Ignacy (Steve) Siejka 1919 – 1985
Is this you as a child?
Deep snow crunching underfoot
Waiting for the first star on Christmas Eve
Scratching the russet fur of your pet squirrel. Laughing as he darts up your arm
Swimming naked in the wide river Bzura
Hunting for fat mushrooms in the forests
Catching the wild scent of Lily-of-the Valley in Spring
Dancing the Mzurka and Polka with girls in bright ribbons
Wishing the great storks would come to end winter and nest on your chimney
A sister Henryka. A mother Marianna. A father Tomesz . A family shop
A village church (Kompina)
A dream to go to agricultural school and be a farmer.
The War came to you first
September 1939, Autumn.
The storks had left taking their beneficence away on their wide wings
The Battle of The Bzura (Kutno)
You watch the proud Polish cavalrymen ride to war
The jingle of bits. Horses tossing their great heads. Breath steaming in the cold
They are a vision. The legend of the great Winged Hussars reborn. Honorable men.
Two weeks of chaos. Attack. Retreat. Counter attack. Victory. Loss.
German Luftwaffe bombs fall. Houses become shells. Howitzer’s strafe
Shattered horses rot in the fields
800 tanks surround your world. Death waits on all sides.
Brave Army Pomorze tries to defend
20 000 soldiers die. The Germans come. Relentless cruelty
People hang in trees like strange fruit
Murder. Rape. Starvation. Firing squad. Your eyes cannot un-see the horror.
You are the man of the house now. Find food. Protect. Resist. Suffer.
Later the Russians come. You say they are worse.
Coming to Australia
You came because of a picture. Blue skies. Fields of flowers. Beaches.
A bright world far from your Displaced Person’s Camp
And the memory of fleeing your beloved Poland as the Russians took over
Abandoning your Mother and sister
Believing you would be killed because of your Polish Underground activities
You sailed on the Fairsea from Naples and arrived at The Pier in Melbourne on June 9 1949
A man with his life in a suitcase. TB scars on his lungs
Other scars no-one could see.
A bright gold-toothed smile. Sky-blue eyes. No English
Bonegilla. Flat. Hot. Dry. Tin sheds blazing in the sun. Rabbit plague.
The locals throw stones. ‘Go home dago!’ Where is home now?
A narrow iron bed. A set of drawers. A small mirror
Sitting on the steps and singing old songs with other Poles and Czech’s
You kill hundreds of rabbits. Thousands. So much death
Life beaten out of their eyes
You work hard. A donkey. A body to be used up
You work for the SEC then the railways
Then you go to Queensland to cut cane with the Italians
You learn English from newspapers.
You come to Melbourne and work as an orderly in the Greenvale TB Sanatorium
You meet Renee Highcock there. A dark-eyed English rose
You: Handsome in handmade shoes. Blonde. A European accent. Beautiful manners.
Many friends of all creeds. You play bridge. Gamble. Dance
Drink vodka like water
You propose to her in a taxi as she leaves for England
In 1958 she returns to marry you
Together you build a white weatherboard house in a cow paddock in Eltham
813 Main Road. You and Renee have no furniture except for a bed
And orange crates to sit on. But it is yours
When the fires come in the summer of 1962 you will not leave
The fires ring Eltham but a huge thunderstorm sends rain
A miracle of timing
You don’t want children, but we come anyway
You work two jobs
A house painter. You smell of turps. White spots of paint freckle your skin.
You wear a handkerchief on your head with the corners rolled in
You are proud of your work
Night shift at Larundel asylum. Two on. Two off.
A dread of the full moon’s effect on the insane
You tell us stories about ‘My Poland, before The War’
You teach us to swim. You take us to the beach. The Yarra River
You show us the stars. You bring home stray animals. Lizards, possums, birds, dogs
You take us on Sunday Drives – too fast but the scenery is beautiful
Kinglake. Warrandyte. The Dandenongs. Yan Yean
You drink every night. Spirits with European friends
Beer with Aussie mates
You smoke cigars and cigarettes. Play bridge competitively
Hot – tempered. You argue relentlessly about The War
You try to help migrating Poles. Find them work. Find a place to stay. Furniture
You know how hard it is
You cry when Pope John Paul II becomes Pope
You cry again when he is shot. He is Hope for your beloved Poland
Though you cannot return there even now in the 80s
You live to see Susan turn 22 and I turn 21
But not much longer than that because your heart is broken
Susan found you at the bottom of the stairs one morning
You are buried at the Eltham Cemetery
May you fly on the dark wings of your beloved Storks’
And find peace at last
Dad, I am sorry I did not understand your pain
A War seems so far away when the sun is shining
And time, for the young, is the present
Older now, I know the span of 20 or 30 years is not so long
Not long enough to forgive the loss of Everything you loved
Everything you were
And yet I hope it was not true when you said
‘I am dead now, since leaving My Poland’
I hope that you found solace in the sun with us and Australia
You once called her ‘My second Mother’
And know that you were loved