The Arrival and Settlement of Macedonians
in the Inner Western Suburbs of Melbourne
By Nick Anastasovski
Macedonians from under Yugoslav rule did not arrive
in Victoria in large numbers until the 1970s. Many chose
Melbourne’s inner western suburbs as their new home;
here they found abundant employment opportunities and
cheap suburban accommodation. Within a decade, Macedonians
would come to form an integral part of the ‘inner west’.
This article identifies the longer history of Macedonians’
migration to Australia and then examines this post-war
migrant study’ in this light, focussing on the suburbs
and industries in which Macedonians lived and worked
and quickly became identified. It traces their considerable
(and continuing) efforts to preserve their ethnic roots—by
forming Macedonian associations and establishing institutions.
Drawing largely on recent interviews with several migrants
and using illustrative evidence from family and community
photographs to enlarge on the human story, this study
seeks to give new recognition to a people who had struggled
under several regimes. It proposes to deepen our knowledge
of the diverse backgrounds Melbourne’s post-war ‘new’
migrants and, finally, it tells one nation’s story of
will and economic and cultural survival—once here.
It is estimated that there are between two and three
million Macedonians in the diaspora. Outside of the
Balkans, the main communities are in Western Europe,
the United States, Canada and Australia. During the
20th century, Macedonians arrived in Australia in a
series of waves. They settled predominantly in Perth,
Sydney, Newcastle, Wollongong and Melbourne. Until the
1940s, most of Australia’s Macedonian migrants had lived
under Greek rule. This work specifically examines the
later cohort who arrived in Victoria after the Second
World War following the formation of the Republic of
Macedonia (1944), one of six new republics of the Socialist
Federative Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY) led by Josip
Tito (1892–1980). Macedonians, mainly from rural regions,
began migrating in the 1950s and 1960s, and their numbers
rose considerably in the 1970s, once the Tito government’s
restrictions had been appreciably eased. A large number
settled in the ‘inner western’ suburbs of Melbourne
and have left their imprint. For the purposes of this
study, the inner west of Melbourne is defined as the
suburbs of Footscray, Seddon, Yarraville, Spotswood,
Newport and Williamstown.
Documenting Melbourne’s Macedonians
The aim of this study is to document the neglected history
of the circumstances, arrival and formative years of
the Macedonian community in the western suburbs of Melbourne
since the late 1950s. This work traces where Macedonians
lived and worked and examines how they sought to preserve
and promote their cultural heritage, particularly in
light of their country’s fragmented political history.
It discusses the manner and dedication with which Macedonians
celebrated spiritual, social and recreational activities,
describing the formation of cafés and sporting
clubs, and the establishment of the first Macedonian
Orthodox Church in the western suburbs. In their commitment
to creating their own organisations and continuing cultural
and religious practices—in effect re-establishing their
own traditions after a history of subjugation—Macedonians
were radically changing the landscape of the inner west.
Although Macedonians formed one of the largest ethnic
groups of southern Europeans in Melbourne (and Australia)
in the 1970s, there are limited written resources to
draw upon. This article relies primarily on oral histories,
which proved to be a rich source of personal and social
material. In all, 12 individuals were interviewed, including
Wally Curran, former secretary of the Australasian Meat
Industry Employees Union (Victoria). Apart from Curran,
the remaining 11 interviewees were of Macedonian background:
9 were male, aged between approximately 50 and 70 years
old. The majority arrived in Australia in the early
1970s, and 3 came here in the 1960s. Only 2 females
participated in this study.1
Background: Pechalba and Pechalbari
For centuries, Macedonians travelled abroad in search
of employment. They were mostly young men who would
work for several years or more before returning home
with the intention of building a larger family home
and purchasing more land. This tradition of migratory
labour is known as pechalba. In the late 19th century,
the practice of pechalba increased because of unstable
conditions under Ottoman Turkish rule, to be followed
by temporary suspension during the Balkan Wars of 1912–1913,
and then came Macedonia’s partition by her neighbours
Greece, Serbia and Bulgaria in 1913, with Albania acquiring
a piece of Macedonian territory in 1920. Once divided
into several geo-political entities, Macedonians were
forced to endure new assimilatory policies. Overwhelmingly,
those seeking work abroad as migrant labourers in the
1920s came from Greek and Serbian territories, with
far more limited numbers from Bulgarian and Albanian
Pechalbari in Australia Since the 1880s
Peter Hill, in his 1989 book, The Macedonians in Australia,
tells stories and traces the circumstances of the first
arrivals. Reportedly, those who came to Australia in
the latter part of the 19th century and the early 20th
century were following news of the discovery of gold.
They chose places such as Kalgoorlie in Western Australia,
or Broken Hill in New South Wales.2 Amongst the early
arrivals were men from the Kostur and Lerin regions
(under Greek rule) and the Bitola region (under Serb
rule).3 The United States was the most popular destination
for pechalbari from the 1890s until it imposed severe
restrictions on certain categories of immigrants in
1924. Many then turned their eyes to Australia, a new
and distant destination. Macedonian arrivals in Australia
after 1924, and up to the 1960s, were overwhelmingly
from under Greek rule, the remainder were from villages
in the territory under Serbian–Yugoslav domination.
