IN 1949, eight-year-old Eva Bakos, her sister Ibolya and their mother Blanka left war-torn Europe and fled to Australia where the trio’s first stop was the Bathurst Migrant Camp on Limekilns Road.
They arrived in the cover of darkness and Eva still remembers her mother Blanka crying out in the morning when she saw such a foreign landscape and mistakenly thought all the nearby eucalyptus trees were dead.
Fast forward 70 years, and today Eva Matiszik (her married name) will be among hundreds of people across Australia to receive a Queen’s Birthday honour.
She has known for a little while about the honour, but it is only today that she can finally tell her friends and family that she will receive an OAM, a Medal of the Order of Australia in the General Division.
“I am a survivor from way back – of starvation and disease and being shot at and being in refugee camps for five years in Germany,” she said.
Mrs Matiszik is among the changing face of Australia – those who have come for safety, for change and for opportunity.
“We couldn’t speak English, they couldn’t understand us. It was an absolute requirement for us to go to English lessons [in the migrant camp],” she said.
I remember my first day at Bathurst Public School, at nine years old, and I didn’t know how to get back to where I came from and I couldn’t ask anyone. I was terrified.
“I remember my first day at Bathurst Public School, at nine years old, and I didn’t know how to get back to where I came from and I couldn’t ask anyone. I was terrified.
“I spoke fluent English in six months.”
Since then, she has been determined to give back to her adopted nation – she has given her time to countless community groups including the Bathurst Player’s Group, Hamilton Street Day Nursery Schools Association and she was on the P&C at Bathurst Public School and Bathurst High School.
Mrs Matiszik was also among the organisers of the 50th anniversary celebrations of the Bathurst Migrant Centre.
She was also in the committee that brought SBS to Bathurst, the city was the first regional location outside Sydney to receive the television channel.
“We wanted world news, it was an education. It was very different to local media and it was broader,” she said.
Along with her late husband Karl, who was a builder, they ran motels, built and ran apartments, and set up a number of companies together.
“I met my German husband here, he built my parents’ house,” she said.
“I started my work in an accommodation business together with my husband.
“I was one of the first women [in Bathurst] who had children and ran a business.
I feel that I couldn’t have done anything without the help of everybody else.
“I was one of the first women who had my own car in Bathurst.”
The couple also had four children – Sandra, Eva-Marie, Karl and Marcus, as well as six grandchildren.
Reflecting on her life and her time since arriving as a refugee from Europe, Mrs Matiszik said Australia was indeed a “land of opportunity”.
“I think, ‘my God, when did I do all this’ [her work in the community], I regard myself as extremely lucky to have the energy,” she said.
“I was lucky to have a husband who put me down on everything, to get me involved.
“I never stopped doing things, it’s the determination that got me through.”
On her Queen’s Birthday Honour, Mrs Matiszik said she felt humbled.
“I feel that I couldn’t have done anything without the help of everybody else,” she said.
“If anything, I was probably pretty persistent in getting people to help me.
“I’d like to think I was worthy of this … I haven’t done anything special.”