In 1957, I was living in Salerno, Italy. Four years earlier I had finished my apprenticeship in my homeland Yugoslavia at which stage I decided to leave. My mother passed away when I was seven, my siblings were living with extended family and my father had a new life. There was nothing for me there. My friend and I stowed away in a wood supply train bound for Italy.
After three days we made it over the border hungry and freezing. We were grateful when the soldiers found us and took us to a displaced persons camp in Rome. A few weeks later, my Aunt from Salerno claimed me. My Aunt was a saint. She took me in even though she had twelve children of her own. I worked as a French-polisher in a poorly ventilated workshop. Again my Aunt saved me, when my weight dropped to 48 kilos due to toxic chemical exposure. After this I worked in the family flower business.
It was time for a change. I travelled to Rome to apply for the Canadian Immigration Scheme. When I arrived, the official said “No, you cannot go to Canada. “Why not?” I asked. He replied, “It’s the law. You must live in Italy for 5 years first.” I walked out defeated. What would I do now? I sat outside thinking for twenty minutes, after which I went back inside and asked, “Can I go somewhere else?” He said, “Yes, I think Australia.”
After a moment, I asked “Where the hell is Australia?” He disappeared and brought back a world globe and said “Here, right at the bottom, this land”. I asked how long to get there? He did not know.
I needed medical clearance from Naples before I could apply which I got and 24 days later I was on board “The Sydney” sailing to a new life. I was 20 years old. What a voyage!