. Some photographs and letters were sent to him in the late 60′s purporting to be from his father in Latvia. Given the times with the cold war raging he never talked about returning to find his father. To him this was Australia, and a far better life than that which he had previously experienced. Why “Look back to Egypt” he would often say quoting the Bible.

He joined the NSW Public Service as a clerk and retired 23 years later as a branch head in the Department of Education. During this time he enlisted in the Citizen Military Forces ostensibly for the extra income, but this was to be the beginning of his long road of service to his family, his community, and his country.

Between 1964 and when he first retired in 1987 he attained the rank of Warrant Officer Class 2, was awarded an OAM for service to the Army Reserve; and was a director of a Credit Union for over 9 years.

On retiring to Coffs Harbour he could not sit still so he applied for a storeman’s job at the local TAFE College, during which time he took up a temporary position as the College Registrar when the Registrar went on extended leave. There he clocked up about 15 years service and if it hadn’t been for a restructure and forced redundancy he would probably have continued on sweeping floors and handing out tools to this day.

He joined the local rifle club and the NSW Marine Rescue Service as a volunteer. He served well over 20 years in both organisations and was honoured by receiving a 20 year long service medal from the Marine Rescue Service. Whether it was mowing the mounds at the range prior to a shoot or sitting in the harbour lookout during the wee hours of the morning on radio duty he was there.

On and off over many years he studied for a Law degree until he could no longer keep up with the course requirements due to the early stages of dementia. Not to be disheartened he set about to achieve a lifelong dream to complete a trade certificate and proudly completed this feat at 78 with visions of putting out a shingle and working as a fully qualified carpenter.

His politics were largely conservative and in some ways libertarian. He was appalled when Whitlam recognised the USSR’s illegal occupation of the Baltic States. He considered returning his OAM when the Keating government decided to award an Order of Australia to Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Ali Alatas. Equally he was at odds with the Howard government’s introduction of the gun laws following the Port Arthur Massacre. It was then he decided that there was no point in whinging without action so he stood as an independent candidate in a number of New South Wales state and Federal elections. Although unsuccessful on all occasions he maintained it was something he had to do to be true to his beliefs. Undaunted by defeat and in his eccentric way he led the way with environmentally sustainable ballot papers by meticulously painting his How to Vote details on river pebbles. The part of campaigning he most enjoyed was when the Libs and Labor phoned him up and grovelled for his preferences. With his steely determination towards the comic I have no doubt that had he stood for the Senate last year he would have gamed his way to the top of the pile!

His philosophy was simple. If you have experience or a qualification you can be useful to someone. Whether this was borne out of his experiences in the War where if you had nothing to offer you were expendable or a deeper sense of responsibility to not just his family but the community and nation at large I can only ponder.

Growing up as a child I was occasionally resentful of his absences with his work, the Army Reserve and working second jobs. With age grew wisdom and I came to understand that in his way he was sacrificing some of his family life to make mine a better life. He was a great Dad to five children, an even better grandfather to twelve grandchildren, and an intensely proud great grandfather to ten great grandchildren. Handmade toys for his children led to help during the building our own homes and a host of other selfless activities in support of his brood. These are to my mind his crowning glory. No generational welfare in this family. No sense of entitlement to free stuff from the government, and none of us have ever been in trouble with the law or in his words “Had our collar’s felt”. He used to say with each generation there will be more success than the one before. This prophecy has come to pass in abundance where all his children are well educated, have happy homes, and are productive members of the community.

I posted a comment that came to me some time back that went: We all tend to cast our values and beliefs through a prism to our children hoping that the right light is reflected in their eyes. He taught me the values of loyalty, duty, honour, and self-sacrifice. Above all he passed on to me the Christian belief of unconditional love. These will be the values and beliefs that will be reflecting from my eyes when I speak about my dad next week.

This Australia day the scholars can pontificate about what it means to be Australian drawing analogies of mateship in times of adversity or bemoaning the decline of “the fair go” however I know looking back at my father’s life what being an Australian really means.

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67 Responses to Guest Post: Splat Acrobat – On being Australian

  1. Quibbler

    So very beautifully written. What a fine man.

  2. Infidel Tiger

    A magnificent tribute to a great Australian.

    Open borders to these immigrants please.

  3. Abu Chowdah

    Thanks for that. He sounds exactly the sort of person that made Australia a great society.

