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Thursday, September 4, 2008

~ what football can do for a man

My father, Vilis Sejavka, arrived in Australia around 1952. He was a refugee from the Second World War, a displaced person who had spent at least six post-war years in internment camps around Germany.



Latvia, his home country, had fallen under Soviet rule. To return there meant probable incarceration in the Gulags. As he had been a (19yo) conscript for the Latvian division of the Waffen SS, this would more than likely have lead to his death.

His kidneys had been ruined after a night spent playing dead in the snow as a Red Army column passed close by. His German lieutenant, with whom he had deserted, lay beside him but his was no act; the pair had been fired upon earlier by the Russians. It was standard practice for the Communists to bayonet the dead, so Vilis did not so much as twitch. Imagine that. He claimed to have never been quite the same.


As truckload load after truckload of refugees departed Germany, bound for new lands in which to settle, Vilis watched and waited, praying that eventually his turn would come - which, ultimately, it did.

It is not difficult to understand the gratitude he felt towards Australia - though, as a willful, contrary child, I did my best. Once here, he worked in logging camps in order to fulfill his contract with the Government. While doing so, he contracted rheumatic fever and then tuberculosis. Down the track, it was the rheumatic fever that doomed him.

In a TB sanatorium, close to death, he fell in love with a nurse, my mother, and so on and so forth. But that’s not the story for today.

What I want to communicate is his unconditional love for Australia and all things Australian. He threw his heart and soul into this country. He had little contact with the local Latvian community - to my later chagrin - largely because of the Soviet spies who were thought to have infiltrated. He was fervently anti-communist, almost to the point of paranoia - Australia, his country, and the new family it had given him were all that he trusted now.

While I was being called a wog at school, he was calling himself a New Australian with absolute, unadulterated pride. He whole-heartedly embraced our traditions and culture. He acquired English at speed. Though he retained his accent, and was partial to borscht, pickled herring and sauerkraut - these things were all that remained of the Latvian Vilis.

My father grew up with the slow, exasperating species of football we call soccer, but once he hit these shores Australian Rules became his code. He was a New Australian and soccer was for ingrates. Because he lived with my mother in one of those little worker’s cottages on Acland St. up from Greasy Joe’s, St Kilda became his team. Not long after I was born, I was attending matches in my swaddling, first at Junction Oval, then, in actual clothes, at Moorabbin.

My father and I had precious little in common. He was an engineer and I was an artiste, but on football we saw eye to eye. It may seem sad, but it was our strongest link as father and son. The one certain thing we shared. For me the night of St Kilda’s 1966 Grand Final triumph is a volcanically joyous memory, perhaps the sweetest of my boyhood.

Now Vilis is long gone, but our team is not. Whenever I set foot in the stadium, whenever I bellow the team song, whenever St Kilda manages to win a game, the my father's ghost is there. That’s why I sometimes cry at matches, in case you were wondering.

We start another finals campaign this week, and already I feel him stirring. We’ve had a few chances over the years, but,
since his death, no premierships. Still just the one ... Just the one ... This year Geelong stands in our way, but there is always hope.

From my father, with his harrowing, unforgiving life, ... from his thankless son ... for Robert Harvey and his twenty-one seasons of scintillating brilliance and old school tenacity … let me just say ... Carn The MIGHTY SAINTS!

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3 comments:

lily was here said...

Sam, this made me smile. I lived in moorabbin as a kid so I have a soft spot for the Saints tho' i am a ... dare i say it ..bonded forever to the team of Jezza No 25.
Cats had their turn last year, time for the Saints to shine again! xxx

ps arent Harvey's kids just gorgeous. "Sometimes when dad cuts his hair it grows back the next day" LOL

lily was here said...

ps you look like your dad?

Sam Sejavka said...

Yes. His kids are gorgeous. He has a gorgeous family. Kudos for recognising it.