Growing up, when both my parents had extensive working hours, I spent a great deal of my childhood with my Baba Darinka and Dedo Riste, my father’s parents. They lived in a few houses that I can remember growing up, including the giant farm at Plenty which was a typical Macedonian concrete monstrosity built in the middle of nowhere. They were the epitome of hard work and what a migrant family can achieve in a country such as Australia.
Times were a lot simpler back then. Before I had been born, after a multitude of houses they had lived in to raise my father and uncle, my Baba and Dedo lived in a small house only a street away from where my recently engaged parents lived in Greensborough. They would then live in the famous Mackleroy Road house which would host my parent’s wedding festivities, before finally settling on the farm which was about a kilometer up the road. This would be the farm I remember for most of my childhood with them.
The farm was a huge lot, with a big dam that God forbid I was ever allowed near. Other hazards included kangaroos, snakes, the foxes that would occasionally take their chickens and my Dedo driving his lawnmower. It’s why they decided to have the guard dogs known as Brutus and Molly, or Brut Brut and Mok Mok.
Brutus himself was known for having a fight with anything, including a serious head injury he sustained fighting a male kangaroo. Molly was the quieter dog, whom would let you put your sunglasses her and wouldn’t mind a sip of beer now then – just kidding.
When I was a child, my uncle Peter lived with them at the time, and began to draft the plans of his eventually successful painting business. I also remember him bringing home McDonalds, where Baba would absolutely blast him for thinking it was better than her traditional Macedonian home cooking.
Even as a toddler, I was fed like a farm animal as you’d imagine. Lasagna, Pechivo, Chicken Soup, Potato Chips, Chocolate Biscuits, Kifli, even the Savoiardi biscuits Italians use for tiramisu. Had my sausages cut up for me, vegetables peeled and a lemonade waiting for me at every corner. It amazes me I wasn’t fat, for I was certainly spoilt in that regard!
My grandfather was also a very enjoyable part of my upbringing. The farm was the place he helped test my knowledge on world capitals and flags, lectured me on basic world politics better than a professor and taught me basic Macedonian that would be enough to pass at a family function. I would follow him around on his farm jobs, including the killing of weeds and burning all the rubbish in a fire pit on the far side of the property.
And whenever I got a mosquito bite, both himself or Baba would get out the unmarked bottle of Rakija in the laundry cupboard and splash it all over the bite – better than any of those anti-inflammation creams they said!
Despite the isolation of the property, there were plenty of neighbours. Across the road were David and Alison, a friendly Australian couple. At the far end of the street lived Matt and his wife, two Macedonians as well as the Murphy Family, whom I’d eventually meet up with again at high school when father Brett and Mother Cathy ended up working at the school 10 years later. There was Darren and Kate, still friends with my uncle and aunt.
But the best neighbours were Jim and Mary, a Greek couple who lived next door. They were so friendly, and every time Jim and my grandfather had their conversation at the fence in both Macedonian and Greek, they’d invite me over to play with their grandchildren and even have dinner sometimes.
The other large lesson of growing up here was the music. We may have lived in Australia, but the radio here never played English music, like my mothers R&B stereo or my dad’s car radio. It was purely music from the old country, and not just limited to the great songs of Macedonia and the Macedonian people.
Being young adults at the height of Yugoslavia, it was very common to hear Serbian and Bosnian artists as well. My Dedo’s favourite was Semsa Suljakovic, and I can spot any of her songs as great as Vojo Stojanovski’s. My Baba had several records herself, from the greatest Macedonian wedding hits to the Croatian Tamburica. It truly gave birth to my love of all Balkan music – and I loved and embraced every second of it.
There’s been three more grandchildren born for Riste and Darinka Ristovski ever since my early days with them and whilst they’ve all had their childhood days with them too, I don’t think they’ll ever experience the nostalgia I did. The old Macedonian music radio, the old lounge at the front of the farmhouse for gosti only and even listening to the French News with my Dedo. But as they say, stories live on forever and their legacy will stick around for the many different grandchildren in the years to come.