  4. Baldrick

    Well said Splat – a fine tribute indeed.

  5. Leigh Lowe

    Well said, and condolences.
    Of course a very personal reflection, but I am sure it strikes a chord with any of us whose parents made sacrifices to improve the lot of their children.
    Just one question …. what did he do in his spare time?

  6. Mick Gold Coast QLD

    Onya Splat Acrobat – well expressed.

    Your father has left a proud legacy for you and your four brothers and sisters to honour, grow and pass on.

  7. Brian of Moorabbin

    Splat, your father sound like a great, great man. The very sort of immigrant that built this nation.

    Completely opposite of many of those 50,000+ who paid criminals to get them in through the backdoor under the Rudd-Gillard stewardship.

  8. Gab

    Not to be disheartened he set about to achieve a lifelong dream to complete a trade certificate and proudly completed this feat at 78 with visions of putting out a shingle and working as a fully qualified carpenter.

    That is just awesome.

    His philosophy was simple. If you have experience or a qualification you can be useful to someone.

    I loved that.

    This country was built by men your like father, Splat, may God rest his soul, and his incredible contribution to this country already lives on through his progeny. Also, being such a good and industrious man, he must have married an awesome woman!

  9. Fisky

    Terrific biography Splat!

  10. Fisky

    His philosophy was simple. If you have experience or a qualification you can be useful to someone.

    Yes, that’s exactly right.

  11. candy

    Sounds like your dad never stopping giving of himself or his time.

  12. Andrew

    Great tribute. Many parallels with my own Baltic family.

    I’m deeply sorry for your loss.

  13. tosca

    I am struck by the similarity between your family’s story, and our own. My father was also born in Riga in 1928, and he and his brother arrived in Australia on a ship from Naples after the war, the SS Nellie. (They had wanted to go to Venezuala, but that quota had closed, so Australia was their next choice.) Upon arrival, they couldn’t believe their luck, as they were given food, clothes and money by the Australian government. Both brothers worked hard, created employment, and enjoyed considerable success. Until the day he died, my father was proud to be Australian. My uncle, aged late 80s, still runs his business affairs, and is currently building himself a new house!

  14. Louis Hissink

    As another who who went through the Bathurst Migrant Camp, after being stateless from being ejected from my country of birth, Australia was our hope from the past.

    Except that the past seems to be catching up rather more quickly then any of us expected.

    Let’s hope we all keep ahead this weekend.

  15. C.L.

    My condolences, Splat.

    I enjoyed reading this biography.

    An incredible man.

  16. Nic

    We’ll said Splat. May your father rest in peace .

  17. Pedro the Ignorant

    Lovely tribute to your Dad, Splat.

    A full and well lived life. RIP, Sir.

  18. dover_beach

    A life well lived. RIP.

  19. A Lurker

    A wonderful tribute to a great man, and a fine Australian.

    I’m sure he’s very proud of you Splat.

  20. None

    Oh wow. My condolences Splat. What an amazing man your father was. What a legacy. Memory eternal.

  21. Blogstrop

    Thanks for that excellent personal story, Splat.
    Australia was the beneficiary of the disruption of Europe. We received so many good people from there. I’m not so sure that there’s the same benefit in muslim migrants who want things changed to suit them rather than adapting to become more Australian.
    Here we are again at Australia Day, with a dodgy national broadcaster that most of the time struggles to identify any good in our identity beyond those old standbys, which they are just as likely to diminish anyway.

  22. Megan

    Condolences, Splat, on the loss of your dad. So very much to honour and be proud of. The concept of service, what you can do for your country and others, was strong in this generation. Gratitude for the good life the country gave to them was one thing that underpinned that service. There are still many, many Australians who contribute their skills and experience in this way but they are not valued or recognised in any meaningful way. Not that they are looking for recognition. Instead we give it to symbols like our newest Australian of the Year.

    Your tribute is a fine memorial.

  23. Docket62

    Congratulations splat on being so proud of your dad. With a family like that, no doubt he does rest in peace.
    The term ‘salt of the earth’ is what comes to mind, and a magnificent bio…
    Now please excuse me, I need a tissue

  24. Lem

    An incredible story of an amazing life, proving terrible formative experiences can yield fantastic human beings. Vale.

  25. ChrisPer

    My condolences on your loss, and what a wonderful man to have had as your father.

