By Millie Schillick
I recently spoke to some migrants who had arrived in Melbourne’s west after the 1990s. They told me that they thought delicatessens, wine bars, coffee and pizza shops had always been in Melbourne.
These foods and drinks, I informed them, had been introduced by the post WW2 European migrants, not only to Footscray but across Australia. I also told them that before these Europeans arrived, bringing with them their national cultures, traditions and foods, Footscray had been mainly Anglo-Australian – cups of tea for ladies at home and beer at the pub for men.
The first ships starting arriving in 1947, with Baltic and Eastern European people, followed by thousands of others migrants, who settled in western suburbs where there were plenty of factories for work and land for new housing. Footscray grew into the biggest and busiest centre in the west. Migrants established new and never-before seen European-style businesses such as continental hairdressers, tailors, cafes, delicatessens, restaurants, bakeries, butchers, and other shops catering for their own traditions and culinary tastes. Footscray evolved into a little Europe and was nick-named ‘the Gem of the West.’
So, a big thank you and welcome to the Italians, Greeks, Slavs, Balts and Eastern Europeans who brought with them an ethic of hard work and made valuable contributions to the development and prosperity of this young country.
A new historical panel has been placed on the outside wall of the Royal Hotel , Barkley Street, Footscray honouring those post WW2 refugees and migrants from war-devastated Europe who settled in Footscray and the western suburbs in the hope of a better life.
Adapting quickly to their new surroundings and the Australian way of life, they managed to also celebrate their own heritage, cultures and traditions, enriching our suburbs.
This newly installed informative panel also celebrates the first WW2 migrant European woman to work in a western suburbs’ hotel. This was regarded as a ‘big deal’ in those days as pubs were Anglo/Australian held bastions and newcomers were viewed by many Australians with some skepticism and uncertainty.
Today things have changed, but Footscray and the west still remains a melting pot where different cultural groups bring their varied heritages, foods and traditions.
Millie is the only child of Ukrainian & Siberian refugee parents who arrived in Australia from Italy in the late 1940s with just a suitcase and a trunk. They settled in Brooklyn, a predominantly industrial suburb with just a few houses.