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Courage and willpower recognised

25 Sep, 2019

Determined to search for a better life, the late Josef Stelc fled a communist run Czech Republic and later came to live at the Bonegilla Migrant Centre.

His wife and two daughters will acknowledge his bravery with a plaque on The Arc memorial sculpture at the national heritage site.

Daughter Amanda Stelcova, who lives in Sydney, described her father as a hero for standing up for his beliefs and escaping communism.

It was the year 1949 and Josef was just 20 years old when he set out on foot.

Hiding during the day and walking at night, Josef displayed courage as he navigated his way through the Czech-German border.

Josef tried to flee once before and was caught.

His second attempt at crossing the border was successful and he lived in a displaced person’s camp in Ulm, Germany.

Josef lived there for a year while working as a laborer.

It was here he met close friend Jerry Setina and the pair travelled to Bonegilla together as part of the post war immigration scheme.

Amanda is looking forward to visiting Bonegilla Migrant Experience at the end of October with her mum and sister to see her father’s plaque.

“We are excited to see the plaque in person and visit the site. I have a photo of him sitting in the mess hall with his friend Jerry and they are having a meal,” she said.

“It signifies and acknowledges his incredible bravery to come from the other side of the world, which is completely different from where he had grown up.”

It’s now more than 70 years since migrants began arriving at camps like Bonegilla as part of the post war immigration scheme.

Amanda knows little about her father’s time spent at Bonegilla, mostly because he didn’t speak about that part of his life.

Josef was 53 when he passed away and Amanda has been piecing together part of his early life.

“I know he was on board the General Greely immigrant ship that arrived in Melbourne and then travelled by train to Bonegilla,” she said.

“He arrived at Bonegilla on May 13, 1950 and I can imagine the cold weather would have been a shock to his system.”

Josef spent a year at Bonegilla before obtaining a job as a butcher in Melbourne.

It was while living in a boarding home in Melbourne that he met his future wife and they later moved to Sydney to be close to her family.

Bonegilla Migrant Experience's annual reunion - Discover Bonegilla is on November 2 and 3. Save the date.