From Continental Europe to Cosmopolitan Canberra

Krystian Sadkowsky was born in a displaced persons camp near Fallingbostel, Brunswick, Germany in 1946.  He migrated to Australia when he was 3 years old with his mother, where they joined his father who had come 6 months earlier to establish the family. Together, they settled in Brisbane, where he grew up and was educated. Krystian has post-graduate qualifications in mathematical statistics, epidemiology and population health from Canberra and Queensland. He came to work in Canberra in 1970, where he lives to this day.

Krystian loves ballroom and Latin dancing and listening to music.  His ‘familiar’ name for his wife is ‘dance partner’, and he is currently writing his family history.  He enjoys quality time with family and friends, and especially loves playing with and teaching his grandchildren.

Us in Germany, in 1948

I was born in a displaced persons camp called Rosalies Kaserne, near the town of Bad Fallingbostel in Braunschweig (Brunswick), Germany, in 1946.

My mother was born in Poland. However, history shows that sometime after the collapse of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the area she came from was called Prussia. Poland reemerged as a country after World War I with that part of Prussia becoming Poland. At the beginning of World War II, my mother, being blonde and blue-eyed, was taken from Poland by the Germans to be ‘Germanised’ in a place near Brunswick. Where Dad came from was always a mystery; he mentioned many places including Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and Poland. I never nailed him down. He always introduced himself as a Kulak. His genetic profile suggests he was roughly a quarter Eastern European, a quarter Baltic, a quarter German, a quarter French and around 5 percent British. Records show he spent the last three years of WWII in Stalag 11, near Brunswick, Germany.

Both of my parents were liberated by the English. They met, were married in 1948, and then agreed to migrate to Australia. My dad left for Australia in September 1948. After he established himself there, Mum and I followed, arriving in Australia six months later, in March 1949. I recall going on the ship, the colours of the clothes the sailors wore, going through the Suez Canal, and seeing flying fish, whales and islands on the way. When we arrived, we went to live in Brisbane, where dad worked for a British company called UK and Dominion Motors. My brother was born in 1950. A year or so after my brother was born, our mother went to work at a British-owned cotton spinning mill.

At home, we spoke a mixture of languages. When we spoke to Mum, it was in Polish, and when we spoke to Dad, it was in Russian.  I didn’t understand why some people giggled when hearing this. We had no other family, cousins or relatives, but my brother and I adopted favourite visitors to fill in the gaps. I recall a letter from the Red Cross arriving, searching for Mum, but Dad insisted on not answering. Dad had fears and secrets. When he talked, he was under the influence of alcohol. At these times, he told me of his family and background and career. I recall that I discounted much of what he said because it was too hard to comprehend. It wasn’t until I started reading of the things he spoke about, and about the broader politics in the Soviet Union, that I began to understand what he was saying and what he had been afraid of. Many secrets died with him, the most important of which was his surname. After Dad died in 1992, I got to hear a lot more about Mum’s family in Poland.

I started preparatory school in 1950, where I gained English as a third language. I finished Year 8 and went to high school in 1960. Both at primary and secondary school, there was an abundance of Oxford and Cambridge graduates teaching us. I was inculcated into a British way of thinking through school.

At home, we ate Polish and Russian food. Dad also had a vodka still, and sold vodka to whom I unceremoniously called the ‘town drunks’.

I had desires to become a chemical engineer, but circumstances turned me off chemistry, and at university I studied mathematics instead. In 1970, I was offered a job in Canberra, where I continued with studies in statistics and computing and later in health and epidemiology.

In 1973, I married a Canberra girl, Mirella, who hailed from Piedmont in Italy. I recall sharing with her that I had only three relatives: my mum, my dad and my brother. Her family circumstances were similar, but different. There were five of them in Australia, but more family elsewhere. With Mirella and her family, I was introduced to Italian food and quickly gained weight.

Mirella and I went to Europe in 1977-78 for almost a year, during which time we visited her relatives in Italy. It wasn’t until 2007 that we went back and visited Poland and Russia. We found Mum’s relatives in Poland and Germany but remained tourists in other places. I returned to Poland and Germany again with my brother in 2009.

In Australia, I have, like my wife, “left my roots behind, as circumstances, work, six children, one with disabilities, forced us to grow in this southern hemisphere’s soil”. The COVID pandemic put a stop to our plans of visiting distant relatives who had migrated to South America. But now, the desire is gone. I don’t see myself visiting relatives again. We have some social media contact, but nothing of any consequence.

The children are grown. I am a grandfather, and I belong here. Now I can call myself a cosmopolitan Canberran.

Us in Australia, in 2020

© Krystian Sadkowsky, 2020