Josef Tomek 

an immigrant’s story of ‘home improvement'

When Faye Marie Vyoral moved from rural Queensland to Cammeray as a 10 year old girl in 1968, with her younger sister Jasmine, she ‘couldn’t get over’ the reality that their 'new' home was brick, and it had a telephone!

Their mother had just bought the house with their stepfather Josef. What unfolded over the next two decades was a process of continual refurbishment, undertaken single-mindedly and single-handedly by Josef. The modest 1915 bungalow, once identical to its neighbour, was transformed by the addition of a Spanish-style facade, a complete interior make-over which included the installation of a chandelier and the construction of a baroque-style fountain in the back garden.

In this excerpt of a longer interview, conducted in 2014 with historian Ian Hoskins, Faye Marie fondly recalls a father driven by a continual quest for home improvement. Over the course of many years Josef transformed the English Revival / Federation era house at No.1 Warringah Road, Cammeray, probably built by Henry Green, into one of many styles.

Josef Tomek was one of millions of Europeans whose lives were profoundly marked by World War Two and its aftermath. He had run a pastry shop in pre-war Czechoslovakia but, after the Nazi occupation of his country, Josef was sent to Germany as a forced labourer. In 1945 he returned home to a country under Russian occupation, only to flee the communist regime he could not abide and arrive in Western Australia as a ‘displaced person’ - one of thousands of European immigrants who came to Australia in the late 1940s and 1950s to escape the upheaval of the World War and the Cold War that followed. Josef was naturalised in 1956 and eventually moved to Sydney where he worked as a waiter.

Josef’s never-ending alterations and renovations can be seen as an attempt to make a family home that reflected his creativity, his love of design and his Czechoslovakian, or at least European, heritage. As Faye Marie notes ‘you have to remember he came from a background that was very ornate’. Josef’s eye for a bargain, for re-using materials and his strong ‘do-it-yourself’ ethic might also relate to the hardship and deprivation he experienced in war-torn Europe. Josef was not inclined to discard anything that might come in useful someday.

Josef Tomek died in 2013 at the age of 93. Faye Marie spoke to historian Ian Hoskins about her memories of her step-father and the family house in 2014. The photographs that accompany this excerpt from that interview were taken by Nat Hughes as part of the documentation of the dwelling, after the furnishings had been removed and before it was sold by the family in 2015.