Nauka i pieniędzmi drudzy cię wzbogacą, mądrość musisz sam z siebie własną zdobyć pracą.
Your knowledge and wealth through others will increase, but wisdom will only come from your own elbow grease. Translated by Gosia Hill
My new life in Australia
1980 and 81 were possibly the worst and also the happiest years in my life. In December 1979 I travelled from Poland to Adelaide, South Australia at the invitation of my much older cousin, who had immigrated to Australia as a displaced person after WW2 from a German labour camp. I was a University student in Krakow and planned to use the 6 month stay as an opportunity to practice English. It was always my dream to master the English language, study political science and work in foreign affairs. Little did I know that my life would be turned upside down and I would be building a new life in Australia.
My father back in Poland was a factory worker and a Solidarity activist. For his participating in the freedom movement he was persecuted by the communist regime. My mum suffered a mental breakdown and was hospitalised. My sister was a teenage single mother. While in Australia, for several months in 1980 I was unable to get in touch with my family in Poland. There were many failed Red Cross enquiries about their welfare, heavily edited correspondence from my friends with black lines all over conjuring the worst thoughts possible. As if this wasn’t enough I also fell victim of an armed robbery while working at a Rundle Street retail store and suffered a knife point assault. Newly married and determined to overcome the adversities I decided to re-enter tertiary education, which was interrupted by the political instabilities in Poland.
A working class girl from a small town, I lived with my sister and our parents (and later also my baby niece) in a one bedroom 32 square metre apartment in a block of flats. We did not have many possessions; never had a phone and my parents never owned a car. Until I left home to go to university at 19, I had shared a folding bed (it turned into a sofa during the day) with my younger sister. A table with chairs, a wardrobe, a dresser and my parents’ bed were in the “big” room that served as a dining, family and lounge room. My sister and I shared a small desk-bookshelf. To this day, in my head, each week is divided into exactly like in a calendar organiser hanging over my desk: Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday in the top row and Thursday, Friday, Saturday in the bottom row. This is how I still plan my week! We also went to school on Saturdays – only Sundays were free.
When we were in primary school (sister 7 and I 9) our mum got a job. At 6 am every day both our parents left to work. We made our own breakfast, dressed and walked to school across a park (no street to cross). After school we walked back home with keys hanging on a sting from our necks. The small kitchen was where I usually did my homework on a table covered with a blue and white checked vinyl tablecloth. A tiny fridge was stocked with whatever my parents could get at the time. You had to queue for hours to buy anything or buy whatever was available, just in case! The bath, toilet and laundry were all in one small room (no shower, just a tiny tub). Our only appliances were a hand operated washing machine and a vacuum cleaner. In the 60s, every Sunday after lunch we all watched Bonanza on our first TV, only black and white. I still remember the tune: tan, tata, tanta, tanta, tatanta BONANZA!
I adorned our tiny room with self-made images of John Lennon, Jimmy Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jethro Tall that I had copied by myself on butcher’s paper. They scared the hell out of my mother each time she entered the room, but father allowed me to hang them on the walls, as he knew that foreign music motivated me to learn English.
My parents bought us books, even by taking loans to purchase expensive dictionaries, encyclopaedias and classic novels. There was a waiting list to buy these!
I loved learning and at school I participated in many extracurricular activities. I wrote a school chronicle, organised excursions, discos and camps. For my leadership at school I won an entry to the prestigious Krakow Jagiellonian University to study English Philology.
I arrived in Adelaide as a tourist. The air passage was paid for by my cousin for unimaginable sum of 10 years of my father’s salary!). After I met and I married Ray in 1980 I made a Statutory Declaration and applied for a base-level entry to Adelaide University as I did not have any documentation of my three years of academic record in Poland. My application was declined. A young life was falling apart. This rejection made me lose total confidence in myself. I felt useless and depressed by being denied the pursuit of my dream of earning a university degree – if only for my parents, who sacrificed so much to give the best thing they could – a good education.
On a bright, sunny, 1981 February morning I decided to check out the Flinders University campus near our first home located in St. Mary’s. I didn’t know much about Flinders and I must have looked lost wondering about in the corridors in the administration building. A door opened and a man emerged who invited me to his office. After two hours I left the Registrar’s office with directions on how to enrol and letters of recommendation from him personally to three Faculty Heads to interview me and check if what I had claimed that I studied was true. I did that the next day. All three agreed that I should be half way through a BA degree with my two years of heavily packed tertiary studies in English Philology in Poland under my belt. However, all they could do at that stage was to admit me at the base level until I was able to obtain my official academic record from Poland. I couldn’t ask for anymore!
University, there we go again! My life was back on track. I persistently wrote to my old university and to my friends to try to retrieve my records even though I was happy taking all the courses and passing them with flying colours. But my prayers were answered and a parcel arrived in October 1981 containing all of my documents including results, curriculum and a personal letter form one of my professors who explained how difficult it had been to get this information from the officials. I was rather lucky as in December at martial law was declared in Poland and all communication was cut off.
With the documentation I was able to fast track my BA at Flinders University and was finally proud to send my graduation photos to my parents in Poland in 1983. Since then a lot has happened, 40 years to reflect on and for those who want to read my story, maybe a lesson or two to learn from my rich and eventful life.
I am grateful to Flinders University for having faith in me and giving me a lifeline that I so badly needed in 1981.
Gosia Hill BA(Politics, Philosophy), B.Soc Admin
Distinguished Alumni Laureate (2008), Former Flinders University Council Member, Executive Alumni Committee Member, Business School Advisory Board Member, Alumni Awards Selection Committee Member