Our first visit to Croatia was a long time coming. My wife Cathy, her mother Georgie and myself incorporated Croatia into a holiday where we also visited Italy and England in 1987. We went on to visit Croatia an additional five times in 1989, 1994, 2012, 2014 and 2017.
I didn’t remember much of Rijeka, the town I was born in, as I only spent a short period of my childhood there. My earliest memories of Rijeka were during the war when Germany were bombing us and we would run for the bunkers two and three times a day, me as a toddler running behind the pram my mother pushed containing my twin sisters. Each visit to Rijeka was spent getting better acquainted with my history, my brother, sisters and their extended families, whom I didn’t really know well.
I often emptied the bottle shops of their stocks of Baileys, never arriving at a home without a gift. Sometimes I had to travel some distance to obtain the stock. I didn’t like to arrive empty handed, and my family loved the gifts. Cathy and I always organised large family get-togethers whenever we were there. It seems that my family don’t socialise together much, so they too got to know each other. I played the accordion, we sang, danced and drank, and they liked it when I visited. These are good memories; I hope for all of us.
We hired various vehicles when we visited so we could get ourselves around to see some of the sights. One car we hired had only 3 cylinders and could not make it up the hills with all the passengers aboard. Everyone had to get out so I could drive it over the hill. That was so funny.
In 2014, my daughter Angela and her husband Rick, joined us for a few weeks in Croatia. We rented a comfortable apartment not far from my brother’s home that had a lovely balcony with views to the sea. I was very happy that one of my children was able to see where I was born and spent my early childhood. We introduced them to the family and showed them the home I lived in with my parents in Rijeka and the village of Zamet where I lived with my aunt and uncle after my mother died (I think in 1943) and us four kids were taken in by extended family. Over the years I have shared stories of my childhood with my family, now at least one of them could know these places as well.
On that visit we showed Angela and Rick many different places; Pula, Rovinj, Opatija, Plitvice Lakes National Park, Split, the Island of Krk and Zagreb. Before we left Australia, I gave my nephew Igor some money to purchase a minivan so we could all travel in comfort together. We had a great time, they loved meeting the family and seeing my country.
You must work until 65 years of age (much like Australia) before you can get old age pension. Since we last visited my brother has passed away and my twin sisters are both living in retirement-aged care homes. My brother’s wife is still able to collect his aged pension which is how she supports herself still living in their family home. Life there hasn’t modernised as much as Australia. My family have big gardens and fruit trees and vines, farming small birds and rabbits which supplement their incomes. Croatia’s income is low, and jobs are scarce hence this way of life has continued.
These days, I keep in touch with my family via the telephone. I probably won’t be returning to Croatia. I am lucky I was able to visit my homeland six times since I left in 1957. Having the opportunity to immigrate to Australia has helped me build a life that could enable these trips home. For this I am truly grateful.