Hell in Australia, The Mick Skrijel Story

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I was born on 1/3/1941 in Yugoslavia. I lost my parents very early on in my childhood. I grew up on my own. I worked to support myself from the age of 13 and I completed high school as well as my trade in Belgrade. I grew up in Belgrade and stayed there until I was 17. After serving several masters I decided that I wanted a peaceful life. A life where I could work and look towards the future.

I returned to Italy for a second time as a political refugee. In a camp in Italy, the conditions were atrocious. Breakfast was a cup of coffee and nothing else. Lunch was 100grams of bread and dinner was soup. There were 25,000 of us in that camp. There were usually 2 showers working, 1 day a week for 2 hours. To wash myself and my clothes, I would bathe in the river to keep clean, even in winter.

I spent 6 months in a camp in Latina, which was approximately 80k’s south of Rome. Latina was a city built by Mussolini. It was built approx 8-10k’s from the beach, thinking that it would eventually expand to the sea. I’m sure that today, Latina has reached the sea. At that time, in the camp, I could have migrated anywhere in the West. America, Canada, Germany, Sweden, anywhere. What made me decided to come to Australia was when I asked 2 questions to an Australian representative whom I believe was Billy Sweden, I liked the answer to the questions. The 2 questions I asked were: Is there work in Australia for me and will I be equal with the other citizens there. Both answers to those questions were yes. After passing all of the medical and Interpol checks, I was accepted to come to Australia.

I arrived here on 14/4/1961. We landed at the Princess Pier in Melbourne and from there we were put onto the train to Albury-Wodonga and went from there on a bus to Bonagila. In Bonagila, the camp was full. Many thousands of all different nationalities were there. Australia was experiencing credit squeeze. There were no jobs. I spent several months in Bonagila going to the office everyday and asking for a job. Finally I was called one day and was offered a job at the Glenthompson Brickworks. I accepted it immediately. The next day I was put on the train to Melbourne. In Melbourne, I was put on another train to Ararat and then another train to Hamilton. At Glenthompson, there was a foreman from Brickworks waiting for me. He was Italian and I spoke fluent Italian. He took me to the Brickworks. There was a 3 bedroom hut there that had a wooden stove in the middle of it. I was given a bed and 3 army blankets, which I was told that they would take the money for out of my wages. In that hut, there were another 4 Yugoslav boys who had started there several months before me. As I was not 21 yet, I was not receiving full wages. I was getting 8 pound a week, though I was doing the same work as others. They told me they were the rules and I did not complain.

I worked in Glenthompson for approx 3 months and for all of that time, they were taking 2 pound a week from my pay for the blankets. As I didn’t have any clothes, I bought some for myself as well as food. There was very little left afterwards for me to save. After 3 months of me working there, the credit squeeze forced the Brickworks to shut. We all lost our jobs.

I had savings of 10 pounds, no English and didn’t know anybody. I started to walk towards Hamilton, which was 30 miles away. It took me 2 days to reach Hamilton and I walked through until I found a park and that’s where I made my home. I slept on the bench. I tried to look for a job but where do you look? Finally one night, the police came while I was sleeping on the bench and they took me to Hamilton Police Station. After a good while of them trying to tell me things and me not understanding a single word, they got an Italian guy in to translate for them and me. They asked me what I was doing there. I told them what had happened. They told me that there is a law in Australia called Vagrancy Law, which meant that without means of support, there’s a one month imprisonment automatically. After heated discussions between several Police Officers, one Police officer took me which I believe was his home where I stayed the night. The next day he found me a job and he took me to some Italian people where they got me a room and he paid for the first weeks rent until I earned my first weeks wages.

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