Many of these early Macedonian migrants worked in
Western Australia and, in the tradition of pechalba,
did not see themselves as permanent settlers. They were
typically bush workers moving around in small groups
of three or four men and clearing virgin bushland in
remote areas for future farms. Often they remained isolated
for months at a time. Working long hours from sunrise
to sunset, pechalbari followed the road to where there
was work, a search that took them scrub-clearing in
Ceduna and Sugena on the west coast of South Australia;
cutting railway sleepers in Grafton, New South Wales,
or in Bridgetown and Manjimup in Western Australia;
grape picking in the Riverland of South Australia; and
cutting sugar cane in Queensland.4 Jan Harper has written
of Macedonians in rural Victoria in her 2004 article,
‘The Pecalbars of Gippsland: Macedonian Farmworkers
around Kernot in the 1930s’. Her study gives further
insight into these small communities of Macedonian migrants
who lived and worked around the towns of Kernot, Glen
Forbes, Glen Alvie, Krowera, Jeetho West and Korumburra.5
Here, they engaged in hard manual work clearing South
Gippsland’s bushland several decades before their post–Second
World War Macedonian compatriots came to Victoria’s
urban regions (apart from a small group who had settled
in Melbourne earlier), beginning in the 1950s and increasing
to mass proportions in the 1970s.
Melbourne’s First Macedonians
Melbourne’s first Macedonian community emerged during
the 1920s and 1930s in the then inner working-class
suburb of Fitzroy. Their numbers grew because of ongoing
discriminatory policies of the Greek government. By
the 1950s, a flourishing Macedonian community was seen
around Gertrude Street, Fitzroy; the Fitzroy community
would later spread into the neighbouring suburbs of
Collingwood and Clifton Hill, and, by the late 1960s
and 1970s, the Melbourne diaspora had extended further
north to Northcote, Thornbury and Preston.
Prior to 1960, only a small number of Macedonians were
living in the inner west.6 They had escaped illegally
from Yugoslavia at the end of the Second World War and
for some time after.7 Typically, they came from traditional
pechalbar villages, such as Brusnik, Bukovo, Velushina
and Graeshnica in the Bitola region upper villages along
the Baba Mountains ranges.
The Prespa region’s village of Brajchino was renowned
for sending its young men abroad on pechalba, a practice
dating back to the second half of the 19th century.
Giorgi Kalcovski followed this tradition when he left
Brajchino village by illegally crossing the Yugoslav–Greek
border, and, after spending time in a Greek refugee
camp, he arrived in Australia in 1958. Kalcovski soon
moved to Moore Street, Footscray, where he shared a
house with four other recently arrived single men from
the Bitola region upper villages. He worked at Kinnears
Ropes in Ballarat Road, Footscray, with other men from
the Bitola region.8 Here is an early example of a nucleus
of a Macedonian inner west community, albeit confined
to young men residing at just one house.
It was not until the early 1960s that Yugoslavia’s
communist regime commenced relaxing travelling restrictions;
however, the bureaucracy was complicated and passports
were notoriously difficult to obtain from the interior
ministry. Macedonians who were employed in state enterprises
could not leave the country until they obtained approval
from their employer. Those who managed to leave typically
did so in the tradition of pechalba, and they were single
young men who generally intended to work abroad for
a few years before returning home. Indeed, these young
men working in Melbourne’s inner west found factory
work vastly different from their rural village employment
experiences. Some returned to Macedonia after a few
years with savings that enabled them to build new homes,
purchase more land, or set up small-scale businesses,
but most remained in Australia.
Tose Spasevski arriving at Port Melbourne in 1964.
Photograph courtesy of Bob Spasevski.
One man who stayed was Mihailo Kleshtev. He arrived
in 1964, initially planning to work in Melbourne for
a few years then return to his family. He soon saw that
there were greater prospects in Australia. In early
1966, Mihailo brought out his wife and two young children
and they were one of the first Macedonian families to
settle in Williamstown.9
1970s and New Arrivals
In 1970, the remaining restrictions on emigration were
removed, and young men in traditional pechalbar regions
such as Ohrid, Prilep, and particularly Bitola (where
the author’s family had lived), ommenced leaving on
a large scale. As Macedonia was the southernmost republic
of Yugoslavia, the long journey to Australia involved
travelling by train across the entire length of Yugoslavia,
through Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia and Slovenia, before
reaching the Italian border. Genoa was the key port
in Italy from which Macedonians boarded ships for the
30-day voyage to Australia. In the 1960s and 1970s,
ships such as Galileo Galilei, its sister ship, Guglielmo
Marconi, and others left on a monthly basis for Australia,
docking at Fremantle, Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney.
Ship docking at Port Melbourne 1968. Photograph
courtesy of Mihailo Kleshtev.
With the easing and then elimination of travel restrictions
in the 1960s and 1970s respectively, Macedonian emigration
grew slowly at first, then massively during the latter
decade. The experience for many was profound. For example,
in the Bitola region virtually no family was left untouched
by its scale and sweep; and notably, a large number
from Bitola’s rural villages came to Australia. One
interviewee, Zivko Vasilevski, witnessed the constant
stream of fellow Macedonians arriving by ship at Port
Melbourne in the early to mid-1970s as he and others
waited at the dock when ships were due. Among the new
arrivals, they would invariably find friends, relatives
or acquaintances from their villages or region.10 The
photograph of the Kleshtev family below evokes something
of this experience a little earlier in 1968.
Kleshtev family awaiting new arrivals at Port Melbourne,
1968. Photograph courtesy of Mihailo Kleshtev.
Newcomers were greeted at Port Melbourne by their sponsors,
who were usually relatives. Accommodation was also provided
by the sponsor for several months or more, and employment
was pre-arranged to commence within days of arrival.
The Melbourne working-class suburbs of the inner north
and inner west were the principal destinations during
the late 1960s and 1970s; other Macedonians resided
in Richmond, Springvale and Dandenong.
