Curiosity drives Goulburn graduate teacher and researcher Nadia Johnson. His knowledge of the displaced migrants who rebuilt their lives in Australia in the 1940s and 1950s is widely sought after. Yet the early lives of Nadia’s father and mother – the trigger for her research – remain mysterious.
Her parents survived brutal dictators Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler, were employed as slaves, and joined Australia’s exhausted workforce in 1953 when Nadia was just 18 months old.
After sailing to Port Melbourne, the young couple traveled by train to Marulan in New South Wales. They had two other daughters and were fiercely determined to give them opportunities they never had.
Nadia’s father’s family lived in Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg) in Russia.
Modest Koschenow, later known as Max in Australia, grew to hate communism. Nadia’s mother, Valentina Borshev, grew up in Ukraine. During World War II, before they met, they were forced to work in Germany, and they found their way apart as displaced people to post-war Belgium where they met, married and had Nadia.
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In Marulan, they lived in a garage. Nadia’s first memory is of rushing outside to see the little girl (herself) she had seen in the vanity mirror against the wall inside.
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His parents did not speak English.
“I remember my mother saying they would buy the newspaper and there was a comic strip called Nancy with fairly simple language,” explains Nadia. “She taught herself to read English from this comic.”
Max became a self-taught electrician at the Marulan South Limestone Quarry. Nadia learned English at Marulan South Public School, even though the schools lacked the resources to help migrant children.
In high school, former students from Marulan South took the quarry worker bus early in the morning and then waited for the Marulan school bus to take them to Goulburn.
In 1966, when Nadia was in third (grade 9), the family moved to Godfrey Street in Goulburn, near the high school and hospital. His parents had collected enough money to buy a block of land.
“They saved and saved very carefully,” says Nadia. “I know we went without a lot. We had the basics, we were never hungry and we were always nicely dressed.
“My mother was scrupulous about savings, and eventually they were able to buy this land and build a house.
“We grew up with our own products and we never bought vegetables. Everything was in the garden. We had our own chooks, geese and ducks, and dad shot the rabbits. That’s how we survived.
“My mother made all our clothes and we were often dressed the same. All the money went to better things for “their daughters”.
The family neighbors were lovely.
“There was John and Shirley Carr living next door to us, and Joy and Bobby Rudd on the other side,” Nadia explains.
“They always welcomed us warmly and we did a lot of things together. After my dad died, someone scrawled “wog” in big letters on mom’s driveway. The neighbors were so mad they washed him before mom could see him.
Valentina Koschenow was reserved.
“My mother was very determined, very intelligent, spoke several languages and could write letters abroad for other people,” says Nadia.
“She always made sure her daughters looked good and did well. My dad was proud of us too, but mum was the driving force to get things done.
After high school, Nadia took a general primary education course at Goulburn Teachers College and taught at Wee Waa in the west, where her husband, Frank Johnson, a senior engineer, worked in Narrabri.
Later they moved to Sydney.
Curious about her background, Nadia started asking questions.
“My parents were reluctant to talk about their background, probably not wanting to upset us too much,” she says.
“They hated the memories of the things that happened. But I had this hunger to know what had happened and why people were coming to Australia.
“It’s been a journey of a lifetime trying to figure this all out on my own, doing my own research.”
Nadia says the Snowy Mountains hydropower project illustrates the role of Europeans in Australia in the 1950s and 1960s.
“In the Goulburn area they worked in the limestone quarries, on the railways, at the Kenmore Hospital, and many more, and the women held domestic type roles, cleaning, etc.” , she says.
A large population of European displaced persons lived in the Marulan and Goulburn area from the late 1940s.
Many left after their two-year employment contracts ended. The Koschenows were among those who remained, enriching Goulburn for future generations.
Original article published by John Thistleton on riot law.