Arrived in Australia: 1957
From: Budapest, Hungary
Reason for leaving:
More information — Wikipedia: Hungarian Revolution
Where he comes from:
Otto was born in the Hungarian capital Budapest in 1943. He has clear memories of growing up in Budapest and the changes that took place when the Communist regime gained power. Private business was nationalised and religious instruction in schools was replaced by Communist doctrine. He also recalls the national love of soccer and the success of the Hungarian team. When Hungary lost the World Cup, its citizens were paralysed with shock and some even took to the streets to riot. These gatherings in Budapest fermented and eventually turned into large demonstrations. The atmosphere in the streets was almost festive and Otto remembers thinking that he wanted to be a part of it, but he was also aware of the strategic positioning of Soviet tanks throughout the city. He recalls when the tanks and soldiers started attacking people and the festive atmosphere became a scene of war.
How he got to Australia:
The bombing and shooting that took place during the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 was reminiscent of World War II and Otto’s parents decided that it was precarious to stay and they would attempt to leave. At Christmas time they secretly packed what they could and headed for Austria. They paid a people smuggler to help them cross the border in the middle of the night, while sounds of machine guns surrounded them. Otto was 13, and his two sisters were 14 and 3. The family arrived in Austria on Christmas Eve and lived in a guesthouse waiting for a country to take them. During this time, Otto and his sisters were separated from their parents for two months and accommodated in an orphanage by the Danish Red Cross. After six months they were offered a place in Australia and so they joined groups of other migrants and refugees on a crowded ship to tackle the stormy, three and a half week journey across the Indian Ocean.
Otto remembers landing in Fremantle, looking at the skyline and thinking: “Right, this is the bottom of the world!” They continued to a migrant and refugee camp in Bonegilla near Albury, and eventually resettled in Melbourne. Otto’s first impressions of Melbourne were that it was a big village with sprawling suburbs. Learning to speak English was the most immediate challenge and it was quite difficult as no ESL programs existed in those days and most of his friends were other Hungarian refugees. He remembers sitting at the back of the class, keeping quiet and awaiting recess, but not learning much. Later on at another school he was lucky to have a teacher who took an interest in him and gave him progressively more advanced books to read; this really improved Otto’s English and confidence. Another challenge was the intolerance of some people towards newcomers. Otto says he did not look “different” and could avoid being the target of intolerance (unlike the Italians and Greeks whose appearance stood out) if he kept quiet.
“What’s interesting is that we have all different values, but that doesn’t mean one is better than the other.”
When Otto arrived he went to Elwood High School and then to another school in Balwyn. Due to the lack of assistance with English tuition, he struggled with Year 12 and later returned to Monash University to study Economics.Current occupation: When they arrived in Australia, Otto’s first job as a teenager was recycling sugar bags in St Kilda. His first “real” job was with Telstra, where one of his roles was the Executive Assistant to the Director General of Post & Telegraphs. This entitled him to having the first fax machine in Australia! Otto’s current occupation is IT consulting.
Otto is married with two adult sons. One son lives in Sydney and is an anaesthetist. A few months ago, he got married in a Native American ceremony in the Grand Canyon. Otto’s other son works for a bank and much to the liking of his father recently returned from Sydney to live in Melbourne.
Otto has an eleven-acre property in Foster, where he enjoys “getting rid of my frustration by fighting weeds and doing improvements”. He loves bike riding and also does a bit of family tree research. Playing the stock market is also a favourite pastime.
What he likes about Australia the most:
Otto has always appreciated the Australian sense of fairness and the fact that “you can have a joke or have a go at people, but someone would always stand up for you”.
Hopes and dreams:
Keen to keep his mind alert and to remain physically active, Otto wants to continue working as long as he can; he enjoys the people contact and the challenge of working. Travelling also appeals to him and one of the places he would like to visit is Turkey - it has some affinity to Hungary through similarities in the languages.
“What’s interesting is that we have all different values, but that doesn’t mean one is better than the other.” In saying this, Otto reflects on the negative attitudes towards “gypsies” (Roma people) in Hungary, even though they were the musicians and entertainers that set the mood of every wedding and funeral. He sees similarities between their treatment and that of Aboriginal people in Australia.
His final message is:
“Make the most of what life gives you”.