Lake Macquarie History

Masha Koren - Interview transcription

Date Recorded: February 2015

Place: Lake Macquarie

Interviewer: Could you please tell me your name and when and where you were born?

Masha: I am Masha and I were the 4TH..(sighs) sorry (laughs) 14 March (19)77 in Ljubljana Slovenia.

Interviewer: And can you tell me something about your childhood, what was your childhood like?

Masha: Ahh I believe it was a good childhood, we lived in pretty safe country at that time, we could play all day down the stairs and mums would just call us from the balcony at nigh time to come up again and school was hundred metres away and so we were pretty independent even when we were eight, nine, ten year olds we would just stay in the street by ourselves and have fun.

Interviewer: And how has that experience of growing up in Slovenia different to what you have seen of childhoods in Lake Macquarie?

Masha: Oh it's shocking! I still now I struggle every time to find people to go to play with Pia I don't see kids playing in the streets. I was told that years ago they would but that it is too dangerous but still now I think it is pretty safe here because sometimes we go for a walk we leave our door open and nothing happens like it is just culture, society something's changed everybody started believing that its dangerous out there as here really nothing ever happens in Warners Bay. Like we can go out for a walk with dog and we don't even meet a person for half an hour and they're telling us that the criminals are coming around and they are going to take our children from the streets. And so every time I am home with her I have to try to call mums and beg them to get together for at least two hours and then it is Australian culture it is different to it is less spontaneous and so you have to schedule everything and you go for a play from ten till twelve, you don't just hang out all day cos there are things to do all the time which I don't believe they are always so important. But, we… just how it is.

Interviewer: And did you grow up in a country town, is that why it was so different or…

Masha: No I grew up in the centre of the capital city so we were right in the centre so for probably for Australian people would mean that it is the most dangerous part of the country but we never had any issues. Yeah maybe like it happened maybe once to me that a guy came and tried to talk me to follow him but we were always taught to not to go with people you don't know and I would just say no I am not coming with you, who are you? And he would go away. I just believe that we were always taught to be independent and to do the right thing because there were not always adults around to take care of you like here, kids don't have to think because there is always mums there to think for them.

Interviewer: So that's quite a difference…

Masha: Yeah.

Interviewer: Quite a difference. Can you please tell me a little bit about why you left Slovenia and how old you were at the time?

Masha: Oh I was twenty seven, no, in 2007, twenty nine I was when we left and I pretty much wanted to go to leave first because I needed a change it was after union and I couldn't find a regular job and then I was thinking about going to Kenya because I have some friend that she could get me a job over there in the resort. And then I just met my husband and he was thinking for a while to get out too and he thought that yeah Australia would be the best why he was thinking about it for years and we just went ok lets go to Australia together and we always thought that we can go and try and if we don't like it we can always come back but yeah probably just change that we needed.

Interviewer: So when you mentioned after the union, can you tell me a little bit about that? So what were the conditions like in the country, when you decided to leave?

Masha: Oh when we decided… I think that… it struggled a little bit because it was still transitioning from the communist to the capitalist system which is still now in reality. But we found it difficult, like I found it difficult that I finished university and then I couldn't find a job and when I was growing up I was always told by my parents who grew up in the communist system that “hey you just get university and then you get a job and it's so easy and everybody gets a job and you will find something” and then I did it all and it was nothing like I was told that it would be. So I just had to get out there to get some fresher fresh ideas and to see what I can actually do with my life it looked like that there is nothing there for us. But really now with years we realise that now it is getting worse and worse and that when we left it was not as bad yet and now it's almost impossible to get a job like its worse than it was so we went out and now even if wanted now we are not able to go back.

Interviewer: Right, that makes it difficult, can I ask what you studied at university?

Masha: I have the bachelor degree in cultural studies, which in Australia it's not no one they kind of like they confirmed it for me so yeah there is a paper saying that I finished that and they know that there is out there in the world but I don't really do anything with that here so at the moment I did certificate three in aged care and I work in nursing home.

Interviewer: How did you come to choose Lake Macquarie, this area?

Masha: Ahh because we lived in Melbourne first when we landed because we knew about Slovenian community so it was the first house that we could get in, and after that we moved to Bendigo for my husband's work. And when we were in Bendigo the company was not very stable and I couldn't find any job there because it's just a small town anyway and then I got pregnant and I just said (inaudible) I can't see myself living in the middle of nowhere and I didn't move to the other side of the planet to live in Bendigo so we aimed for the east coast and we pretty much just Googled all the towns that there were on the east coast and we thought oh Newcastle looked pretty much the size of Ljubljana the city that we are coming from but yeah then we finally realised that it has nothing to do with Ljubljana..just the statistics that it's so much different here. But we still like it here we like the nature, it has lovely beaches and you have lovely spots and even people are nice it's just we struggled to make any friends or to have the social network so it's pretty much us with rare exceptions.

Interviewer: Do you socialize and get together with people through multicultural organisations or cultural groups?

Masha: Ohh… I tried to when I had a child when I had Pia, I was first approached by the multicultural centre and they introduced me to their playgroup so I was going there for a while with Pia, but then I found that it's not good for me because if I wanted to get included in the Australian society I felt that I have to go to the Australian playgroups. I have to try to learn more English and try to work out more with people that are here. On the other side there in the multicultural playgroup yeah sometimes it feels safe and cosy but I felt that I was not doing any improvements and it was lots of months that they struggled with English too so we couldn't have that friendly chat. We just got together and there were the animators or the team leader that they would do that animation for us and I thought that for Pia it is better to grow up with Australian kids too, so she could understand this culture where she is growing up.

