STATEMENT BY MEMBERS: 50 years of Poland-Australia relations

14 February 2022

Thank you,

I rise to second this motion by the Member for Mackellar.

Polish Australians have made a great contribution to this country over the last 50 years, and way back further prior to formal diplomatic relations between our two countries.

Following the atrocities of the second world war, Australia received an influx of Polish refugees – the Polish-born population increasing from six and a half thousand to more than fifty-six thousand people between the years of 1957 and 1966.

Most arrived from war torn Europe, though some came from various theatres of battle, having fought with Australians throughout the war such as in Tobruk.

Many brought with them memories of the horrors of the war – some from concentration camps, others from the various fronts.

And though they were grateful to find a welcoming home, it was their new Polish-Australian community which got them through these horrors and helped them to settle into their new homes.

This lasting connection with their homelands has meant a thriving diaspora community exists in Australia, with a significant presence through community groups as well as sporting clubs.

These are particularly prevalent in my home city of Melbourne, which has the largest Polish-Australian population in the country.

That Polish-Australians community has of course blessed us with people like Dr Karl, Magda Szubanski and of course the terrific premier of Queensland, Anastasia Palaszczuk.

Today, though, I wanted to tell the story of one Pole in particular, who is not as well known.

His name is Slawomir, or Stan, Lasek.

Stan was born in Warsaw in 1926 and he was barely a teenager when Poland was invaded in 1939.

Like so many young Poles, Stan was unable to complete his education and he took up arms and joined the Polish resistance, fighting mainly in the mountains in Poland’s south.

He was caught by the Germans and arrested but managed to escape and rose through the ranks fighting proudly in defence of his country.

Stan Lasek lost his father in the war and many other family members, some in the deadly concentration camps established by the German regime.

When the war came to an end in 1945, Stan decided to flee Poland which came under the control of Russia, and he started a new life in England where he married Barbara and where they had four sons.

In the late 1960s Stan and Barbara made what they described as the best decision of their life, emigrating to Australia.

The family settled in Wollongong where Stan worked at the Port Kembla Steelworks.

He coached junior soccer and Stan was without a doubt one of the biggest supporters of the Socceroos as they created history by qualifying for the World Cup finals for the first time in 1974.

Stan, Barbara and the boys didn’t hesitate in becoming naturalised Australian citizens in the early 70s and in 1975, Stan and Barbara joined tens of thousands of others outraged by the dismissal of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, taking to the streets in protest.

Stan loved Australia’s landscape, such a far cry from the dense forests of his native Poland, and in 1988, having moved to the bush, he was named the Gulargambone (GALAH-GAMBONE) Citizen of the Year for his amazing tree planting efforts - trying to green one of the driest parts of our continent.

In his later years, Stan travelled to Canberra to receive his long overdue wartime medals from the Polish Ambassador.

What made Stan even prouder was receiving Poland’s highest military medal posthumously on behalf of his late father, Antonio, who was recognised as a national hero by those who fought with him in World War 2.

Stan Lasek was a proud Pole.

He risked his life for his birthplace.

It was Australia, though, that made him happiest.

Stan would have turned 96 last week and while sadly he is no longer with us, his memory and his legacy continue to live on through his four proud boys.

Stan is a terrific example of the contributions of our Polish-Australian community and the values that form the basis of the relationship between the Polish and Australian peoples and Governments.

And it is these shared values that must underpin this relationship for years to come.

In recent times Poland and the European Union have been in a bitter feud over a wide array of issues.

These includes efforts to marginalise its L.G.B.T.I.Q community, its assertion that Polish Law is paramount to E.U law, its reluctance to phase out fossil fuels in line with Europe’s ambitious climate policy, and a move away from the independence of its judiciary.

On this 50-year anniversary of diplomatic ties, we are reminded of Australia’s responsibility to engage with allies like Poland on issues such as these, and to assert the importance of these issues as core to our relationship.