In the backstreets of Balgownie a group of men meet once a week in a suburban garage to shape their blood, sweat and tears into something the Illawarra – and their homeland – will be proud of.
These men are bringing to life a PZL P11z fighter plane used to defend Poland in World War II.
Once complete the life-size replica will sit pride of place outside the Illawarra Polish Museum in Gwynneville, which recently celebrated its first anniversary.
Andrew Krajewski, 71, is one of the men responsible and is also assisting in several other heritage projects to preserve the stories, memories and artefacts from displaced Polish people who have resettled on the South Coast over the last century.
While the Polish Association first opened their office in 1967, it has been in the last five years that Mr Krajewski decided more should be done.
“[The older migrants are dying and] taking all the memories with them, their stories, they survived war, they survived Siberia, they survived the Battle of England,” he said.
“So I thought five years ago it’s a waste, I have to somehow preserve it.”
Mr Krajewski worked with the local Polish Association to form a historical group which has now morphed into a museum – open to the public once a month.
He is now founder and curator of the Illawarra Polish Museum, as well as president of the Historical Section within the Polish Association.
The first wave of Polish refugees was prior to WWII, a few years after the war during 1947 to 1951 and again during the Solidarity movement in Poland in 1980 and 1981 – the time when Mr Krajewski arrived.
“It was typical when martial law was imposed in Poland ... was to go to a refugee camp in Austria or Italy [run] by the United Nations, like today’s refugees in Africa and ASIA,” he said.
Like many from his homeland, he became a labourer despite having qualifications as a marine officer. He said even doctors went into manufacturing because the money helped put food on the table.
Other projects the museum is involved with is collating recorded interviews of Polish migrants, organising hundreds of photographs for display at the museum and restoring a brick making machine used to make bricks and roof tiles out of sand from Werri Beach.
A former captain of the polish army, Alexander Prociuk, migrated to Gerringong in 1950 and began an independent business, seeing a need for more building materials with an increase of population to the region.
The machine had been part of the Gerringong and District Historical Society but has since been donated to the Polish Museum.
Donations are currently being sought for these projects – for any support please email the historical group: firstname.lastname@example.org