Paying tribute to Rockhampton’s oldest immigrants
Almost one-third of Australia’s multicultural population was born overseas – from every country around the world.
International Migrants Day on Friday December 18 is an opportunity to acknowledge how immigrants bring culture and innovation to the countries they move to.
Amongst them are Bill and Rosmarie von Allmen and Richie Ziebicki, who now live at the Carinity Shalom aged care community in Rockhampton.
Rosmarie and her husband Wilhelm, better known as ‘Bill’, moved to Australia from Switzerland in the early-1950s – one year apart.
“Dad was supposed to go to South America to drive a water tanker but it fell through, and because he had said ‘hooray’ to everybody he decided he was going to go overseas anyway,” their daughter Ann Oram explains.
Moving to rural Queensland 70 years ago was a culture shock for Bill and Rosmarie – and not just because they had to learn to use an outdoor ‘thunderbox’ toilet.
“It was a culture shock because in Switzerland they had running water, they had washing machines, they had cellars,” Ann said.
“Europe had washing machines and we had copper, and mum and dad had kerosine tins for their washing up.
“When they first moved here, they had one light bulb which they had to move around the house to get light in the next room.
“Mum and Dad thought it was a great adventure – and they loved Australia.”
After brief stays in Maryborough and Bundaberg, Bill moved to Rockhampton where he was later joined by Rosmarie.
A nursery innovator who co-founded popular Fitzroy Nurseries in Pink Lily, Bill developed new varieties of the flowering shrub mussaenda, commonly known as ‘Bangkok rose’.
He also pioneered a grafting technique for macadamia and introduced new types of tropical fruit to Queensland.
For Ryszard “Richie” Ziebicki, moving to Australia in the early 1960s was an opportunity to put the horrors of World War II behind him.
Richie was 12 when Germany invaded his homeland Poland. He would spend most of his teenage years in forced labour camps.
“At the age of 15-and-a-half I was randomly selected for forced labour in Germany along with two other boys from my village,” Richie recalls.
“We were taken to a Russian prisoner of war camp in the north of Germany and started work at a coal business.
“My job was to unload 50kg bags and deliver by trailer mainly to army barracks, navy bases and businesses in the city, where I had to stow the bags in the cellars.
“One of my jobs was to take the coal business owner’s wife and little girls to the bunker in the event of an air raid. When the Allied planes kept coming and the bombs were falling, we were scared but we wanted them to keep coming.
“Towards the end of the war… I saw the Polish Army coming. I knew that the war would soon be over.”
After arriving in Australia, Richie worked on the Snowy River hydroelectricity scheme, as many immigrants of the time did, before settling in Blackwater.