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1: Introduction

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WYALKATCHEM'S migrant phase lasted just two decades, from 1950 until 1970, or one fifth of the town's first century as a significant Western Australian (WA) central wheatbelt farming and service, educational, medical and sporting - centre, which commenced in 1905 when John Lindsay settled land well south of the yet-to-be-gazetted town site, and William Wallace Jones, and his partner Thomas Smith, contemporaneously reaching the Cowcowing lakes area, well north of the town. During those two mid-20th century decades more than twenty Eastern European and other non-English speaking families became short and longer-term residents with over a dozen of these falling into the latter category. Although most of these longer-term settlers were of Polish ancestry - with the majority reaching Fremantle via Hitler's Third Reich - there were several Ukrainians, some Greeks, and, very briefly, even two Russians whose names I have, unfortunately, been unable to discover. These two had, however, certainly left the town by 1952 so were probably in Wyalkatchem for only about a year, perhaps less. By that year or perhaps 1953 eight Dutch families had reached the town. But unlike the Vanblitterswyks, who remained in nearby Benjaberring until nearly 1970, most of these had left well before the end of that decade. And either in 1953 or 1954 two Greek families, who were related, arrived and stayed for only about three years. They, however, opted well before 1960 to relocate to the Perth metropolitan area, something most of the other families were also to do if not before 1960 then soon after. Both Greek families embarked upon small business or retailing careers.

One of the first Polish families (Olejasz) to have reached the town in late 1950 departed very shortly afterwards for Adelaide where a small but vibrant urban-based Polish community already existed. Two other Polish families subsequently left for North America, one (Chorza-Purkhardt) opting to live in Quebec, Canada, while the other (Wyrzykowski) settled in the United States. Interestingly, the Wyrzykowskis had reached Wyalkatchem via Adelaide, the only ones to come from another state. The steady exodus of migrants from Wyalkatchem therefore commenced fairly soon after these people had arrived and continued throughout the 1950s and 1960s so that by 1970 only a handful of individuals remained, meaning the town's migrant phase had come to an end in just two decades.

In some respects Wyalkatchem was therefore treated as a half-way post as people consolidated financial resources to move on to new places of abode, be it Perth, Bunbury, another Australian state capital, or North America. Peoples' reasons for leaving what was generally their first Australian town of abode were varied – the search for “greener pastures”, job transfers, a desire to be closer to friends, relatives, and/or children who had earlier opted to settle in Perth or other coastal centres, the search for higher paid or less arduous work, and, in some cases, to launch family businesses in the larger and then rapidly expanding Perth-Fremantle metropolitan market.

Wyalkatchem, like other WA wheatbelt towns, began experiencing a noticeable decline in population by the late 1950s, a phenomenon that most commentators tend to attribute to the widespread consolidation of farm holdings due to greater mechanization and ongoing successful attempts to reap economies of scale by individual farmers. Because Wyalkatchem was without a manufacturing, mining, logging or processing base few new employment opportunities existed for non-farmers, which is the category that encompassed all the 1950s migrants. This meant that the town offered virtually no employment opportunities for the children of the migrants who had reached it in 1950 or very soon after that year. That more than anything explains why Wyalkatchem's migrant phase was so short-lived.

Moreover, technological advancements, including especially automation and advancements in electronic gadgetry, meant communications were further centralised, thereby offering reduced local employment opportunities in smaller wheatbelt townships like Wyalkatchem. By the mid-1960s manual telephone exchanges were set to be displaced by automatic call switching systems. This meant that telephonist positions, therefore work for girls who were recent school leavers, firstly declined and eventually disappeared. Continued rapid population growth in metropolitan Perth meant the state's burgeoning capital acted as an economic or employment magnet at the same time as employment opportunities were being rapidly reduced across WA's farmlands. This phenomenon had earlier been noticed in WA with the demographic decline of the goldfields following the Great War and into the early 1920s, when the state's wheatbelt region that extended from Geraldton to Esperance commenced to demographically expand in tandem with the Perth-Fremantle metropolitan region. Until about 1950, so just as migrants were reaching many WA wheatbelt towns, the wheatbelt region was demographically on a par with the Perth-Fremantle or metropolitan region. When the numerical scales, so to speak, swung in favour of the city or metropolitan area surrounding the Swan estuary the steady departure of migrants from towns like Wyalkatchem was to reinforce this urbanizing and centralizing trend.

To most Anglo-Celtic Wyalkatchem town dwellers and outlying farmers the non-English speaking newcomers were variously known, as: New Australians, migrants, refugees, Refos, Displaced Persons, DPs, or, and, this was quite erroneous, Balts - Estonians, Latvians or Lithuanians. However, only one of those to reach Wyalkatchem between 1950 and 1970 was from one of these nations, which had been re-incorporated into the Stalinist Soviet Union during 1944-45. That was Janis Saveljevs. However, this latter term was only briefly used, having been mistakenly adopted to describe all post-war migrants because some of WA's earliest Eastern European settlers had originated from one of the Baltic States.

About the Author || 2: The Migrant Circumstances >>