SPEECH - 50th Anniversary of the Australia-Poland Diplomatic Relationship

14 February 2022

It's with great pleasure that I rise to speak on this motion before the House today. This Sunday, 20 February 2022, marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Australia and Poland. This is, indeed, a significant milestone, which underlines the very strong partnership between our nations. It's an important occasion that is most certainly worth recognising and celebrating in the Australian parliament today. The contribution of the Polish community to Australia's social, cultural and economic life is immense. It's estimated that over 200,000 Australians have Polish ancestry, and, as well as celebrating this important milestone, I want to take some time today to acknowledge the enormous contribution of Poles to my community of Newcastle.

Certainly one of the largest groups of migrants to come to Newcastle as part of the postwar wave of migration were the Polish people. They have changed our city for the better in so many ways. The very first intake of displaced peoples from postwar Europe arrived in the Hunter region via the port of Newcastle back in 1949, and, up until 1960, there was a migrant camp established in a town called Greta, in the Hunter, which became home to more than 100,000 people. Some 18 different nations from war ravaged Europe were represented by the people passing through that camp, but the Polish community were indeed amongst that group.

Around 10,000 babies were actually born in the Greta migrant camp during its life span, and, while there's nothing really left of that camp anymore, there are exceptionally strong memories of that place when you talk to members of the Polish community in Newcastle. It was a city unto itself. It had its own water and sewerage, a hospital and a transport division—buses, ambulances, the whole works. It had cinemas. People have very fond memories of all sorts of activities that they were organising at the time.

Men from the migrant camp in Greta were sent all around the place to work. Many of those men came into Mayfield, in my electorate, to stay at a hostel which was very close to the BHP steelworks. Whilst that old hostel in Mayfield West is off limits now, the building has survived all these years.

One of the men who arrived in Newcastle in 1949 and grew up at the Greta camp was the late John Gebhardt. I really want to pay tribute to his enormous contribution both to the local Polish community and as the founder of the Ethnic Communities Council in our region, which has become Hunter Multicultural Communities. John Gebhardt's daughter is now the CEO of that organisation. John spearheaded a dedicated focus on delivering adequate services and support to refugees settling in the region, and he fought really hard on issues of education, aged-care services and community development.

I also want to take some time to acknowledge Victor Lupish, another Novocastrian who arrived on one of those first ships coming into Newcastle in 1949. Victor is a life member of Hunter Multicultural Communities and played a vital role in ensuring that Greta migrant camp is a rich part of our history. There are so many people currently serving on the executive of the Polish Association in Newcastle that I would like to acknowledge, and I'm not going to have time to name them all today. Former president Janina Sulikowski has been an extraordinary influence in our region, as has the current president, Marek Bartczak. The community still runs a fabulous Polish school, and that's an important part of our community.

I was fortunate to meet with the Polish ambassador last year to talk about this milestone occasion. Whilst we're all focused on this today, there is great concern about what is happening now in Poland's neighbour Ukraine. Whilst we stand in solidarity with the Australian Ukrainian community at this difficult time, Australia should be looking to support, in every way we can, Poland in its efforts to build resilience and civil society in Ukraine.