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Marin Martin (Mick) Alagich (1919–2008)

by Harriet Veitch

from Sydney Morning Herald

In 1940, Mick Alagich was rescued after an explosion in the Broken Hill mines. When his rescuers ribbed him about "the trouble" he had put them to underground, Alagich knew he had become an Aussie.

His father, Josip, had come to Australia from what is now Croatia in 1924, as a young man looking for work. He found it down the mines in Broken Hill, where there was already a Croatian community that had supported a strike in 1919 that lasted 18 months but won greatly improved working conditions. For many years, Josip was active in the militant workers movement there as well.

Marin Martin Alagich, who has died aged 89, was the oldest of the three sons of Josip and his wife, Trifona Smodlaka. Alagich always called himself Yugoslavian but the family was ethnically Croatian, from the town of Makarska on the Adriatic coast.

Marin and his brothers came to Australia when he was 13, leaving behind their mother as their parents had divorced before Josip left Croatia. Marin, soon Mick, went to school in Broken Hill and very quickly realised that one way out of being dubbed a wog or a dago was to play sport. He spent the rest of his life encouraging immigrant children to play sport, particularly soccer, and his son Joe played soccer for Ryde and NSW and was in the Australian team for the 1970 World Cup.

After taking his Intermediate Certificate, Mick followed Josip underground. His experiences as a miner and Josip's union activities crystalised his leftist views of society and set him on his path to combating racism. The whole family was proudly left-wing and used a printing machine at home to publish a news-sheet, Napredak (Struggle), which was suppressed by the police between 1940 and 1942. In 1941, police raided the Alagiches' home searching for subversive literature.

After the formation of federal Yugoslavia, under Josip Tito in 1943, the Alagich family suffered occasional prejudice, sometimes even physical violence, within the Yugoslav community in Australia. The family supported the federation but some Serbs did not like that the Alagiches were Croatian, while some Croatians did not like that they supported Tito.

In 1940 Alagich enlisted in the army and was sent to Adelaide for training. After an accident there he was discharged and returned to Broken Hill for a short course in fitting and turning. Directed to the Manpower Authority, he worked in a defence factory in Sydney for the rest of the war.

In 1941 he married Rina Rigoni and they bought land at Brookvale, where they developed a market garden. His main job was with a trucking company in Concord. Every morning he took the bus to Manly, the ferry to Circular Quay, walked to Wynyard and took the bus to Concord West to work.

In 1950, he became foreman of the Brookvale Brewery, which was trying to break the hold of the large commercial breweries. He was "driver, engineer and beer taster'," as he said, but because pubs were tied to the big breweries, the brewery could sell only to trade union clubs and finally folded.

During his time at the brewery Alagich met teachers who encouraged him to complete high school and he took his Leaving Certificate at Sydney Technical College. He went to Sydney Teachers College from 1956 to 1958, training to teach manual arts.

He taught at Manly High and worked hard for his students, even visiting their homes to help with their studies, and was the teachers' union representative. He was also treasurer of a northern beaches community support scheme instigated by the then Liberal minister for immigration, Michael Mackellar, to support young people at school.

Alagich set up a welcoming committee for Yugoslav migrants, whatever their ethnic background, often visited migrant camps and was part of the Good Neighbour Council. He helped Aboriginal children from Tranby College in Glebe to play soccer, and worked part-time with SBS from 1975 to 1978.

After Alagich retired from teaching in 1979, the then premier of NSW, Neville Wran, appointed him to the Ethnic Affairs Commission, which Wran had created in 1976 to promote the integration of ethnic groups. Alagich served on the commission from 1981 to 1984.

He was appointed to the Order of the British Empire in 1978 and awarded an OAM in 1986. In 2002 he was presented with the ALP's McKell Award for services to the party over 50 years.

Mick Alagich is survived by Rina, their sons Joseph and Michael and five grandchildren.

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Citation details

Harriet Veitch, 'Alagich, Marin Martin (Mick) (1919–2008)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 19 July 2024.

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