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Neighbourhood Travels

08 July 2016
By Neil Gardiner

The post war migration boom of the 1950’s and 1960’s bought thousands of immigrants from Central and Eastern Europe to Australia. Many of them came through migrant camps, the most notable being Bonegilla near Albury.

This was the experience of my neighbours, the Rukavina’s who came to Australia in 1968 from Croatia. Drago was a cabinet maker and Maria had worked for a bank as a secretary. They brought with them their two children, Mirjana and Miroslav and four suitcases of possessions.

After five weeks at the camp accommodation was arranged through church contacts with another Croatian family in Yarraville in Melbourne’s western suburbs. They soon found employment, Drago as a carpenter working around Melbourne and Maria as a factory worker at a plastics factory in Carlton.

Yarraville House

The house in Yarraville was a lovely Edwardian Style home. Now renovated with a ground floor extension it sits proudly on the corner of Berry Street. The house next door is identical and they combine to create a lovely streetscape in the western suburbs of Melbourne.

Through work contacts they then moved to Clifton Hill where they boarded at 52 Fenwick St. This house was owned by “Bill” who was a widower. Bill was a postal worker for the Post Master General. The Rukavina’s moved into the house and part of the deal was that Bill joined them for family meals. Such an arrangement would have been common on the 1960’s but would be seen as unusual today.

Clifton Hill House

52 Fenwick St is a double fronted block fronted Victorian style cottage close to the Spensley Street shops. Since living there it has had a second storey extension added to the rear of the property.

Clifton Hill was a favourite with the Croatian community as the former Wesleyan Church in Wellington St had been purchased by the Catholic Church specifically for its Croatian members and has been a focal point of that community ever since.

Twelve months after moving to Australia they purchased 7 Ford St, Clifton Hill. Maria was working as a curtain maker in Abbotsford and Drago in a commercial furniture factory in Clifton Hill. The home cost $8,000 and in the time they had been in Australian they had saved enough for the deposit and borrowed the remainder of the purchase price. The home was a single fronted - semi attached block fronted weatherboard home constructed around 1900.  It has recently been demolished, along with the residence next door so this part of the family history is now gone.

Ford St Clifton Hill

A family photo of Maria and No. 1 son Miro at the front of 7 Ford St, Clifton Hill. Maria and Drago were keen gardeners and the splendid hollyhocks (Alcea Rosea) are testament to their skills in this department. There was also a pomegranate tree in the front yard. It was the first home that they owned in Melbourne.

Clifton Hill Building Site

7 to 9 Ford St, Clifton Hill where the Rukavina’s lived. Note the pile of bluestone rubble from the excavation. Very Clifton Hill!

They lived at Ford Street until 1975 when they purchased their home in Ivanhoe East.

In doing this they achieved a larger home and larger block of land. The home was a post war brick veneer house. There was a shed at the back for Drago’s carpentry workshop and the backyard was filled with fruit trees and the vegetable patch. Drago worked as a carpenter for the Mercy hospital in Heidelberg until his retirement in 1993. 

Ivanhoe East Home

Lower Heidelberg Road, in Ivanhoe East. Once again flowers brighten up the front yard. Until recently there was a magnificent liquid amber in the front yard however the possums got the better of it. It a wonderfully warm family home.

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