By Catherine Manning
This cushion cover is special to me because it reminds me of the first exhibition I worked on, when I met Tessa and found out about her amazing life. It is a good example of how objects at the Migration Museum might appear fairly ordinary, but when you look a little more closely they have a wonderful story to tell.
Tessa (Taiza) Waksmundzki (nee Adamczuk) was 12 years old when she made this cushion cover. It was early in the 1950s and she was living in the Woodside Immigration Centre with her parents Aleksander and Zinaida Adamczuk and her sisters Lidia and Ata.
Tessa had nothing to do, and was very bored. On a rare trip to a nearby town she begged and pleaded with her father until he bought her some wool. Some women in the camp gave her this traditional Polish pattern to embroider onto a camp sugar bag. The green cotton backing came from an old apron.
The Adamczuk family came to Australia from Poland as refugees after the Second World War. They lived first at the Bonegilla Migrant Centre then Mildura Camp, both in Victoria, and finally at Woodside, after which they settled in South Australia where the girls all received an education. Alek was on a two year contract to work for the Australian Government as a labourer, regardless of any previous qualifications, and he could be sent to work anywhere in Australia.
The Migration Museum has many examples of embroidery and other skilled work in our collection. Tessa’s cushion is one of a few examples made by children. Her ongoing passion for craft work was sparked during the Second World War when, during an air raid in a bomb shelter, her mother taught her to knit using thread unravelled from a mop head. Creativity in the face of adversity indeed.
Catherine is Senior Curator at the Migration Museum and has recently been working on the exhibition Hostel Stories: Migrant Lives. Tessa's cushion is on display in this exhibition.