Australian poet Peter Skrzynecki writes about his experiences teaching in NSW, his migrant upbringing in suburban Sydney and his attempts to assimilate, ‘fit in’ and overcome the challenges of a new life in a new land.
Of Polish Ukrainian descent, Peter was born in Germany in 1945. Escaping a world in turmoil, his family emigrated to Australia in 1949. Peter’s earliest memories of this time is the month long sea journey to Sydney on the “General Blatchford” and his time living in a migrant camp in Bathurst before moving on to the Parkes Migrant Centre. To Peter this camp was his first Australian home.
The family later moved to 10 Mary Street in the working class suburb of Regents Park in Sydney It was their castle. Peter’s father, Feliks, of whom he often writes, worked long as a labourer for the Water Board, while his mother, Kornelia spent her days working as a domestic for families in Strathfield. They grew their own vegetables and had a magnificent flower garden. Within four years number 10 Mary Street had been paid off. While his parents worked, Peter attended the local Catholic primary school and later St Patrick’s College Strathfield. Thanks to an English teacher, Brian Couch, Peter’s love of literature was fostered and his writing flourished.
Peter trained as a primary teacher at Sydney Teachers’ College in 1965 and 1966. For the next three years he taught in small schools in the New England, Tweed River and Colo areas followed by twenty years in primary schools in the western, inner-west and south-western suburbs of Sydney. In 1987 he started teaching at Milperra College of Advanced Education, now known as the University of Western Sydney.
Since leaving school, Peter’s passion for writing has continued through his teaching career. His first poems were published in Poetry Magazine in 1967 and 1968. He was featured in the Weekend Australian in 1969 and the ABC began broadcasting his poems. His work was published in the Angus & Robertson Australian Poetry 1969 anthology and was included in Australian Poetry Now (Sun Books, 1970).
His first book, There, Behind the Lids was published in 1970 followed by Headwaters in 1972 and Immigrant Chronicle in 1975. In the first two Peter wrote mainly of his experiences teaching in the country, reflecting on the natural world, the people, flora and fauna. In the third Peter wrote about his European background, his experiences as a migrant in Australia, the problems associated with being an exile, with his parents’ dispossession and the difficulties, such as racism, bigotry and resettlement, encountered by them and other immigrants in trying to assimilate to a new life in a new land.
His anthology Joseph’s coat (1985) identifies the themes and issues of Australia’s multicultural society.
Peter lives in Sydney and is married to Kate. They have three children.