  26. Chris M

    A wonderful active life – God bless you and thanks for posting, it is an uplifting story to read.

  27. johanna

    Very moving, thanks for sharing your father’s great story.

    As a child of migrants who came here with nothing, I can appreciate how hard your parents must have worked to build a life and raise a family. I have just come back from visiting my father on his 87th birthday. He still noodles around on his computer (a powerful beast which he built himself) and knows more about foreign affairs than half of DFAT.

    That generation of European migrants did without handouts, taught themselves English, and worked like slaves. My old man built his own successful business, was an active member of ex-service groups (he is a Korea vet) and follows politics at home and abroad with obsessive curiosity.

    This country owes those people a hell of a lot.

  28. pete m

    A life well lived. Full of values, respect and service to family and community.

    My mother has a simliar tale, but it is still being written.

    Condolences for your loss to you and your family. His greatest achievement by far was how his children have continued his example, and your tribute is wonderful. So glad he ended up here.

  29. Ant

    My condolences, Splat, for your loss. With such a fine person, it’s Australia’s loss as well.

  30. nilk, Iron Bogan

    Oh, Splat, I’m so sorry for your loss.

    God give you and yours the strength and Grace to pass through this sad time, and find the joy through the tears.

    What a wonderful, difficult journey he had, and in turn has taken his family on. He was obviously a blessing to all who met him. May he rest in peace.

  31. Grey Old Dufus

    So sorry for your loss. Your story is not about being Australian but about being human, which is both better and greater. What a wonderful person he was.

  32. Driftforge

    My Latvian grandparents also came out in 1949; unfortunately I lost my grandfather to Leukemia back in 1987. They also transitioned through Bathurst, then out to Parkes before settling in Kurrajong and making a home there in what was at that time bush.

    Good to hear your stories, many condolences on your loss.

  33. kae

    Sorry to hear of your father’s passing, Splat. What a great Australian he was, and what a great contribution he made to Australia with his work ethic, family values and love of Australia.

    PS Growing up, our neighbour across the street was Riga Bread in western Sydney.

  34. Obio

    Sorry to hear of your fathers passing Splat, but what a great life he lead.

  35. val majkus

    Splat, so sorry for your loss and what a lovely tribute!

  36. Tel

    Immigrants who want to work, excellent stuff.

    They still come here you know, but make sure the unions don’t find out.

  37. Lem

    Btw, good news! Boris Johnson made Honorary Australian in UK..see the oz

  38. RIP Splat’s dad. A great Australian who will be missed.

  39. duncanm

    Splat,

    my condolences; your father stands at the top of the pile!

    I may well have met him, or spoken to him over the radio, on one of his Coffs Coastal Patrol watches. They’re always a great bunch of people.

    Vale.

  40. ar

    A similar sounding story to my grandparents who fled Soviet occupation of Estonia in WWII, ending up in Australia.

  41. Helen

    Sad Splat that you no longer can speak with him in the flesh, But what a wonderful life to celebrate having been productively and compassionately and proudly lived. How proud and glad you must be to know you were part of it. He was a man anyone would be glad to call Dad.

  42. Spitfire

    Wonderful tribute to your father, Splat, and may he rest in peace.

    And a great example to inspire us.

  43. Jazza

    Beautifully and loving written Splat! Condolences on losing the great man who was your father.
    I felt tears well up behind my eyes while reading that–it somehow reminded me of the Western suburbs of Melbourne in the 50′s when Greek and Italian migrants settled huge tracts and created suburbs. The Italian families bought a block of land between all the sons and the father, slowly together built a weatherboard house, lived there, then began with another block, to build for the eldest son,and continued this till all sons in the family had their own home.I can still see in my mind some of the houses pointed out to me at the time as Australian families did not have this all in family tradition.I recall the greek ladies used to roam the paddocks until developments swept them allaway for the fenced boxes, and select certain weeds for greens for their family’s evening meal–they also were frugal and ahrdworking, but in their families sons were held so high above girls, who ahd to serve them along with the father, that some girls became very depressed when the parents wouldn’t or couldn’t see that edcuation was what they also craved, the higher the better, not cooking and waiting on their sometimes dismissive brothers.I know this from some counselling of students in a high school where I taught, where we began in part finished buildings after a year in a church hall, with 92% of our student population coming from backgrounds where English was a second language. One of my fondest memories is the day the first matriculation class wrote thank you cards to the staff, and later I discovered just how many of them had completed their chosen degrees, as they were in the main the most industrious polite and friendly lot of teens I’ve ever had the absolute pleasure of working with!
    The “old” values are still the best for a peaceful, productive civilisation!

