My wife Olga and I both graduated from the Faculty of Medicine in Olomouc. We got our degrees in 1983 and left the republic illegally exactly on May 12, 1986. Before escaping, as a young doctor I had to go to the May Day parade and shout the glory of the Soviet Union. We all knew that radioactive dust was falling on us from Chernobyl (the explosion at the nuclear power plant took place on April 25), despite the Minister of Health claiming that it was nothing more than Western propaganda. We drove through Košice all the way to Yugoslavia. It took the customs officers about four hours to search the entire bus. Some people were also poked in the anus to see if they were smuggling money. We had with us our two-year-old son Vojtěch and a hundred West German marks, which luckily the customs officers didn’t find.
the Minister of Health claiming that it was nothing more than Western propaganda
We managed to cross the border into Austria illegally. In the Traiskirchen refugee camp near Vienna, we heard all sorts of stories of people fleeing to the west. There was, for example, a man who let himself be locked in a railway carriage. Someone else made a pulley and swung over the high voltage wires. We managed to get to Austria, they even offered us citizenship and we could have worked there as medical doctors, but we were afraid, it was simply too close to the Iron Curtain. We wanted to go to New Zealand, which didn´t accept any refugees then, unfortunately. Australia didn´t want us either, they had enough their own doctors. Canada would take us, with the proviso that we sign a paper promising we would never practice medicine. That was not acceptable for us, of course. South Africa would take us without problems. There was a Czech guy in Vienna, Mr. Koutný, who assisted refugees. With his help we finally made it to Australia, after some six months of waiting.
It is unbelievable how some of the refugees believed the Communist propaganda about how bad the West was. A couple sitting next to us in the plane brought plates from Austria, because they believed that Australians ate from aluminum pots. Someone else took the whole toilet with him. I have no idea how he got it on board the plane, but he was simply convinced the antipodes didn’t know this level of civilization. One electrician brought hammers and various tools with him. More than 300 kilos!
From day one in Australia, we accepted all jobs available. After two months, I took the medical English exam and failed. I wasn’t too upset, because an American sitting next to me didn´t pass either. However, after a year and half, I passed all the required exams and became a doctor again. I worked in a public hospital for two years, and then we left for the tropical city of Townsville in North East Queensland, which is still our home.
We gradually built three medical practices here. My wife and I teach medicine and prepare young doctors for certification. Patients come to us from a distance of two hundred kilometers or more. There is a high incidence of skin cancer from the sun, a bit of tropical diseases, but otherwise medicine is the same as everywhere else.
According to the census, one of three Australians were not born in Australia, like us.
According to the census, one of three Australians were not born in Australia, like us. After Communism collapsed, we went back to the Czech Republic and we are very pleased to see how things are changing, mostly for the better. We have four children who still speak fluent Czech, and when we come to visit the old country, they feel at home there. When I look back at the last thirty-six years, I actually have to be grateful to the Communists. They forced me to join the Party so that I could become the head physician. I knew that if I refused this “privilege” I would become an enemy and be punished, actually my entire family would. We never dreamed that the regime would fall apart like a house of cards in 1989. Although we lost a fully equipped four-room apartment and all our possessions due to our escape, we gained much more: freedom and the belief that there is a better world. I’m sure it was worth it. We wish young people not only in the Czech Republic to fight and believe in a better world. The truth prevails after all.