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177 Nations of Tasmania - Episode 44 - From Poland with love

Updated: Feb 4, 2022

Poland has been one of the major sources of migrants to Tasmania since 1947 and many Poles came in the 1950s and 60s to work as labourers on Tasmania's large hydroelectric projects, often in remote and difficult conditions in Tasmania's highlands. I have included some links for those who might be interested in investigating his history further and understand the how events in Europe and Tasmania conspired to create this influx of Polish migrants.

A big part of my podcast is understanding why people come to this quite remote island at the end of the world, often far far away from their country of birth. Often you can see how much bigger historical events have played a major part, and understanding the wider historical context can often help to make sense of those individual experiences and appreciate why people had often had to leave.

Poland is particularly interesting as Poles make up one of the largest migrant diasporas globally over the last year or more. Foreign occupation, political upheaval, war, religious persecution and economic problems are just a few of the reasons that Poles have moved in large numbers to settle in the USA, Canada, Brazil, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Israel and many more. In more recent times, many Poles have moved to more prosperous Western European countries to work, and there are few countries where Poles don't feature in the top 10 migrant groups.

I always like to set up this context to better appreciate peoples' individual stories. So havin said all that, the interview I did with Dana was a chance to listen to a different type of Polish migrant story to what is probably more typical of those Poles who came to Tasmania in the post-war and Communist eras.

First of all, Dana had basically a good life in Poland. She was a concert pianist with regular work playing or accomanying. There was ( and no doubt still is ) a strong appreciation for musical performance In Poland, and in the Communist era, musicians were supported and able to have a stable career. In listening to Dana's description of life as a working pianist times, I couldn't help but contrast it with the unstable and stressful life for most musicians in this country, where most try to survive in the "gig economy". Also the different ways that music, classical music at least, is appreciated in Poland compared with here was enlightening. Although to me, this was perhaps not so surprising as classical concerts or recitals are often far more formal and stuffy in the mddle-class Anglo-Saxon world.

We didn't go too deeply into Dana's family background, but her father and grandfather were both people of note in Polish politics before the Communist period, so far from the typical profile of most Polish migrants here. To cut a long story short ( you should listen to the podcast episode above for more ), Dana's journey to Tasmania is really a bit of a love story, as she ended up marrying a Polish emigre settled in Tasmania, who himself sounds like he had a fascinating story ( from the few details I got ).

Probably one of the most fascinating aspect I found in listening to Dana's experience of living in Tasmania was the change in how she saw Tasmania and Tasmanians. At first it seemed she lamented the lack of sophisticated musical culture here - people didn't hang around after concerts to talk about the show, there was something of a lack of cultural life that she had been used to in Poland. In fact, I can say that Dana is not the first European I've talked to who has mentioned this either, so I suspect it's not an altogether uncommon experience. But over time, she describes how she's learnt to love the beauty of Tasmania, and a very interesting observation she made was that "Tasmanians seem to be happy with who they are", which I found to be a rather astute insight.

As with many of these conversations I've had with people on this podcast, I really enjoyed getting into the personal experiences and perspectives that you wouldn't read about in books about Polish migrants , and I hope that this helps people connect better with these stories and experiences and appreciate both where migrants come from and what they bring with them, whether they're pianists from Poland, dance therapists from Japan, physiotherapists from Turkey or chefs from Nepal.

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