Displaced Person


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My father's story

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



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