Living and Working in the Inner West
The inner western suburbs were attractive to newly arrived
Macedonians owing to the availability of inexpensive
accommodation and an abundance of employment opportunities.
A concentration of industry had been a dominant feature
of the western suburbs dating back to the 19th century.
However, in the economically charged 1960s, Australia
needed to increase its urban population. Macedonians
quickly found work and wrote letters home to family
and friends encouraging them to migrate to Melbourne.
It was a relatively simple process to sponsor others
to Australia at the time, and numbers rapidly increased
to the point when, in the mid-1970s, a firmly established
Macedonian community was spreading across Yarraville,
Footscray and Seddon, and also in the outer inner west
suburbs of Spotswood, Newport and Williamstown. The
highest concentration was in Yarraville because of the
proximity to industries and the pull of chain migration.
Spase Najdovski with friend in Slivica village preparing
to leave for Australia, 1969. Photograph courtesy of
the Najdovski family.
Some of the larger employers of Macedonian immigrants
included: Kinnears Rope Works in Ballarat Road, Footscray;
Olympic Tyre and Rubber in Cross Street, West Footscray;
Pelaco in Duke Street, Braybrook; Australian Bobbins
in Graingers Road, West Footscray; Invicta (later Pacific
Carpets) in Paramount Road, Tottenham; Olex Cables in
Sunshine Road, Tottenham; ACI Glass in Hudsons Road,
Spotswood; and Port Phillip Wool Mill in Nelson Place,
Macedonians were particularly prevalent in the metal,
rubber, textile and meatworks industries. They were
prepared to work hard, for low rates of pay, under tough
conditions, which were often dirty and at times unsafe.
As well, they were opportunistic young men who often
sought new employment opportunities with higher paying
employers. In 1964, Mihailo Kleshtev commenced work
at Port Phillip Wool Mill, in Nelson Place, Williamstown,
where he earned $30.00 per week. He remained there for
three months before moving to the James Hardie Company,
in Hardie Road, Brooklyn, where he worked on a rotating
shift basis for an increased weekly wage of $43.00.11
Spase Najdovski at work in Invicta Carpets, Tottenham,
in the early 1970s. Photograph courtesy of the Najdovski
There were three principal factories in the Yarraville/Footscray
area involved in textile manufacturing—Davis Coop, in
Francis Street, Yarraville, Bradmill Cottonmills, in
Moreland Street, Yarraville (before moving to Francis
Street, Yarraville), and Dickies Towels, in Hyde Street,
Bradmill Cottonmills, Francis Street, Yarraville.
Photograph Nick Anastasovski.
A stable workforce of approximately 300 Macedonian
men and women worked in these three factories in the
mid-1970s, and many more worked for short periods before
moving on to other industries that paid better. However,
the single most defining industry for the Macedonians
of Melbourne’s inner west during the 1970s and 1980s
was the local meatworks.
The Meatworks—‘smells, blood and guts’
After arriving in Melbourne in 1969, Slavko Talevski
spent more than two decades working in the textile industry
at Bradmill Cottonmills and Davis Coop. He recalls many
Macedonians moving from textiles to the meatworks industry.12
The western suburbs have had a long association with
abattoirs dating back to the mid- to late 19th century.13
The arrival of a large number of Macedonians in the
1960s and 1970s saw one of the most recent migrant groups
from southern Europe becoming closely identified with
the inner west’s major meatworks.
Most of the Macedonians had come to Australia from
rural villages, where all households maintained livestock,
including cows, sheep, pigs and chickens, essential
for the family’s sustenance. Meat in the villagers’
diet came from family farm animals, which were slaughtered
by male members of the household (women would slaughter
chickens). So Macedonians were used to slaughtering
farm animals and were also familiar with the labouring
processes of meat preparation and preservation. These
skills equipped them well to work in the abattoirs and
meat industry in their new environment. The men were
used in the meatworks as slaughtermen, boners and butchers.
Employment in the industry was not exclusively male,
as Macedonian women also had jobs there as meat cleaners
and packers. It was hard, physical work, but these young
men and women were attracted to the industry’s high
wages. In this setting, thousands of cattle and sheep
were slaughtered daily. The carcasses would be rotated
through the plant on a continuously moving chain, where
they would be gutted, trimmed and cleaned. Other tasks
included working in the cool rooms and the specialist
processing areas such as gut cleaning. Wally Curran
noted that it was an industry that ‘not everyone could
work in—there were smells, blood and guts’.14 (The graphic
images below attest to the meat union secretary’s sensory
and visual summation).
Dobre Ilievski arrived in Williamstown in September
1971 as a 16 year old from the Bitola region village
of Dolno Orizari. His first job was in Borthwick’s meatworks
in Yarraville. Here he worked in the ‘offal room’ removing
brains from severed sheep heads. Dobre stated that he
had ‘no problem’ dealing with the nature of the work;
as a boy in Macedonia, he had killed chickens for everyday
consumption and had often watched men slaughter other
Dobre Ilievski working on the mutton chain at Borthwick’s
meatworks in Yarraville in the early 1970s. Photograph
courtesy of Dobre Ilievski.
Peco (Peter) Ilievski working on the chain at Gilbertson’s
meatworks in Newport late 1970s. Photograph courtesy
of Todorka Ilievski.
Varying numbers of Macedonians worked across the meatworks
of the inner west. These included: Gilbertson’s Meatworks
(later Greenham’s) in Champion Road, Newport (see photograph
on next page) and Kyle Road, Altona; Angliss Meatworks
in Ballarat Road, Footscray; Borthwick’s Meatworks in
Francis Street, Yarraville; and Smorgon’s Meatworks
in Somerville Road, Brooklyn. Anecdotal evidence reveals
that at Gilbertson’s in Newport, Macedonians made up
15–20 per cent of the workforce, whilst at Angliss,
Macedonians comprised 40–45 per cent. However, Smorgon’s
Meatworks in Somerville Road, Brooklyn, contained the
single largest number—as many as 70 per cent of the
3000 employees throughout the 1970s were Macedonian
men and women.
‘Smorgon’s was a Mother to the Macedonians’
Entire sections of the workforce at Smorgon’s were almost
exclusively made up of Macedonians. For example, 80
per cent of the workers on the mutton chains, beef chains
and in theboning rooms were Macedonian.16 This very
large Macedonian presence at Smorgon’s gave rise to
a saying in the western suburbs Macedonian community
at the time—‘ako majka si go izgube sinot, vo Smorgon
ke go najde’ (‘if a mother has lost her son, he can
be found at Smorgon’s’).17 Dobre Ilievski worked as
a butcher on the mutton chain at Smorgon’s from 1978
to 1980 and stated ‘Smorgon’s majka mu beshe na Makedoncite’
(‘Smorgon’s was a mother to the Macedonians’).18
Macedonians worked hard in the meatworks and this enabled
them to buy and pay off their homes and secure a future
for their children.19 Commenting on the benefits of
working in the meatworks industry, Wally Curran stated
that ‘often a husband and wife worked together in the
same plant and, although they arrived with no English
language skills, training or education, the industry
allowed them the opportunity to develop skills and establish
themselves financially’.20 Macedonian meatworkers were
not as politicised as some other ethnic groups; however,
Curran recalled that ‘they respected and understood
the need for the union’ and were active participants,
providing delegates, shop stewards and representatives
on the AMIEU’s committee of management.21
Macedonian meatworkers on the mutton chain at Gilbertson’s
Meatworks in Newport, 1972. Photograph courtesy of Dobre
Given the tough physical nature of the meat-processing
industry, which required the use of sharp knives and
blades, workers were susceptible to tendon cuts and
other specific work-related injuries. In 1964, in support
of workers, the meatworkers’ union established a ten-bed
hospital and specialist centre—‘The Trade Union Clinic
and Research Centre’ in Paisley Street, Footscray—which
in the 1970s employed a Macedonian interpreter to assist
compatriot injured meatworkers.22
Peco (Peter) Ilievski and Mitko Mihailov at Gilbertson’s
Newport, early 1970s. Photograph courtesy of Todorka
The 1980s was to be a crucial turning point when a
number of the inner west’s meatworks had ceased operating.
Just as two decades earlier, hardworking Macedonians
had been welcomed to this then flourishing industry,
now a different economic climate and changing cultural
trends saw employers close their doors and thus bring
an end to this industry’s Macedonian subculture. As
a result, these ‘old’ meat workers now sought ‘new’
working lives and workplaces—and perhaps a ‘new Mother’
for the Macedonians of the inner west.
Cultural and Religious Life
This section now turns to telling the story of Macedonians’
remarkable achievements in creating a cultural and religious
community within Melbourne’s inner west.. It also briefly
traces acedonians’ mark on Australian culture more generally.
It is less about finding a ‘new Mother’ than showing
Macedonians bringing their ‘old Mother’ to the inner
In the 19th and early 20th centuries, it was common
for Macedonians to establish cafés and boarding
houses in places where their pechalbar colonies formed.
In Australia, the first institutions of this kind were
established in Perth, Western Australia, in the 1920s.
In Melbourne, earlier waves of pechalbari and newly
arrived migrants found Macedonian cafés and boarding
houses operating in the inner suburb of Fitzroy. The
first Macedonian café in the inner western suburbs
was situated at 134 Stephen Street, Yarraville. It was
owned and operated by Alekso Manevski, who came from
the Bitola region village of Velushina and commenced
operating the café in 1970. It was a popular
place for newly arrived young men to gather; there they
could socialise with other Macedonians, discuss potential
employment opportunities, organise accommodation and
generally share their experiences. There were a number
of bedrooms at the back of the café and these
were rented out to the most recent arrivals.23
Site of the first Macedonian café in the inner western
suburbs (Yarraville). Photograph Nick Anastasovski.
Weddings and Social Occasions
Macedonians’ celebration of weddings and christenings
have traditionally been grand family events. In Melbourne
in the 1960s, wedding celebrations were normally held
at home as the extended family was often not present.
When large numbers of Macedonian migrants had arrived
in the 1970s, the St Augustine’s parish church hall
in Somerville Road, Yarraville, became one of the most
popular venues used by local Macedonians to hold wedding
receptions. This church hall was also used for christenings,
village dances and community functions. Macedonians
commonly referred to the hall as ‘Polskiot hall’ (literally
meaning ‘Polish hall’, apparently because the manager
of the hall was of Polish nationality).
Macedonian village associations were also formed. Every
weekend there were several village dances held throughout
the inner west at venues that included, in addition
to St Augustine’s parish church hall, the local scout
hall in Canterbury Street, Yarraville, the Maltese Club
in Severn Street, Yarraville, the Masonic Hall in Newport,
Altona North High School hall and Paisley High School
hall. In Newport, there was a significant number of
Macedonians from the village of Kuratica in the Ohrid
region. The first to arrive was Mile Derusevski, in
1962. He sponsored four co-villagers to Australia, and,
through the process of chain migration, others followed
throughout the 1960s and early 1970s. Except for a handful
of families that settled in Sydney and Wollongong, the
remainder settled in Newport, and, by the end of the
1970s, 35 families from Kuratica were living there.24
The Kuratica village community was characterised by
its blood ties and was particularly close knit. A village
social association was formed and dances were regularly
held at the scout hall in Market Street, Newport and
later at the Masonic Hall, on the corner of Melbourne
Road and Mason Street, Newport.25
Macedonian wedding, Yarraville, 1969. Photograph
courtesy of Bob Spasevski.
Macedonians left fertile valleys, rich mountain scenery
and an agricultural lifestyle to live and work in the
cities and factories of Australia. Melbourne’s industrialised
environment was foreign and, in order to reconnect to
their lives and the landscape they left behind, Macedonians
organised community picnics in garden or bush settings.
During the 1950s and early 1960s, those living in Fitzroy
and surrounding suburbs regularly spent their Sunday
afternoons at the Exhibition Gardens, these occasions
are said to have resembled traditional Macedonian village
Masonic Hall Newport. Photograph Nick Anastasovski.
Community picnics came to be an integral part of Macedonian
life in Melbourne generally. A live band would play
Macedonian folk music, young and old would participate
in traditional dancing, and copious amounts of meat
and peppers were cooked on barbecues. Kalorama, in the
Dandenongs, became a popular location where Macedonians
gathered on an annual basis and, in 1969, the community
purchased a large picnic site at Kinglake. On the western
outskirts of Melbourne, Macedonians from Greek-occupied
Macedonia had been living in Werribee South since the
1920s, where they engaged in market-gardening businesses.
They established an annual Macedonian community picnic
on 25 December at Eastern Beach in Geelong, an event
dating back to the 1940s. When Macedonians under Yugoslav
rule arrived in the late 1960s and 1970s, it seemed
natural for them to join with their Macedonian brothers
and sisters.26 At its height during this period, many
thousands of Macedonian families attended the Eastern
Beach annual holiday event—a day when their ethnic and
religious sensibilities would have been even more accentuated
than usual, as their Christmas Day (following the Julian
calendar) is on 7 January. Price Reserve, along the
Werribee South foreshore, was also a popular picnic
ground over the summer months for western suburbs village
associations during the latter part of the 1970s. Soccer
competitions between villages were among the events
often held at these picnics.
The popularity of picnics is evident from the number
of village associations that purchased their own picnic
grounds outside Melbourne (the Bitola region villages
of Mogila purchased a picnic site near Kilmore; Logovardi
purchased a site near Bendigo; and Beranci near Kinglake).
In 1984, Seddon’s Macedonian Orthodox Church, Saint
Prophet Elijah (Sveti Prorok Ilija), purchased a 40-acre
picnic ground in picturesque Rocklyn (Shire of Hepburn).
An annual picnic is held there on the first Sunday after
Orthodox Christmas and a monastery, Saint Naum of Ohrid
(Sveti Naum Ohridski), is presently under construction
on the site.
Recreational time was important to young Macedonian
men, who worked hard during the week in textile factories
and meatworks. They regularly played soccer. Amongst
the most popular locations were Beaton Reserve in Fehon
Street, Yarraville, Footscray Park in Footscray, Greenwich
Reserve on The Strand in Newport, and Bond Reserve in
Altona North. Soccer, rather than Australian Rules football,
was their game of choice. Unofficial competitions emerged,
whereby Macedonian teams from one neighbourhood or suburb
would challenge a Macedonian team from another neighbourhood
Owing to the mass of Macedonians settling in the inner
western suburbs in the 1970s, it was inevitable that
a second major Macedonian soccer club in Victoria would
be established (the first being Preston Makedonia).
That club is today called Altona Magic but is known
to Macedonians as Altona Vardar. Altona Magic has its
roots in the late 1960s, when recently arrived young
Macedonian men formed the Kingsville team, then based
in Yarraville. Finding new players was no issue, as
each ship that docked at Port Melbourne brought more
soccer players from Macedonia. Club talent scouts usually
knew in advance when to expect the arrival of a Macedonian
migrant with highly regarded soccer abilities. Kingsville
scouts waited at Port Melbourne dock ready to recruit
their skilled new players.28
Kingsville Soccer Club, 1968. Photograph courtesy
of Altona Magic football club.
By the mid-1970s, the club had evolved into the Central
Altona Social and Soccer Club (CASSC) and competed in
the Victorian Provisional League. J.T. Gray Reserve
in Kororoit Creek Road, Williamstown, served as the
club’s home ground. In 1979, with valuable assistance
from the then Altona City Council, a permanent home
for the club was secured at the newly constructed complex
at Paisley Park in Altona North.29 The CASSC would become
the principal soccer club for the Macedonian community
in the western suburbs, providing much more than an
opportunity for young Macedonian men to display their
football skills. There were some who participated as
club administrators and volunteers, whilst many others
made up the supporters that came each week to watch
their local team play.
Industrial League Soccer
In the early 1970s, the Victorian Soccer Federation
(VSF) formed the Industrial League (IL) soccer competition.
Factory workers formed their own soccer teams and factory
management provided team strips and insurance against
injury. Macedonians actively participated in several
companysponsored factory soccer teams in the IL competition,
making up almost the entire team from the Quaker Love
factory in West Footscray, and the Aquila Steel factory
in Altona North.30 At the James Miller plastics manufacturing
factory in Altona North, workers formally registered
a team in 1974 (through the factory social club) specifically
for the purpose of entering the new IL competition,
and Macedonians comprised approximately 95 per cent
of the side that entered IL Division 3. P.J. Grey Reserve
in Williamstown was utilised as the new club’s home
ground.31 But, in 1977, the future of the team was placed
in jeopardy when the James Miller factory relocated
its operation away from Altona North. Faced with the
prospect of no longer having a sponsor, the players
registered a new soccer club under the name of Altona
Ilinden. In its first year, the club won the IL championship
under its coach, Williamstown resident and meatworker
Peco (Peter) Ilievski. Ilievski had migrated here from
Dolno Orizari village in Macedonia’s Bitola region.32
Altona Ilinden, 1977. Photograph courtesy of Todorka
Although an IL club, Footscray United Vardar (FUV)
began as ‘social soccer’ and did not emerge through
a factory-based team. Social soccer was initiated by
young Macedonian men in Footscray Park in the mid-1970s.
In the summer of 1977–1978, a group of players decided
to formalise their social game. They formed their own
club and FUV became part of a recognised competition.
The club was registered with the VSF and commenced playing
in IL Division 2 in 1978 wearing red and black.33
The Church of Saint Prophet Elijah
Overwhelmingly of the Orthodox Christian faith, Macedonians
have their own church. Plans began in 1971 to establish
the first Macedonian Orthodox Church in the inner west.
However, it was not until 1974 that the former Methodist
church at 83–85 Victoria Street, Seddon, was purchased.
The new church was named Saint Prophet Elijah (Sveti
Macedonian Orthodox Church, Sveti Prorok Ilija.
(Saint Prophet Elijah), Seddon. Photograph courtesy
of Macedonian Orthodox Church.
Macedonians’ involvement in the church went beyond
wedding and christening ceremonies; attendance at Sunday
mass and at community services during Orthodox Easter
and Christmas was consistently high (Orthodox Christian
holy days are celebrated according to the Julian calendar;
Easter can be celebrated up to four weeks after western
Easter celebrations). The local council assisted by
closing a section of Victoria Street to traffic on specials
days in an effort to manage the large crowds in attendance.
Young Macedonian men in the Macedonian Orthodox
Church Sveti Prorok Ilija in Seddon, mid-1970s. Photograph
courtesy of Goran Kotev.
Language, Films and Folk Dancing
Seddon’s Saint Prophet Elijah church played a leading
role in establishing Macedonians’ sense of belonging,
and in organising their social, cultural and educational
life The church confirmed their Macedonian identity
among the many religions and cultures of the inner west.
A church committee managed non-religious activities
and financial affairs. The church complex consisted
of a church hall and a number of residential properties
facing Victoria Street, Pilgrim Street and Walter Street.
Some of these properties would later be sold by the
church committee. A residential dwelling on the southern
side of the church facing Victoria Street was transformed
into a Macedonian language school (Macedonian Sunday
Preserving and speaking the Macedonian language were
seen as being of great importance. Parents communicated
with their children in Macedonian in the home and expected
that their children would be Macedonian speakers. How
else would they communicate with their grandparents
in Macedonia? When the Macedonian language school opened
in 1974 it was received with enthusiasm by the Macedonians
community who saw it as a formal continuation of the
language and love of the homeland they had left behind.
Every Saturday more than 100 students, ranging from
6 to 15 years of age, attended the school to be taught
Macedonian language, geography and history. Teachers
came out from Macedonia and instructed the children,
though problems arose when it became clear that political
values were infiltrating the curriculum in support of
Tito’s Yugo–communist regime (which was the reason many
families had left for a different life here).
Site of the Macedonian language school ‘Goce Delchev’.
Photograph courtesy of Macedonian Orthodox Church
The Saint Prophet Elijah church at Seddon organised
film nights in the church hall in the 1970s, screening
popular contemporary movies, such as Krvava Svadba (Blood
Wedding), Dolgiot Pat (The Longest Road), and Crno Seme
(Black Seed), brought out from the Republic of Macedonia
and screened to packed houses. Such was the popularity
of these film nights that a larger venue was sought
to accommodate community demand. A new home was found
in La Scala Theatre, Footscray, which held approximately
The Ilinden Cultural Association was the first Macedonian
folkdancing group in the western suburbs. Other Macedonian
churches in Melbourne also established their own cultural
associations and these were very popular with the young
people. Folk-dancing groups offered the younger Macedonian
generation a sense of belonging and the experience of
continuity of village life. A second folkloric dancing
school began in Yarraville in 1977—the Nikola Karev
group.35 The Nikola Karev group was officially founded
on 12 December 1977 and controversially was the first
Macedonian folkloric dance group in Melbourne to be
established independently of the Macedonian Orthodox
Church . The Stale Popov dance group was also formed
in the 1970s and operated from a councilowned facility
at Langshaw Reserve in Altona North.
Nikola Karev Folkloric Dance Group, 1977 (Senior
Since the Eighties
The final section of this study turns to the changes
since the 1980s and the ongoing questions of Macedonians’
cultural identity more generally, and more particularly,
the place and needs of the now elderly men and women
(many of whom were amongst the first wave of the inner
west’s Macedonians) in a changing world and expanding
‘outer’ inner west community.
In search of new homes on larger blocks of land, large
numbers of the Macedonian community begin moving further
westwards in the 1980s: Altona Meadows, Sunshine, Keilor,
St Albans, Sydenham (now named Watergardens), Delahey
and Taylors Lakes. A number of existing cultural and
social groups followed the community to these new areas
where people once again established new lives and institutions.
Of note is the Macedonian Orthodox Cathedral Church,
named ‘The Nativity of the Holy Mother of God’, in Sydenham,
erected in support of the large Macedonian community
in the region.
What happened to the elderly when a large segment of
the Macedonian community moved out of the inner west,
leaving the aging members of the community behind? Macedonian
communities are generally characterised by strong family
bonds, and elderly parents often actively assist with
the caring of grandchildren. Thus, some elderly Macedonians
moved out to the new areas of settlement to be with
their children and grandchildren; however, many others
chose to remain in the familiar surroundings of the
After they had retired from the workforce and their
children had left home, many older Macedonians formed
groups providing a social outlet where they could mix
with other Macedonians and share common interests.36
The first Macedonian elderly group formed in the western
region was in the inner western suburb of Footscray
Macedonians generally have a high level of home ownership,
having come to Australia with a strong tradition of
being self sufficient and a determination to improve
their economic position.38 A 1993 ‘needs study’ into
Macedonian elderly in the western suburbs revealed that,
in a sample group of 100 respondents, 73 per cent owned
their home, 4 per cent had a mortgage on their home,
and another 5 per cent lived in their own home with
their children or a relative.39 In response to the question
‘when you can’t manage on your own what will happen?’
52 per cent of respondents were unsure about their future
when they became frail, 28 per cent responded that they
would stay at home with help from family, and 11 per
cent stated that they would move to a Macedonian home
for the aged (if one existed).40
Almost 20 years after the study was conducted, a specifically
Macedonian aged-care facility has yet to be established
in Melbourne. Those unable to maintain independent living
have become residents in mainstream homes; however,
a lack of English language skills can leave Macedonian
residents feeling isolated and lonely. The need for
a their own facility continues to be
an important priority for the Macedonian community into
the 21st century and one that may be led by the Macedonian
In Search of Macedonian Identity
Precisely how many Macedonians resided in the inner
west (and in Australia generally) during the 1970s (prior
to the mass movement to newer suburbs further west in
the 1980s) is difficult to determine, given the ambiguity
of statistical data. Prior to 1996, Australian Bureau
of Statistics (ABS) censuses only included ‘country
of birth’ data as the indicator of ethnic identity.
As such, Macedonians from the Republic of Macedonia
were categorised as coming from ‘Yugoslavia’ and grouped
together with Serbs, Croats and others. Similarly, Macedonians
from Greece appeared on ABS data as Greek migrants—not
as ethnic Macedonians.
Importantly, the 1996 census was the first in which
Macedonians living in Australia were identified statistically
as a separate ethnic group. The Republic of Macedonia,
under Yugoslav control from 1944 until 1991, had only
emerged as an independent nation with the end of communism.
Yet, there still remained obstacles to Macedonians being
accurately represented in official statistics. A key
problem has been the enduring legacy of the historical
persecution and forced assimilation Macedonians have
been subjected to, in particular by the Greek state
since 1913, which has resulted in some Macedonians being
reluctant to publicly acknowledge their true ethnic
identity. Similarly, there were also Macedonians from
the former Yugoslavia who identified as Yugoslav.41
These personal ‘choices’ raise very complex questions
beyond the scope of this study but are nonetheless important
to consider in relation to Macedonian migrants and their
children and grandchildren making their lives in Melbourne’s
Macedonian community organisations estimate the number
of Macedonians in Australia to be significantly higher
than what the official figures say. Local Government
Area (LGA) data from the 1996 census, compiled on the
basis of ‘language spoken at home’, reveal that in 1996
(at this stage significant numbers of Macedonians had
left the inner west), there were 1,431 Macedonian speakers
in the City of Hobson’s Bay (1,273 in 2006), and 1,477
Macedonian speakers in the City of Maribyrnong (903
in 2006). Unsurprisingly, the number of Macedonian speakers
in the City of Brimbank in 1996 was the highest in the
entire western region of Melbourne, with 6,133 recorded
(5,811 in 2006).42 LGA data also reveal that there has
been further movement of ‘Macedonian speakers’ to the
outer west municipalities of Wyndham Vale and Melton.
The former has seen a gradual increase in numbers from
715 in 1996 to 953 in 2006, whilst the latter has seen
more substantial growth over the same period, from 137
in 1996 to 1,400 in 2006.
This article provides a new ethnographic and historical
narrative of the cohort of Macedonians who came from
the Republic of Macedonia and settled in the inner west
of Melbourne in the 1960s and 1970s. A unique feature
of this study is that it is largely based on original
research drawing primarily on oral histories. Unlike
other more prominent Italian or Greek communities living
in Melbourne, Macedonians were for a considerable period
a relatively obscure ethnic group following their arrival
in the inner west, though this was in contrast to the
actual size of the community. Their visibility was often
obscured by the ‘Yugoslav’ label, and this was further
reinforced by official government statistics at that
time. However, this article has shown that Macedonians
maintained a strong connection with their homeland and
their traditions, and that Macedonians’ sense of ‘self’
was crucial to their wellbeing. Importantly, their beleaguered
national history meant that preservation of their national
identity was of paramount concern as they established
communities in their new homeland, and they worked hard
to keep it alive and robust in their working lives and
in their clubs, churches, cafés, celebrations,
This story has introduced Melbourne’s inner west Macedonians
to a wider readership, and has contributed towards presenting
a more visible and authentic ‘beneath the surface’ account
of their recent history, and their specific and unique
place in the region since the 1960s. It has traced their
working and cultural lives and involvement in shaping
the inner west of today. In particular, this study documents
for the first time, Macedonians’ statistical and human
presence in the meatworks industry before many of the
major abattoirs in the west’s working-class suburbs
closed their doors in the 1980s.
Given the general lack of published material on this
subject, it is envisaged that this study of Macedonians
in Melbourne’s inner west will help, in some measure,
to fill that void. By capturing the community’s formative
period during the 1970s and giving greater recognition
to the diverse urban landscape of Melbourne’s inner
west, this article demonstrates how Macedonians, deprived
of their autonomy and identity under different rulers
since the late 19th century, made their own valuable
contribution to modern multicultural Australia.
1. Most of the interviews were conducted in the second
half of 2008 by Nick Anastasovski,the author of this
article. Nick was born in the Macedonian region of Bitola
in 1965, and he came to live in Melbourne’s ‘inner west’
as a one year old child in 1966.
2 Peter Hill, The Macedonians in Australia, Carlisle,
WA, Hesperian Press, 1989, p. 12.
3 H ill, p. 12.
4 H ill, p. 20.
5 Jan Harper, ‘The Pecalbars of Gippsland: Macedonian
Farm Workers around Kernot in the 1930s’, Gippsland
Heritage Journal, no. 28, 2004, pp. 2–9.
6 T here was a small community of Macedonians living
in Altona North from the Lerin region of Greek-ruled
7 M ihailo Kleshtev interview, conducted 17 October
2008. Mihailo was born in the Bitola region village
of Gorno Aglarci and arrived in Australia in 1964. After
forming their own republic through armed struggle in
1944, Macedonians enjoyed a new-found cultural freedom
but not the political freedom they aspired to, for Serbian
interests continued to dominate the new Yugoslavia.
There were many dissatisfied elements in the newly created
Yugoslavia, and the Tito regime was eager to suppress
any outward intimation that the experimental new nation
was imperfect. To consolidate the myth, stringent restrictions
were placed on leaving. Young Macedonian men responded
to Serbian domination and the economically backward
policies of communist rule by risking their lives and
departing illegally over the border into the neighbouring
states from where they sought passage to western democracies
such as Canada, the United States and Australia.
8 S lavka Kalcovska interview, conducted 23 December
2008. Slavka was born in the Bitola region village of
Dihovo and arrived in Australia in 1960. 9 Kleshtev
10 Zivko Vasilevski interview, conducted 5 June 2008.
Zivko was born in the Bitola region village of Vrajnevci
and arrived in Australia in 1970.
11 Kleshtev interview.
12 S lavko Talevski interview, conducted 10 September
2008. Slavko was born in the Bitola region village of
Novaci and arrived in Australia in 1969.
13 Hobsons Bay Heritage Study, Volume 1b, Thematic
Environmental History, October 2003, p. 20.
14 Wally Curran interview, conducted 30 July 2010.
Wally Curran is the former state secretary of the Australasian
Meat Industry Employees Union (Victoria) 1973–1997.
15 D obre Ilievski interview, conducted 8 September
2008. Dobre was born in the Bitola region village of
Dolno Orizari and arrived in Australia in 1971.
16 Ilievski interview.
17 Vasilevski interview.
18 Ilievski interview.
19 Ilievski interview.
20 Curran interview.
21 Curran interview.
22 Curran interview.
23 Blagoja Nikolovski interview, conducted 19 November
2008. Blagoja was born in the Bitola region village
of Zhabeni and arrived in Australia in 1970.
24 Blagoja Koleski interview, conducted 5 December
2008. Blagoja was born in the Ohrid region village of
Kuratica and arrived in Australia in 1971.
25 Koleski interview.
26 Kleshtev interview.
27 Vasilevski interview.
28 Peco Stojcevski interview, conducted 15 July 2008.
Peco Stojcevski was born in the Bitola region village
of Optichari and is a past president of Altona Vardar
29 S tojcevski interview.
30 Risto Pilovski interview, conducted 3 December 2008.
Risto was born in the Mariovo district village of Grunishte
and arrived in Australia in 1972.
31 Pilovski interview.
32 Pilovski interview. Risto Pilovski further advised
that J.T. Gray Reserve remained the home ground of Altona
Ilinden for several years until council moved the club
to an alternative venue at Blackshaws Road, Altona North.
However, a lack of acceptable sporting facilities (no
change rooms or training lights) at the new ground saw
the team utilise a truck belonging to player Vele Matovski
as the team change room on match days! Following protests
to council over the conditions they were forced to play
under, the club was soon given Bond Reserve in Chambers
Road Altona North as its permanent home ground.
33 Petre Ilioski interview, conducted 25 November 2008.
Petre was born in the Ohrid region village of Openica
and arrived in Melbourne in 1970.
34 Kleshtev interview. See also Makedonski Zhivot (newspaper),
August 1974, p. 8.
35 Violeta Risteska interview, conducted 20 June 2008.
Violeta Risteska (Trifunovska) joined the Nikola Karev
group in 1977 upon its establishment and remained an
active member until the early 1980s.
36 Macedonians in Victoria: Community Profile, p. 66.
37 Macedonian Background Notes, Footscray Migrant Resource
Centre Inc., prepared by Spase Velanovski, October 1991,
38 M acedonian Community Welfare Association of the
Western Region Inc., ‘The Macedonian Elderly: A Needs
Study of the Macedonian Elderly in the Western Region
of Melbourne’, in Victor Bivell (ed.), Macedonian Agenda:
Sixteen Essays on the Development of Macedonian Culture
in Australia, Five Dock, NSW, Pollitecon Publications,
1995, pp. 74–112.
39 Bivell (ed.), p. 95.
40 Bivell (ed.), p. 105.
41 Macedonians in Victoria: Community Profile, Melbourne,
Macedonian Welfare Workers’ Network of Victoria, undated,
42 S tatistical data relating to Macedonian speakers
has been sourced from the respective local government
This article was first published in Victorian Historical
Journal Vol. 82, No. 1, June 2011