40 buckets of snails and an ‘accidental’ Aussie
By Ieva Tomsons
WHEN Rosemary and Miska Madacsi (left) rolled into Toodyay in 1998, they came with a ton of enthusiasm and 40 20-litre buckets filled with snails.
On the past 20 years they have established new businesses, run the town’s first taxi service and contributed to numerous community events and volunteer groups.
They renovated the run-down Stirling House in Toodyay’s main street where they ran bed and breakfast accommodation and The Empire Tearooms, and built a snail-processing shed and massive straw-bale house on their West Toodyay farm.
But there is still no sign of the snails – yet.Read more
The Madacsis are quite simply doers who will stand their ground when push comes to shove.
Miska was born in East Hungary in 1947 as one of 13 children in his family.
Food was scarce in the communist-occupied country and when he was 15 years old he started thinking about escaping to the West.
He eventually did escape when he was 29, by which time he had been married with a family, divorced and was qualified as a mining engineer.
With no identity papers, Miska and a work mate fled to Italy on an arduous three and a half day journey.
“We were pretty rugged-looking by the time we got there – we had no food for the last one and a half days and were drinking from creeks,” said Miska.
In a refugee holding camp in Padriciano near Trieste, Miska applied for political asylum.
In just over two months, he was processed and recognised as a political refugee and flown to Sydney in 1977 where he was billeted at Villawood Migrant Hostel.
“We were learning English and were paid half of the social security – it was good,” Miska said.
The six months of English tuition went out of the window when Miska joined an Italian construction crew and worked as a labourer for the next two years, speaking only Italian.
Although Australia did not recognise Miska’s engineering qualifications, he was keen to get back into mining, so in 1979 he headed west.
After a year labouring around Perth and in WA’s North-West, Miska pitched up in 1981 in Darwin where he first met Rosemary at the Jabiru uranium mine.
Rosemary is an ‘accidental’ Australian.
If there had been a good obstetrician in Fiji, she would have been born there to her third-generation Fijian father and WA-born mother who had returned home to have Rosemary.
“It was a free life (in Fiji) and the kids ran riot – we spoke Fijian at home until Mum wanted us to learn English so we ended up speaking a sort of pidjin,” said Rosemary who still favours cassava over potato.
Rosemary had just started school when her family moved to Fielding in New Zealand and two years later to Perth.
“It was a huge culture shock,” said Rosemary. “And believe it or not, I was very shy until my 40s.”
Rosemary left school at 17 and started training as a nurse.
She married when she was 20 and nursed and drove taxis through both her pregnancies.
Her children were toddlers when the family headed north in a clapped-out caravan to look for work.
They settled in Parabadoo for a year then Onslow where Rosemary continued to nurse while they were caretaking the airport.
After three years in the Pilbara the family headed to Darwin where they both got work at Jabiru mine site.
Rosemary worked in the kitchen and vaguely knew Miska who was “funny and always courteous but he didn’t speak much English”.
“He had a shaved head and a moustache down to his chest,” laughs Rosemary. “Everyone called him Genghis”.
After a year, Rosemary’s family headed to Mackay in Queensland while Miska stayed in Darwin.
Her six-year marriage was on the rocks and Rosemary plotted her escape.
Leaving on the pretext of visiting her mother, Rosemary was stranded in Perth and desperately needed a loan to get her kids to WA.
With no job and no guarantor for a loan, Rosemary was totally despondent when a sharp whistle attracted her attention in St George’s Terrace.
It was Genghis.
They hardly knew each other but Miska offered to stand as guarantor.
Rosemary got the kids back and her relationship with Miska grew from there.
They married in 1984, had a daughter and based themselves in Kalgoorlie for the next 17 years.
Miska built a house on the cheapest block in town and they also bought 2ha of land out of town where they established a snail farm.
Researching the snails eventually led Rosemary to obtaining a degree in Environmental Science and Biology from Murdoch University.
“It started out with kids bringing in containers of snails for a dollar and turned into a thriving business for the next 10 years,” said Rosemary.
The Madacsis are practical people who know how to adapt and bring ideas to reality.
They co-founded Toodyay’s annual International Food Festival in 2005 and “ran it on a shoestring” for three years.
Rosemary was a Toodyay Shire Councillor from 2011 to 2015 and spearheaded opposition to the Opal Vale landfill tip for metropolitan household rubbish in Hoddys Well.
While the Madacsis have recently stepped back from many of their community commitments, you get the feeling they are not done yet.