Episode 9


Warning – Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that the following video may contain images and voices of deceased persons.

Archival film narrator– Here we were to live and work beside men and women of a dozen nationalities and my child was to play with children from Austria, Latvia, Germany and Poland. Children to whom the phenomenon of snow was commonplace.

[Focus question – What are the stories and perspectives of migrants and Australians who worked on the Scheme or lived in Snowy towns?]

Narrator – In this episode, you will explore the ways in which the Snowy Scheme had a transformative impact on Australia.

Peppi Pusswald – After the war they start cleansing Croatian people.

[Ethnic cleansing – The attempt to get rid of (through deportation, displacement or even mass killing) members of an unwanted ethnic group in order to establish an ethnically homogenous geographic area.]

Peppi Pusswald – And if you are not one of them, then you were against them.

[Picture of Ante Pavelic Fascist Leader standing at a microphone with his arm in the air – was a Yugoslavian Croat lawyer, politician and dictator who founded and headed the fascist ultranationalist organisation known as the Ustase in 1929 and governed the Independent State of Croatia.]

[Image of dead people on the ground]

Peppi Pusswald – And they were jailing people and they were killing people. And then the people were escaping over the border. And my father was one of them.

[Shows black and white picture (in a photo album)of her father in a suit surveying rubble]

Peppi Pusswald – He escaped to Italy and from Italy, he had the choice to go either to America or to Australia.

[Map showing a dotted line from Italy to Australia] So he came to Australia and then he was working on the Snowy Mountains Scheme.

Narrator – The construction of the Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric Scheme began in 1949 in the wake of World War Two. Since 1901 Australia's migration policy was very much a closed doors policy. The Immigration Restriction Act, which became simply known as the White Australia Policy was designed to limit non-British migration to Australia. It also caused the deportation of people deemed by the new government to be undesirable, such as the Chinese who came during the gold rush or Pacific Islanders who worked in the sugar industry in Queensland. After World War Two the Australian government saw the need to greatly increase its population in the interests of economic and military security. Australia's migration policy shifted to the idea that our nation should populate or perish. From 1949 approximately 66,000 migrants came to Australia to work on the construction of the Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric Scheme. For many migrants the Snowy Scheme offered them a lot more than just employment. The majority of migrant Snowy workers came from Europe which had been devastated by war. Many came from displaced persons' camps.

Christa Fischer – It was really, really good for me coming from War-torn Europe. It was very hard during the war and especially after the war. Lots of shortages, especially with food. And we often went hungry, we were often starving. And my mother, I mean, we were five children. We lost our father during the war, just at the end of the war. So he never came home. So it was really hard for our mother. And when I came to the Snowy and working in the staff mess and all the food!

Hans Fischer - And I left a, I left a country that was trying to build up after the war. And Germany also, the life is very formal, regulated. And coming to Australia, everything was the easy-going life. Everybody was happy, friendly. I was also amazed about the larrikin humour of the Australians. I loved it

Narrator - With the great number of nationalities represented on the Scheme, communication difficulties between workers could at times be a problem but most migrants often spoke several European languages. They could find a common language in which to communicate while they quickly learned English.

Christa Fischer - At that stage, we had the kitchen staff was mainly staff from eastern and central Europe, and they were all communicating in German, which I found very strange because you know I came over to improve my English. That was another reason why I came over to Australia. And they were all speaking in German, which was not so good for me. But still, you know, I still learned it very quickly and improved it very quickly with visitors and locals.

Peppi Pusswald- I was working in the restaurant, but mostly in the kitchen making salads, whatever it was needed because I couldn't speak the language. The only words I knew was 'thank you', 'please' And 'I love you'. But later I listened very hard to the people when they were talking and, and slowly, slowly, you know like the migrants who read the hands and explaining and if I didn't know something, then I will go and ask and they come and give me a hand, you know, and help me. It took me about three months and then I started to speak.

Narrator - The unfamiliarity of ways of life and cultural practises in Australia could also be challenging at times.

Ervino Bertolin - Italy is very tough country to live, in especially the small towns. So after two years, I was here I did make up my mind, "I'm not gonna go back." because I love Australia. The only thing I miss is, when I was young I used to be dancing a lot, I was mad about dancing. We used to go around, we had a friend with a piano accordion, Back of the motorbike, we go on different towns, we can then play, all the girls come in dancing. We was dancing every weekend. But coming here, it was like somebody cut my legs off. No dancing, forget it.

Narrator - With increasing rates of migration as a result of populate or perish the Australian government adopted a policy of assimilation which attempted to support New Australians. Under this policy, the Snowy Mountains Authority supported the assimilation of its migrant workers.

Frank Rodwell - I know also that the Snowy Scheme started the English classes for the workers for free. And they went in their own time to learn English which was very, very important because if you're working out in the mountains and somebody just, "Look out! Something's comin'" "What is that you say?" It's a bit late then.

Narrator - While migrants adapted to the Australian way of life they also continued to celebrate their unique cultures. Migrants brought with them aspects of their rich, diverse cultures and shared them with their workmates on the Scheme. There was a sharing of culture on a scale possibly never before seen in Australia, between Australians and New Australians of 30 different nationalities. An influx of different foods came with the influx of migrants. The variety of delicious and for some not so delicious foods was a great point of discussion. On the Scheme, food brought people together.

Frank Rodwell - Well, we had never heard of a Delicatessen. We'd never heard of pizzas. And of course the Italians who came out here they wanted to be able to make their pizzas but didn't get tomato paste, we got tomato sauce! Which was part of our national cuisine. We have steak and eggs and tomato sauce. They brought their own recipes and food items. Mind you, I thought the Scandinavians were a bit barbaric eating raw fish. That was not my idea. And the Germans, they didn't waste anything as far as the pig was concerned. They even made pig's blood sausages! I wasn't gonna go there either. However, there were times when you were visiting friends and you'd bring out something that tasted pretty good and the Czechs had their Dileskis and all these new foods that came out. Whereas I was brought up on corned beef and cabbage and spuds yeah that was it.

Narrator - While the majority of workers on the Scheme were migrants, Australians also worked to build the Scheme. Many Australians found working with such a diverse range of nationalities to be enriching. It often broke down long-held prejudices against other nationalities; prejudices which were often formed as a result of being enemy nations during World War One or Two. Workers on the Scheme were able to appreciate that life experiences and core values had many similarities across cultures.

Frank Rodwell - I know that when I first came here in 1950, I don't think I had ever seen a migrant. And then suddenly I was in Cooma, there were more migrants than were Australians and no one was picked on because they may have come from a different country or whatever. Our commissioner Sir William Hudson very, very wisely and said very early in the piece that, "You are not Germans or Italians or Canadians or British. "You are Snowy people." I didn't know any cultural difference although if there was a fight in the camp, as there sometimes were, you could bet at the end that it would be between two Irishmen.

Peppi Pusswald- I feel that in Cooma, everybody knew everybody else. We all were working hard people and striving to build us a home and to bring the family up and everything. I mean, in other places sometimes I felt that people were a little bit estranged, you know, like maybe they were frightened of us newcomers. I don't know, but a little bit different you know. Not as multicultural as here.

Narrator - The rich diversity of people living and working on the Snowy, Snowy people, paved the way for a more multicultural approach in Australia's policy. The pioneering spirit that was generated by the multicultural workforce throughout the construction of the Snowy Scheme contributed in a major way to its success.

[End of transcript]

Return to top of page Back to top