Interviewer: Which aspects of your culture do you miss the most?

Masha: I believe just the social attitudes and that bothers me the most. It's... like when first got here already I was…yeah it's Australia it's most of the people are European so it should be similar like in Europe but and then we got here and it was nothing like that and now it's… I can't just pop in my neighbour's house, ring the bell and have a coffee and stay there for a chat and make the kids play. It doesn't fit in this culture corner so at home I would do that easily and that's the worst struggle, that you can't just spontaneously do things you have to plan them and to organise and like to get out for a picnic it takes three days to get the two buns of bread and sausage and everything seems to be so important but are really just are little simple things in life that you can just take it back and go and it doesn't happen because people are not used to it it's not how things work here and I believe I will always struggle with that. You like, if I feel lonely I can't just ring up a friend and go there and stay there. I have to know three days in advance that I will get lonely and that I will need time for a cuppa.

Interviewer: So spending weekends here or days off here would be very different here to in Slovenia. So could you tell me a little bit about how different it is say for your days off or your weekends to what it would have been like in Slovenia?

Masha: So if I had a day off in Slovenia I would probably just get out of the house, meet somebody on the street, have a coffee, have a chat, maybe we would ending up going for a short trip for two hours somewhere, out to the zoo with the kids. Here if I don't plan in advance, it's just me and Pia, and because I don't like her to stay at home and watch TV for too much time I just need to be keeping her active, we keep it up with her so we just go like.. last two weeks ago we went to the shark centre and sometimes we go on the train to Sydney Zoo or I just go to the pool or the playground like I have to do things with her constantly because it's just me and her. Like it doesn't happen that …it happened before that I met people on the street and they went “do you want to come around” and I'm like “no no no no…call me next time I will do something”. Like everybody seems to be very nice and polite but they wouldn't really let you in their space.

Interviewer: Is there a group, a Slovenian social group that you're able to connect with or isn't there enough immigrants in the community?

Masha: Nah there is nobody here, there is a big group in Sydney but now with little kid it is… it is still two hours' drive one way so it's hard. Here in Newcastle we found, I tried to connect to the Slovenian Club and we found them. They were all in their eighties. And we still go occasionally to one couple, she was a president of the club and they live here up in Cardiff, they are very nice people but they just officially shut down the club because it was not worth doing it anymore and at the end I think it was just five left of them. But we were told that when they got here in the fifties it was about two hundred and fifty slovenian families living here in Newcastle only. So they had big parties and got together with the Croatians too so it was very alive so they had that sense of community. We don't have anybody here. We go sometimes to them just to speak a little bit of Slovenian and when Pia was smaller I joked that they are her Australian grandparents but now she is big enough that she understands that they are not and she just goes “no they are not my grandparents they are just Emil and Maria.

Interviewer: So the Slovenian community back then, they were part of the post-war migration?

Masha: Yeah, pretty much.

Interviewer: Yeah so that's why there were the large numbers.

Masha: Oh yeah all that is gone now so the younger generations didn't keep the thing going. I know the Italian community does. Like Italians are very strong doing that. Least they connect, getting together, Croatians they do too, Greeks do, Lebanons do but Slovenians just didn't feel like it . Like I heard from some ladies that they even didn't want to speak in Slovenian at home because they thought that it is better for their kids if they just learn English, and just go to English schools, and they would fit in quicker and kids are just not interesting they said like that. From the first generation immigrant's kids already they are saying “We are Australians, we are not Slovenians” so now I noted that with our generation now they are trying to get those things back together again but it will take a while like in the big cities like Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, now just now they're trying to make up the Saturday Slovenian School for the kids again which hasn't been there for fifty years now.

Interviewer: So that may change?

Masha: So maybe it will change because now it's again more and more people coming out.

Interviewer: Could you just show me you bought along something that has a lot of memories for you? Could you just talk to me a little bit about how you came by that and its significance?

Masha: Oh this is the book Ljubljana is the name of my city the capital of Slovenia and my grandma gave it to me just before we left in 2007 where she goes “oh you can have some memories of it”. It is different to have a look at the book than just browsing pictures on the internet. You get to touch it and to smell it and just feels different. So when, when, when I feel nostalgic I just have a look at the pictures and this is an older one. This is how they put the decorations up for Christmas. It's very well-known for the Christmas decorations like whole Europe and even Japanese tourists and everybody comes for Christmas because they putting more and more lights on. It's different to other cities in Europe. And yes sometimes I do feel like holding it in my hands sometimes it's just too much it would make me cry because I just want to be there then.

Interviewer: It's a beautiful country

Masha: Yeah and the architecture is nice and it was always the big cultural centre so we were always under the Austrian imperium Before the Second World War so the architecture would be more Austrian and we have this building like lovely baroquian art nouveau buildings and the secession and it's just I don't find it here. Sometimes I laugh when my husband and I say “I know it sounds silly but I really miss the beautiful houses just to go down the street and see the houses”.

Interviewer: We might wrap it there.

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