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My Story

Kitty Vigo



My name is Kitty Vigo and I am a former Senior Lecturer in Media Studies and Writing with Swinburne University of Technology. I am now retired.

I was born in Holland in 1950. My parents are Polish. The story that seems to be have been supported by research done by my mother’s family is that she was descended from Alaric the Visigoth who sacked Rome in 410CE. According to family history one of Alaric’s sons settled in Hungary and in turn two of his descendents went to Poland with Stephen Batory of Hungary after he was invited to be the King of Poland in 1575. Later one branch of the family returned to Hungary and that was why whenever there was war in either Hungary or Poland the relations would travel to the war-free of the two countries for safety. This practice continued right up until World War Two when my aunt travelled to Hungary from Poland after it was invaded by the Germans in 1939. Another family story is that one of my great grandfathers was placed in a mental institution after gave his lands to the serfs. When he died the serfs carried his coffin for over 100 kilometres on their shoulders to be buried in the family plot.

My mother as a child in Poland – she is the one with the blurry face on the left in the front row. Her older sister is standing second from the right in the top row. My grandmother is the woman on the left in the top row – no doubt telling my mother to stand still.

My parents met and married in Holland after World War Two. During the war my father led a troop of partisans fighting against the Germans in Poland and my mother was proud black marketer. My older brother Konrad was born in work camp in Germany during the war and my younger brother Roman (who now calls himself Ray) was also born in Holland.

This is a photo of my best friend in Holland Mariekje holding my brother Roman’s hand. Mariekje was taken off a train that was being held on a siding in Enschede at the end of World War Two. She was one of many Aryan-looking children who had been taken from Russia by the Germans to be adopted by Germans. The train with the children was abandoned by the German soldiers as the war ended and the children were rescued and adopted by Dutch families.

My family migrated to Australia in early 1955 when I was still four years old.

My passport photo when we immigrated to Australia.

My family had to leave Holland before my older brother Konrad turned 12 because after that age it was compulsory to have chest X-Rays before you could emigrate and he had had tuberculosis as a child. So my parents applied to emigrate to Australia, the United States, South Africa and South America – any place that would accept them. To their joy Australia accepted them first.

We flew to Australia in a Super Constellation aeroplane, which unlike Dr Who’s TARDIS, looks bigger on the outside than the inside. The first place we lived was Queenscliff in Victoria which was an idyllic place to live with its beaches and fishing village.

Me and my doll in Queenscliff.

Soon after we arrived in Queenscliff my sister Barbara was born. She was named Barbara because it is a name that is used in many cultures. My birth name was Grazyna but my family quickly learned that it was too difficult for Australian tongues and so I was renamed Kitty because I was father’s “Kitten” (Kotek in Polish). I remember that my parents had told me that if I went to school I would learn English and I came home crying after the first day, saying “You promised me that if I went to school I would learn English and I’ve been to school for a whole day and I still can’t speak it properly.”

Australia in the 1950s was still a place where you were either a “wog” or “reffo” and migrants were expected to give up their old cultures and assimilate to the then still British-dominated “Australian” culture. Many European migrants tried to retain their old cultures and spoke their native language at home. My parents decided that because they had migrated to Australia to create a better future for their children we would speak English at home and learn to think of ourselves as Australians. It was in many ways a good decision for the children because we quickly became literate and articulate in English (although I can no longer speak Dutch and Polish), but a difficult decision for my parents because to Australians they were still foreigners and to the Polish community they were cultural traitors because they were bringing up their children as Australians.

After Queenscliff we moved to Eildon, then North West Mooroopna where I attended a primary school of 15 children, and later Brighton – all in Victoria. When I lived in Brighton I attended Brighton High School which was made famous when it was used for the on-location filming for the ABC comedy series Summer Heights High starring Chris Lilley.

I was about 13 years old when I had an experience that confused and confronted me and has stayed with me all my all life. My parents came home from a Sunday drive accompanied by a young Aboriginal boy. He was about 16 and they had offered him a place to stay after they picked him up hitch-hiking to Melbourne. He had finished some years at secondary school and travelled from somewhere in regional NSW to look for work. I don’t remember his name. He stayed with us for about two weeks, applying for jobs advertised in the newspaper only to be told that there was no work when he went for an interview. He left, unable to find a job. I asked my mother why given that potential employers seemed so positive on the telephone before his interviews. She told me that it was because they were stupid and biased against Aboriginals. I couldn’t understand it. Some weeks after he returned home a parcel arrived containing a pair of jeans and short note. He wrote that he had sent the jeans because my younger brother had admired them. My mother sat there with the jeans in her hands and cried.

After I finished high school I started work in 1969 as a cadet reporter with The Herald, the now defunct Melbourne evening newspaper.

One of the news stories I wrote in 1970. It shows that nothing has really changed when it comes to concerns about teenage unmarried mothers.

While I worked at The Herald I completed a Bachelor of Arts degree at Melbourne University part-time. I had the dubious distinction of being the first person in 60 years who completed a degree the fees of which were paid for by The Herald. By the time I finished working there after eight years I was working as a sub-editor.

In 1973 I married my husband David.

Our wedding day.

In 1981 my daughter Kate was born. She is our only child and is a singer and song writer.

My daughter Kate. She has won a number of international prizes for her songs.

I worked for a brief spell with Longman’s Publishing company and then started my academic career – first as a sessional tutor and then as a lecturer in Journalism and Media Studies at RMIT and, from 1984 as a lecturer in Media Studies at Swinburne University of Technology. While I was at Swinburne I developed a deep interest in teaching and won a number of teaching prizes. In 1993 I chose to move from Swinburne’s Hawthorn campus to its new campus in Lilydale because it adopted a model of multi modal teaching, that is: teaching and learning that utilises a ranges of delivery modes including on-line lectures, face—to-face tutorials and detailed printed study guides. While there I further developed my interest in on-line teaching and co-developed over 40 undergraduate and postgraduate subjects that were all delivered via the internet and CD ROM.

I retired from Swinburne in 2007 and now live in the country. My hobbies are flying gliders and skiing. I also retain a deep interest in on-line delivery of education, especially in the area of introducing non-Indigenous students to Indigenous ways of learning.