  44. srr

    Now I understand why I’ve often shared what you’ve written here, with others elsewhere.

    It’s that instinctive desire to bless those who bless us all with their spirit – to spread the good seed, of the good fruit, of a good man.

    It’s how men like your father, who want to be useful and improve the lives of others, continue to do so, for eternity.

  45. .

    Wow, what a very talented all rounder.

    Pity that you couldn’t build your own house these days, not without all sorts of malarkey to contend with.

  46. The Pugilist

    Beautiful tribute Splat. Your father sounds like a great man. It is obvious from your heartfelt words that you were full of respect and love for him. His story sounds very similar to my own grandmother. She hated communists and was big on self-reliance. She embraced her adopted country whole heartedly just like your father. These people are what made our country great and it is sad that we are slowly losing that generation.

  47. Ellen of Tasmania

    It’s a wonderful tribute, Splat, and thank you for sharing it with us all. God’s blessings and comfort to you and yours.

  48. stackja

    Your father, another great Aussie.
    A neighbour came here from Germany after WW2, married and built his house whilst living in a tent. He does not like the ALP.

  49. Makka

    My condolences Splat. Thank you for sharing the wonderful story of a wonderful Australian.

  50. Prayers for you and your dad, Splatty, and thank you for such a wonderful guest post.

  51. thefrollickingmole

    Nice post, sounds like he was a true Aussie right till the end.

  52. JC

    Nice tribute Splat. Thanks.

  53. Delta A

    A very moving tribute to your father, Splat. So many similarities to my husband’s family who arrived after WW2 from Germany and were sent to Bonegilla in Victoria. They, too, built their own house, moving into the rooms one at a time as they were erected. They lived a simple but honest life, and were very happy to contribute however they could to their new country.

  54. Zatara

    First class Splat. Both your Dad and your excellent tribute to him.

    Absolutely first class.

  55. calli

    His philosophy was simple. If you have experience or a qualification you can be useful to someone

    A father to be truly proud of, Splat. My condolences to you and your family. And yes, he is with the One his heart loves, so ‘all manner of things will be well’.

  56. MT Isa Miner

    Thanks for telling us about your dad. He lived a real life and it’s men like him that made our country. Great example to his kids and grandkids and all. You did right keeping the generations together- might not be easy but the kids do benefit from it. Good genes to have, Splat.

    I’m sorry for all your loss. God rest his soul.

    Also strikes me that the cat has a fair share of northern European-maker not taker- genes around.

  57. blogstrop

    Splat, Mrs. B also sends her commiserations, and is asking for a second chapter – when you feel up to it – about your mum.

  58. Token

    Great story Splat. He left us in yhe same week my beloved aunt finally had to surrender to cancer. She fought every day of her life since her birth in Eastern Hungary in ’28.

    Sounds like your father really would’ve enjoyed her company as they shared so many values.

    Interesting to see how the children of so many Eastern Europeans are drawn to the fight for free speech & Libertarianism.

  59. James B

    Sounds like a fantastic man. That’s what Australia’s about. Glad he saw sense on the gun laws as well, you’re not a conservative if you support them, it’s very simple. You’re an authoritarian leftist.

  60. JABL

    Sorry to hear that Splat. Lost my father-in-law today. Sudden aggressive tumour. I hope that the funeral goes off in fine style, a man such as you have recounted deserves no less.

  61. Sorry to hear of your father’s passing Splat, he certainly sounds like a truly great Australian, and a man who undoubtedly with be missed by his family and community.

    If only there were more men of his ilk in this day and age…

  62. Token

    Condolences JABL too. I hope someone wrote down the story like my cousin did for my aunt and Splat did for his dad.

  63. Andrew

    Surprising number if Baltic descendants amongst the Cats by the looks of the responses. Wonder if that’s a coincidence or not.

  64. C.L.

    Pity that you couldn’t build your own house these days, not without all sorts of malarkey to contend with.

    Indeed.

  65. Mother G

    Superb words for a superb Australian. Your dad was of the generation that knew hard work but they did this so they and their children could live a life of freedom.

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