EARLY MEMORIES: A smorgasbord of characters (1)

The most outstanding character I have ever met was an immigrant Polish Jew. He had been an Underground Resistance fighter. He looked as if he had been carved out of a rock face. Late into a couple of nights, he showed me his false identity papers, and told me his experiences. We kept in touch over the succeeding decades.

Regrettably, I did not keep in touch with the Jewish girl from Eastern Europe, who wore a number on her arm, with whom I had been smitten. When her family advised that ‘they’ would not like her to be seen in my company in public spaces, we parted. We had planned to attend a classical music concert on a Sunday in a park. ‘They’ were apparently the local Jewish-Australian community.

Another immigrant European lady, a Lutheran, sought to introduce me to Italian opera. I was not impressed. For example, a woman who was on her death bed became louder and louder; not credible. A short man, who needed to stand on a soapbox, sang his eternal love for a woman whose substantial bosom towered over his head. When I conceded that it was the scene with the elephant which had impressed me most, the attempted acculturation process ceased. But, she remained a close friend.

The irony of life is that I had taken to European classical music from age 17. And I had been a violinist with the K.L. Symphony Orchestra when I left for Australia. And, incredibly, I married an Anglo-Australian girl trained as a singer in Italian opera! She had a lovely voice.

Another of my memorable characters was from Slovakia/Hungary. He had marched, as a member of a work unit, with the Nazis into Russia; and marched out again. 20 million Russians had reportedly been killed in that campaign.

Then there were a Hungarian and also a Czech who had just escaped the Soviet invasion of their nations. My habit of collecting interesting (and intelligent) ‘foreigners’ enriched me.

There was also a very noisy Greek-Australian who liked to throw out the names of the great philosophers he was studying, while ‘parading’ in Union House. In the light of the then prevailing antipathy to non-British people, he was courageous. Progressively, the ‘wogs’ of yesteryear were finding their place in the sun.

In the late 1940s, at the first international gathering of students at my university, there were just over 20 nationalities (or ethnicities) within about 85 attendees. One of them was a Mexican, another, a Thai; both were my friends.

It was easy talking with all these notable characters. They were indubitably rich in their backgrounds. If more of us knew what some people have to go through during their lives, would we not be richer in thought and understanding?