Posted August 17, 2017 17:48:29
The South Australian city of Port Lincoln is well-known for its word-class tuna, an Olympian weightlifter, and its connection to Melbourne cup winner Makybe Diva.
Members of the local Croatian community have contributed to all of these achievements, forging a strong link between the fishing city and their home country.
It is a link strong enough to merit a visit this week from Croatian president Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic.
The president is visiting the community on Friday, in what acting mayor Neville Starke said would be monumental for the city.
"This is the first head of state from another country to visit Port Lincoln since 1954, and that person was Queen Elizabeth II," he said.
"I think it's great for Port Lincoln. It puts us on the international map, and anything that promotes our city I think is fantastic."
Australian Southern Bluefin Tuna Association chief executive Brian Jeffriess said the Croatian community at Port Lincoln developed fishing techniques and technology that had since been used in their home country.
"What you ended up with was a range of Croatian entrepreneurs and drivers of systems in one little town in South Australia," he said.
"These were people who invented a lot of fishing techniques worldwide, and a lot of them ended up in Port Lincoln."
One such entrepreneur was the father of Port Lincoln Croatian Sporting Club president Diana Mislov.
Ms Mislov invited Ms Grabar-Kitarovic to Port Lincoln following a discussion with the Croatian ambassador.
"I did actually say Australia does go further than the east coast, don't forget regional south Australia," she said.
Ms Mislov said Croatians started coming to Australia in the 1950s to escape a strict communist regime.
"It was a war-torn country. There was no freedom of speech, no freedom of religion," she said.
"It was just a very politically communist country. They just wanted to be able to be free to live their lives, and so many of our people did escape.
"The first Croatians came to Port Lincoln, they were Ricov and Kolega boys. They started cray or tuna fishing, then followed sort of an influx of a lot of others.
"A lot of them were refugees. They were escaping a communist country. My father was one of those people."
Ms Mislov's father escaped and ended up in a migrant camp at Bonegilla, near Albury-Wodonga, and after moving around regional South Australia ended up at Port Lincoln.
"The really sad thing about all of that is he never actually went back to see his parents," she said.
"They actually passed away before he went back to Croatia in safer times."
Having grown up away from the Croatian coast, Ms Mislov's father's attempt to become a fisherman was unsuccessful, so he moved into freight, driving cans of tuna to Melbourne.
She said since then, members of the Croatian community had played an integral role in Port Lincoln's achievements and industry.
"Port Lincoln Tuna Processors started out as a collaboration between several Port Lincoln Croatian fishermen, to can product," she said.
"They've now actually diversified into gravy packaging and baby food packaging, that sort of pouch product.
"Because of the sashimi market, tuna canning is not quite as prolific as it used to be."
Other notable people in the Port Lincoln Croatian community include tuna and property baron Sam Sarin, Olympic gold medallist Dean Lukin, and the owner of racehorse Makybe Diva, Tony Santic.
"The list is endless," Ms Mislov said.
She said her father would have been ecstatic to know his daughter would be meeting the president, and remembered fondly a family road trip in 1995 to catch a glimpse of the then-president of Croatia in Melbourne.
"I just can't believe that we're so lucky to be able to have the president coming to Port Lincoln to see us here in our home town," Ms Mislov said.
"It's just phenomenal. I think my dad would be very proud."