Black and white image of men marching in an ANZAC Day parade at Wayatinah

The veterans who helped build the Hydro

09 November 2018



War veterans have played an important role with Hydro Tasmania throughout the past century. At the end of the Second World War Australia faced a major shortage of labour and skill to help rebuild the economy. In August 1946 the states and the Commonwealth agreed to invest in bringing up to 70,000 migrants to Australia each year. These people were recruited from Britain and Europe. 

In Tasmania, the Hydro construction program was already behind schedule because of recruitment and other labour problems during the war. Premier Robert Cosgrove lost no time in ensuring that the needs of the then Hydro-Electric Commission would be given high priority under the Commonwealth’s migration scheme.

Black and white photo of Antoni ‘Tony’ RozmaryniewiczIn 1947 Polish ex-servicemen were invited to apply for two year contracts with the Hydro. Antoni ‘Tony’ Rozmaryniewicz was one of them. Tony was one of the first 280 ‘Rats of Tobruk’ sponsored for emigration to Tasmania by the Rats of Tobruk Association.

The Association was created in Australia to support and maintain ties between the Australian, Polish and British soldiers who had served at Tobruk in the Libyan Desert. 

“[After the war] some of the men who had families in Poland went back there but for people like me it was impossible. One third of Poland had been given to the Russians. The part where I had grown up became part of Ukraine. I knew exactly what it would be like living under Russian control and I didn’t want that. When we were notified that the Australians wanted to sponsor young and healthy Rats of Tobruk, I applied.

“Our sponsors were the Rats of Tobruk Association, the Hydro gave us a job and provided accommodation and we signed a contract which obliged us to stay for two years.”

“We were the group known as the Rats of Tobruk. That meant we were like brothers. The experiences we shared in the Libyan Desert during the war had tied us together. In the desert if you have water, you can go hungry for six weeks and you’ll still be alive but if you didn’t have water for 24 hours, you were dead.”

Once he settled in Tasmania Tony said he became part of a hugely diverse multicultural community that revolved around “the Hydro”.

“Wayatinah became a bit like the United Nations in the end and any nationality you could think, you’d find someone at Wayatinah. This happened after the displaced people came from Germany in 1951 and 1952.”

Tony Worked for the Hydro for 38 years. Initially based at Tarraleah, he was involved with construction of the Hydro village and the Tungatinah Power Station in the early 1950s. He observed significant social and cultural changes in the Hydro and more broadly in Tasmania. Tony said the multicultural aspect of the settlements made them a unique place to live and he has fond recollections of the Italian and Polish music that could be heard across Hydro camps. 

“We played Polish music whenever we could get recordings but we didn’t have many. In those days, they were not readily available. Mostly the records we had were of Italian tenors and opera singers – and when they were played you could hear the music across the whole camp. In every second hut or barrack, there’d be a tenor or a soprano singing some opera aria. It was amazing. We also had our own choir and an orchestra and we started organising dances in the Polish way for the community.” 



This piece includes material from Ticklebelly Tales and Other Stories From the People of Hydro by Heather Felton.

 

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