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HELGA GirschIK (Griffin, R36356)

Canberra, Australia






I was named Helga-Maria Christine Girschik at my birth in Çankiri, Turkey, on 27 June 1935. My Austrian father, Rudolf Girschik (1910-1989) was a civil and railway engineer from Vienna, and my German mother Elfriede Bittnar (1907-1993) came from near Breslau. They met at the German Legation in Istanbul where Elfriede was employed.

Rudolf supervised the construction of the Swedish Embassy at Ankara and a railway line at Çankiri (1932-35), and was assigned to Persia in early 1936 to pioneer parts of the Trans-Iranian Railway system.

My brother Peter was born in Tehran in 1938. Rudolf adored his work, Elfriede regarded Persia as her “spiritual home” and I have numerous memories of a precious childhood. With the invasion of neutral Iran by British and Russian forces, in August 1941 my family was “captured” in the Kurdish village of Kerend and exported to a secret destination. Labelled ‘enemy aliens’, we were interned at Tatura, Australia (1941-46).  Herbert was born into the camp in January 1945.

Post-war we initially became displaced persons in Melbourne. Irish Catholic nuns educated me with love and no cost. After matriculating I began university studies part-time. I accepted Australian “naturalisation” in 1953. In March 1956 I married Australian school-teacher James Griffin in Rome. We returned to Melbourne and raised six children. Jim took us all to the campus of the University of Papua New Guinea (1968-75), where he taught History and I completed my Arts degree.  

We all settled in Townsville for work and education during 1975-79. At the Townsville College of Advanced Education (TCAE) I tutored and lectured in Race and Culture (Aboriginal Education), for primary school teacher trainees and taught Australian History to adult university entrants. In 1978-79 I was invited to design and teach a course in Multiculturalism in the Associate Diploma of Community Welfare when TCAE pioneered distance education. This led to my working in Canberra during one Session of the Federal Parliament for Dr. Moss Cass MHR, Shadow Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs. In 1988 I was invited to sit part-time on the panels of the Immigration Review Committee.

Having upgraded my Arts degree to Honours in History at James Cook University, from late 1979 to mid-1998 I worked on the editorial and research staff of the Australian Dictionary of Biography at the Australian National University, Canberra. Due to academic uncertainties, I acquired part-time a Diploma in Secondary Teaching at the Canberra College of Advanced Education (1986-87). In retirement, I have continued to work on various academic projects and have translated German articles into English for scholars. My publications include a memoir of my early life, "Sing me that Lovely Song Again" (Pandanus Press, Canberra, 2006),  and a history of early Townsville. I co-edited a book on Bougainville, a pamphlet on Bougainville artefacts and published at least nineteen articles in books and learned journals.

On International Women’s Day in 2016, thirteen women were honoured in a new Townsville suburb for their contributions to Townsville. A complex of town houses was named after me as “Griffin Way”.  I live in Canberra. 

  • Helga's father, RUDOLF GIRSCHIK (R36358) was one of the German internees from Persia.

© 2020-2023 Designed by P. KHOSRONEJAD

                     Dr. Pedram Khosronejad | Adjunct Professor

     Religion and Society Research Cluster | Western Sydney University

Fellow | Department of Anthropology | Harvard University


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