Zlatko Predavec already had a crammed life history by the time we heard any of it.
His son Evan, our son-in-law, will I hope edit his memoirs. I can only report on the facet we saw, and glimpses around corners onto others. I think that when we met him he was under his third death sentence. The first two were by human agency. This one was from a cancer in a location I never quite nailed down, in his mouth or throat. His voice was quite normal. He had lost all his teeth during treatment and a considerable fraction of his senses of taste and smell. He had also stopped smoking. A decade later that threat was gone, and it had never stopped him getting on with his life.
Zlatko’s Father was prominent in Croatian politics, eventually fatally, in the era of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Zlatko’s own first political act, which got him a police beating, was to substitute a Croatian flag for that of the Kingdom on a public flagpole of his primary school. He was 18 when WWII came to the Kingdom, and commanding a Partisan force not too much later. Earlier he had been one a group of 80 or so people swept up by the Gestapo, and was bought out of that when most of the others had been killed. By the end of the war he was in training as a pilot and I believe eventually achieved a rank equivalent to Major General in Tito’s Republic of Yugoslavia. He became restless and his marriage was failing. He made his way to what was then the British Zone of Austria, bringing his second wife and piloting a valuable plane to get there.
That British Zone arrival eventually brought him to Australia as part of the great wave of immigrants, most of whom developed perforce a whole new set of job skills. The man of action was a skilled mapmaker and draftsman. He did invisible mending of his own clothes, some fiddly electrical jobs, cabinet making and much sketching and sculpture. He made a living at one time in surveying, and set up pottery businesses in three countries.
By the time we met and acquired him as an “Out-Law” he was three decades into his successful third marriage, to Marion. I think when he died they had been married for more than half his life. He had moved through the age group where I last remember my father. Dad’s life was similarly strongly shaped by his own world war experience in Flanders. I would have liked to have heard them comparing notes.
If you ignored his opinions on cricket, Zlatko was a fully assimilated migrant. It was in fact hard to ignore his opinions on any subject. It was likewise hard to find a subject on which he did not have a decisive opinion. I occasionally asserted that I could keep up a conversation by saying “Rubbish” whenever he paused. We always quoted his viewpoint that juvenile delinquency could be resolved by issuing each offender with a teaspoon. Rations would follow provided that some progress was made each day in digging a straight line canal from Sydney to Perth. His life made him enthusiastic to learn more about most things. He was an avid reader of the New Scientist, and always keen to think of new applications. A man with versatile hands can fall foul of theory. As with many of us, one of his better ideas involved violating energy conservation. The craters on the moon intrigued him. He saw them all as circular, and did not believe that they could have been formed except by almost perpendicular impact. I did my unsuccessful best to persuade him that an oblique impact would do. Right to the end he worked with skilled hands and a designer’s eyes on an efficient and inexpensive form of a solar still.
Prostate cancer arrived as an indecisive diagnosis that eventually became definite. From the spectrum of treatments he chose radiation therapy. As with all options the risks and benefits are good when they come up with a positive balance. For some years it was so. Last year the all-important PSA scores started to rise again. Correcting that involved a tricky balance of treatments. Coping with side effects followed. It became like patching a levee. Somewhere in a cascade of ills there might be a single cause of his final illness, but I doubt it. A month in hospital was sadly prolonged. It was in another viewpoint mercifully short. I believe the carers knew from the start where it was going, but they went on trying and caring and keeping him comfortable even when they could no longer be sure he knew they were doing so.
Above the sink at our kitchen window we have a hand made mobile. There are three half walnut shells. Each has a mast that is a reincarnated toothpick. They are rigged as single masted sailing ships. I do not know if they are faithful copies of anything historical but they are all different. They speak to us, and they will speak, of the hands that fashioned them and the joy he incorporated.
We will miss him in family gatherings. We will miss the way he welcomed us to share his home and the meals we had there. We will miss all those strongly stated arguments including all those many where we strongly disagreed. We will have to go elsewhere when something finicky breaks down in our house. His grandsons may not realise that they are missing the pride and delight he had in their achievements. We shall miss this for them, and much more in all the places where he might have joined us and gone on enriching our lives.