Ten or so years ago, at a gathering of Croatian people for breakfast in Fremantle, Vini Kenda (who I used to know as Winnie Bavich when we were neighbours) amazed everyone with a wonderful recollection of bits of her family life when she was growing up on a market garden near Fremantle.
This was so typical of the experiences of the first wave of Dalmatian migrants to Western Australia, arriving in between World War and World War 2. These included my father.
And the wonderful thing was that she recounted her story in the language that these “new Australians” spoke after being here for some time.
And she captured it marvellously, bringing fond and hilarious memories to so many of us.
Our parents came with their Dalmatian dialects, and these were frozen in time – in comparison with the language evolution happening in stari kraj (“the old country”).
Not only that, but of course English words had infiltrated their old Dalmatian sentences. And then they changed the noun and verb endings as you would Croatian words!
They called their language “naški” (our language), rather than Croatian, or Dalmatian or Slav. So for example, if I told my parents that I had met another kid of Dalmatian origin at school, they might have asked “Does he speak naški?”
Many visitors from current Croatia have dropped their jaws in disbelief, or laughed their heads off (or both) when they first spoke with these now quite old people – although many of their sons and daughters speak similarly. Were they speaking Urdu?
Recently, Vini was kind enough to re-tell her short story for me – captured in the video below.
I’ll make things a little easier for you by pointing out that some of the words are place names. These include Špirivud (Spearwood), Snek Gali (Snake Gully), Frimantel (Fremantle), Pert (Perth) Švan (Swan Valley), and Ozban Park (Osborne Park).
In the (almost certain) event that you didn’t catch all of that, here is Vini’s script:
Rodile sam se u Špirivud za vrime depresije u kući od moga Dida.
On je ima garden od 5 akeri, obično je sadi kapulu, fažol i karoc. U sri gardena mu je bi vel sa mali šed di je dove letriku za gonit motor i pumpu za polivat sa šprinkele.
Na dno gardena je bi veliki švamp, a liti bi žabe pravile toliko nojz da nismo mogli spavat, jer onda ni bilo e kondišon, držali smo otvorene ponistre.
Kad sam imala 2 godine smo se šiftili u Snek Galu di je moj Dadi kupi zemju. Blok je bi sami bušak, a na podanak padika su bili veliki vajgomi.
Ni bila prava roda, samo traka, i nismo imali ni lektriku ni vodu. Izgradi je kuću od azbestosa, bila je samo kužina i jedna soba, a dodalo se 2 sobe prije nego što mi se je rodi brat.
Imali smo veliku tangu za vodu od kiše što smo juzili za pit i kuhat, a za se kupat i prat robu smo vadili vodu iz vela sa boket na vinč.
Dadi i prijatej File su radili koru di su vadili lajmston kamen koji su prodavali guvernu za pravit rode i privatno za fondešene za kuće od brika jer onda se ni gradi pod od cimenta.
Nakon par godina smo dobili letriku, ali nismo imali pravu rodu ni vodu dok sam ja živila u Gali.
Kad je Dadi oslipi u jedno oko ni moga više radit u kori, pa sa pomoć prijateji iz Špirivuda izvadili vajgome i stavila se pajpa i šprinkele, pa smo i mi imali garden di se radilo od jutra do mraka.
Dadi je kupi stari trok za nosit štofu na marketu u Frimantel, ali za vrime rata kad se je prodavala sva štofa za dobar prajs, onda je dolazi karijer sa velikim trokom 3 puta na sedmicu i nosi svu štofu iz Gale na marketu u Pert.
Bilo je teško, ali je bilo i puno veseja. Držalo se pikniki, pekli se janci na ražanj, igralo se na balote i uvik se pivale naše dalmatinske pisme. Svi bi se ukrcali na čigov trok i odili na denc na Švan ili Ozban Park. U Špirivud smo imali dencove, predstave, pivački zbor, i mi mladi smo svirali tamburice. Bilo je lipo.
Sad opet živim u Snejk Gali, jarda nam ima puno lajmstona pa mogu sadit samo malo cviča, blitve i tumatose. Više od 50 godin dravim kar, ali još neznam stavit petroj u tangu ni pumpat tajere, a nisan ni dobra za ubekavat.
Još uvik pivan dalmatinske pisme, i lipo mi je!
Sad što sam sve ovo napisala, gren stavit kitlić za napravit kopu te, i uzet ću komad keka ili biškicu. Za večeru ću spremit supu, štek i čips ........
Is that not the most wonderful thing? Those of us who lived that language were bowled over by the memories induced by Vini’s superb performance.
There is a chance that you don’t quite get parts of her story, so let me translate into English ….. [Perhaps I should translate into Croatian?]
I was born in Spearwood at the time of the depression in my grandfather's house.
He had a garden of 5 acres, usually he planted onions, beans and carrots. In the middle of the garden was a well with a small shed where electricity came to run the motor and pump for watering by sprinkler.
At the bottom of the garden was a big swamp, and in summer the frogs would make so much noise that we couldn't sleep because then there was no air-conditioning, so we kept the windows open.
When I was two years old we shifted to Snake Gully where my Dad bought some land. The block was just bush, and at the bottom of the paddock were big white gums.
There wasn't a real road, only a track, and we had neither electricity nor water. The house was made of asbestos, there was just a kitchen and one room, and two rooms were added before my brother was born.
We had a big tank for rainwater which we used for drinking and cooking, and for bathing and washing clothes we took water from the well with a bucket on a winch.
Dad and his friend File worked in a quarry where they took limestone rock which they sold to the government to make roads, and privately for the foundations of brick houses so they didn't have to make the floor of cement.
After a couple of years we got electricity, but we didn't get a real road nor water while I lived in the Gully.
When Dad went blind in one eye he was no longer able to work in the quarry, so with the help of friends from Spearwood they removed the white gums and put in pipes and sprinklers so we had a garden where we worked from morning to dark.
Dad bought an old truck to carry stuff to the market in Fremantle, but during the war when he sold all of the stuff for a good price, a carrier came with a big truck three times a week and took the stuff from the Gully to the market in Perth.
It was difficult, although it was very happy. We held picnics, roasted lambs on the spit, played bowls and always sang our Dalmatian songs. Everybody would get aboard somebody's truck and go to a dance in the Swan (Valley) or Osborne Park. In Spearwood we had dances, performances, a singing group, and we young ones played the tamburica. It was nice.
Now I am again living in Snake Gully, and our yard has a lot of limestone so I can only plant a little bit of flowers, blitva and tomatoes. For more than 50 years I have been driving a car, but I still can't put petrol in the tank nor pump up the tyres, and I am not good at backing up.
I always sing Dalmatian songs, and I love it!
Now that I have written all of this, I am going to put the kettle on to make a cup of tea, and I will have a piece of cake or a biscuit. For dinner I will prepare soup, steak and chips.
Imam još priča, ali scuzi zato što moram ubekavat kar iz garaža kako bi stavit petroj u tangu.
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