Smiljana Šunde, a long time reporter and editor with the documentary and education programme departments at national broadcaster Croatian Radio, has self-published her fifth book, Batili su ocean, the fruit of four decades of research.
Smiljana Šunde, a long time reporter and editor with the documentary and education programme departments at national broadcaster Croatian Radio, has self-published her fifth book, a four-decade effort, in which she delves into the topic of the migration of people from the town of Podgora to distant parts of the world, primarily to New Zealand. The book, Batili su ocean, was promoted on the 1st of September at the movie theatre in Podgora with entertainment provided by the Trio Uzorite band.
The book is the result of long hours spent researching the archival material, in particular the registries of births and deaths, numerous interviews with locals and people with a living memory of the periods of peak emigration. It also includes information gleaned from correspondence, letters, and electronic mail and spans an impressive over eight hundred pages.
Smiljana Šunde was intrigued by the fact that emigration from her native Podgora was on an almost massive scale. During the period she studied, which covers the time from the late nineteenth century and into the 1960s, the available data indicates that 1,300 people moved away. If one takes into consideration that the latest census puts the town’s population at only 1,300 people, a drop of almost twenty per cent over a single decade, it is clear that this charming fishing town, which had produced numerous well known and esteemed figures in the past, has suffered serious depopulation.
This is, of course, not an exception in Croatia, as trends like these are evident more or less everywhere, especially in small towns, villages and hamlets. The fact is that there are around the world—counting only the overseas countries, New Zealand in particular, which was the most frequent final destination—over fifteen thousand people who draw their roots from Podgora! If we add to that an unknown number of people that moved abroad in the post-1960s period, a process that has peaked over recent years, we arrive at, as Ms Šunde observes, massive figures and proportions.
“This makes Podgora one of the top emigrant-emitting places in Croatia, on the scale seen on the island of Susak, the population of which moved for the most part to New York, and Blato on the island of Korčula, for whose people Sydney, California and San Diego were the top final destinations. Most of the people of Podgora, for their part, opted to move to Auckland,” Šunde notes.
Only a part of the 1,300 people that move abroad have returned: just 250. The consequences have been that the material status of many families has improved but that they have disintegrated, that there is a gender imbalance due to the fact that men constituted the majority of the emigrants, and that depopulation has been so intense that some families disappeared and that some surnames no longer appear here. Given that the people moving abroad were for the most part uneducated, they could look forward to hard physical labour abroad: from digging kauri gum and swamp reclamation projects, to work in the mines of the USA and Australia and logging in Canada.
Speaking of what she uncovered Šunde noted that, “Throughout the literature the chief motivation for emigrating that crops up is the downy mildew disease [caused by the pathogen Plasmopara viticola] that ravaged the grapevine plantations. This is not, however the only, and in my opinion is not even the chief causal factor. The chief reason, based on what my research has shown—not in the literature that focuses on emigration, but rather in other written sources—was the infamous ‘wine clause’ [a clause in a trade agreement struck between the now defunct Austro-Hungarian monarchy (which controlled Croatia at the time) and Italy: the deal opened local markets to Italian wines—which had recovered from the devastating Phylloxera—under favourable terms, undercutting local prices and having devastating consequences on a Dalmatian economy overly dependent on this crop].”
Smiljana Šunde’s grandfather said his goodbyes to four sons, two daughters-in-law, one daughter and three grandchildren from the threshold of his home. He never saw nor heard from them again as there were no telephone connections available at the time. In Auckland, where they moved and which Ms Šunde visited in 1976, the people from Podgora socialised and gathered, preserving their customs.
And so back to Podgora in the present: there are but a handful of children that are enrolled in the first grade of primary school. Having seen departures en masse in the past century it is again, along with the settlement of Gradac, in the current wave of emigration, seeing among the highest rates of emigration in the micro-region. Much of what the author points to in her book and the examples she cites, amply illustrate that moving abroad does not always bring the rewards emigrants expect.
As an interesting side note we can mention that the former socialist regime did its best to bring back the emigrants, sending the oceangoing ships Partizanka and Radnik to distant ports, and likely expecting that the returnees would bring some dollars with them to patch up the state’s coffers. As it turned out, however, only those that had failed to earn and save any money decided to move back. One returnee brought only a small hand-held shaver, another a bed and a small axe, while most brought with them nothing at all.
See more at: www.slobodnadalmacija.hr
By: Ivona Ćirak/Makarska kronika; Photography: Ivo Ravlić/HANZA MEDIA