• John (Ivan) Sirola
  • John Sirola - Italy
  • John Sirola - National Service
  • John Sirola - Croatian home

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!

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