Ivan "John" Smole has lived in Griffith since the 1950s, but it wasn't always so. As we near the end of Seniors Week, Ivan shared his story and how he made his way to Australia, and Griffith.
Ivan was born in 1927 in Yugoslavia (now Slovenia), but his story really begins with the army enlisting him to fight the Slovenian Revolution at just 17.
"I was 17, in the wartime. The army came into the house at 11:00 at night, and told me I had to come and fight. The next day, they gave me a rifle and I was on duty that afternoon."
The intermediary days are a bit of a blur, but eventually, their base was attacked by the Slovene Partisans. While the bunkers and fences held them back, the group was forced to retreat.
Eventually, the group had retreated to Austria for three weeks, abandoning Yugoslavia entirely.
"Lots of people left their farms, their families, everything. We killed horses, we killed a mule to boil and eat."
It was not long afterwards that the troop, along with almost 700 others, would leave for Italy. Ivan remembers the men singing for joy to be leaving the immediate battlefield as they lined up to enter the train carriages.
"We were in the train, when communists attacked. They opened the door, holding machine guns saying 'Who's got good shoes? Who's got good shoes?'"
The train had turned out to be a trick from communist sympathisers, and took the group back to Slovenia. The men were lined up through the town and drive into an internment camp. They were in various prison camps for three months.
e wasn't clear on what changed after that three months, but attributes it to pressure from other nations. The camp was released, with a threat looming over their heads.
"If you go against us or the government, you'll be back here and not get out."
So Ivan Smole went home, but when he was asked to join the communist party, he decided to make a run for British occupied soil.
"I didn't say anything, I just dressed myself and went to the train. I missed it, so I had to walk another 5kms to the next station."
After spending some days in Italy avoiding anybody who might recognise him and buying half a litre of wine, he made his escape.
"At one point, I was next to a shrub and a Yugoslav guard was on the other side so if he kept coming, I would have been caught. He turned the other way and kept walking."
Eventually, he made it through the border into American and British occupied land, landing in a small village and getting taken to a local police station.
"if you intend to send me back, just shoot me here."Ivan Smole
"I said to the sergeant, I was sent back once. If you intend to send me back, just shoot me here."
After spending a night in prison due to a lack of space, Ivan spent the next two months in a refugee camp before deciding to move to Australia.
His brother had left for the United States not long before, but being told that the waiting period to migrate was two years, Ivan decided that Australia was the better option, and that was it. He moved to Tumut to work on Snowy Hydro, before finally moving to Griffith and working as a builder until his retirement.
Ivan married his wife Licia in Griffith in 1952, and now has three sons in Sydney. He's still thrilled to be in Australia.
"I was spat all over the place for a long time. Australia is the best country in the world and I can say that because I was in so many of them."
Asked if he had any advice to share, Ivan said that his best advice was not to take freedom for granted.
"People don't realise what it is to be living under a dictator. They tell you what to say, what to do. Here, you can do what you like, buy what you like, say what you like. It's fantastic."
"That's what life is all about."
Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can access our trusted content: