The Polish Community in Tasmania began when a sudden influx of some 1500 Poles arrived after 1947, a tiny fraction of the several million Poles worldwide who chose exile rather than life in a post-war Poland under Russian communist domination. The first arrivals were ex-servicemen (mainly 'Rats of Tobruk') who arrived in uniform, and were later joined by Displaced Persons. Australia was keen to boost its population through migration while assisting those who had suffered through war. Tasmania needed construction workers for its rapidly developing hydro-electric schemes, and sought labourers through a London-based Polish newspaper. The primitive living conditions, harsh climate and isolation of the camps at Tarraleah, Butlers Gorge, Bronte Park, Waddamana and Liawenee were a stark contrast to Europe's beautiful medieval cities. However, the men formed an orchestra and choir, played soccer and tennis, celebrated Mass in community halls and formed a Rats of Tobruk Association.
By late 1949, several hundred Poles had completed their two-year contracts, and put down roots by investing in real estate. Some married local women, but 'romance by correspondence' with Polish pen-friends was more common, and a second generation was rapidly produced. Two Polish priests travelled between the various communities, providing the sacraments and pastoral care.
Formed in 1950, the Polish Association has since been the focus for many social and cultural activities including the Polish Club, primary and secondary schools, folk dancing, Scouts, the White Eagle Sports Club and radio broadcasts. After Poland became independent in 1989, the community has become less politicised. Its priorities are to maintain and transmit the culture to a third generation, and provide welfare support for elderly Poles.
Further reading: D Young, From Vistula to Derwent, Hobart, 2000.