We take pride (correctly I think) in our rich multicultural country and here in Kandos we take pride in our multicultural town. However, we tend to overlook, or perhaps just forget, the hostility, intolerance, suspicion and racism that different migrant groups have revealed in the Australian character, throughout one and a half centuries.
The Irish Catholics in the nineteenth century, escaping famine and poverty, faced sectarianism for decades, yet it is estimated that today 7 million Australians have partial Irish ancestry. The gold rushes, from 1851, brought in a mixture of migrants, including 42,000 Chinese. They were seen as being too successful. When the colonies federated in 1901, what was the first law passed? The Immigration Restriction Act, or in popular terms, the White Australia Policy. It effectively kept out Asians for more than 50 years. British migrants were the most favoured entrant to Australia, yet they became the whingeing poms. In the 1920s it was the southern Europeans – from Greece, Italy and Yugoslavia, followed by Jewish refugees in the 1930s, most of whom were treated as outsiders. More recently there were Vietnamese boat people. Those who survived a dangerous voyage were thankfully welcomed, rather than turned back or imprisoned on islands. And they flourished. Over the turn of this century, waves of migrants from the Middle-East and Africa receive their fair share of Aussie hostility.
The biggest migrant intake though, was post-World War II, when three million people arrived in less than thirty years. These were the Balts, Reffos, Dagos, Wogs and Eyeties; Displaced Persons, Refugees and New Australians. A surprising number came to the Kandos area, 250 by 1951, mainly from Yugoslavia and Poland.
On July 17 of that year, the bodies of a man and a woman were found on a vacant allotment behind the Kandos Hotel. What unfolded around that event, highlights some of the tensions of migration – for migrants themselves, for host communities, for the local workforce.
From the trial reports we learn that the man, George Rogers, (54), a miner, and Gladys Mines, (39), married, both residents of Kandos, had been dead for about 22 hours.
George had been stabbed 16 times. Most wounds were superficial, but included two fatal wounds to the neck; Gladys was choked by having a handkerchief and her upper denture forced down her throat. Within a few hours of the discovery, Djuro Eror, a 20-year-old Yugoslav labourer, was arrested at Orange Railway Station and charged with murder.
The defence claimed self-defence. We learn that Djuro, orphaned at 13 when his parents were killed by the Ustashi (secret police), came to Australia from Yugoslavia the year before, when he was 19. He worked locally and lived at Kandos Hotel. Having changed shifts with a friend, he started drinking at 9am and drank throughout the day. According to Djuro’s testimony, he met Gladys during the afternoon and they spent time drinking in the ladies’ bar. When the pub closed George tried to persuade Gladys to go with him but she stayed with Djuro and had sex with him. George came back and hit Djuro with a piece of wood and Djuro retaliated. He claimed not to remember much of what happened but he used his handkerchief to stop Gladys screaming and was surprised that she died. He was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death which was later commuted to life imprisonment. In August the following year he hung himself in Long Bay Gaol.
It was described by the National Advocate Bathurst as “the most callous and sordid crime in the history of the state”, a slight exaggeration, you’d say. The crime certainly aroused anti-migrant sentiment in town. Within two days of Djuro’s arrest, 150 Kandos miners held a stop-work meeting to protest against the numbers and types of European migrants arriving in Australia. They protested against unrestricted migration of undesirable types, “gangsters”, including their use of knives, abusive language and violence. And they protested against preferential treatment of migrants “they get the best of accommodation while Australian workers have to fend for themselves”. Tensions ran so high that the “New Australians stayed out of the hotels and town proper”. Some left town, including Alfred Shultz 23 of Charbon, who caught the train to Central only to be beaten and robbed of £35 when he refused to buy his two Aussie attackers a beer.
“Balt Migrants in Wild Dance Hall Brawl”. That’s the headline for what happened at a CWA dance at Clandulla a few years earlier (September 1948). It started when a father accused a Balt of trying to “maul his 15 year old daughter” on the dance floor. The Balt responded with a fist and it was on for young and old. But not women. They were “shepherded out” and had to run “through paddocks in pitch darkness to get to the safety of their homes”. One of the Balts waved around a 15 inch sailor’s knife and “we were lucky to get out of it without the knife being used”. “We are going to raise a petition and if necessary send it to Mr Calwell (Migration Minister) to have the Balts removed from the district,” said one of the locals.
Let’s face it, we are probably no different from other national groups in our attitudes to others, but thank goodness history reminds us of our faults as much as our strengths.
I’m afraid I got diverted with this blog. I thought I was going to write about the contribution of migrants to Kandos. But that’s the mystery of writing…
I’ll come back to this subject sometime in the future.