By Carmela Ferraro
| Stan Bilic|
Stan Bilic, 59, was born in Ljubuski, south-east Croatia. He moved to Sydney in 1970 at 22 and then settled in Melbourne. He is a leading figure in the Australian-Croatian community, runs a building company that specialises in residential homes and is the president of Melbourne Knights, one of the biggest and most prominent football clubs in the country.I chose Australia because I had an uncle in Sydney.
I also got a lot of positive feedback about the place from other Croatians already living here. My parents were very supportive of my move. After the [second world] war, every parent in Europe wanted their child to have a better life. I wanted more opportunity but as a young man I was mainly in it for the chance to do something different with my life.Being young, I settled in very easily.
I was too busy looking into the future to dwell too much on what I had left behind. I guess having my wife, Maria, a girl I knew from back home and who I married a year after I arrived, made it easier for me. I moved to Melbourne to be with her two months after I arrived but my first year in Australia was tough. Like everybody who's left their country, I missed my parents, my brothers and sisters.I got my first job in a carpet factory in Melbourne a few weeks after I arrived.
I only lasted 12 months - I was ambitious and I wanted more from life. A few people from the Croatian community were working in the building industry and I thought I could do the same. Building was in my blood - I came from a family of builders - and I already had a knowledge base. But there was a lot I didn't know and had to learn along the way. Yes, it was a challenge but if you're going to achieve anything in life you have to be prepared to give things a go.In 1972 I started my own company, Bilic Homes.
I still enjoy running it because it's a job that helps people to realise their dreams. The first house I built was in Mornington, a pretty southern bayside area in Melbourne. I am still proud of that place - but then I'm proud of all my homes. Since then we've built hundreds of residences all around Melbourne - luxury homes, townhouses, units. Sometimes I build homes for up to a dozen people from the same family. I run the business with my son, and also my daughter [was involved] until she moved to Germany five years ago.I work up to 18 hours a day, seven days a week -mainly because I'm passionate about what I do and I like to keep busy.
If we wanted to, we could grow the business more but I don't want to be too greedy. Money won't make you rich inside. Of course, there's no denying it will make you smile more.I spend some of this time running my football team - as well as my company. My family, of course, is very important to me.
Football is my passion. I got involved with the Melbourne Knights in 1976 and four years ago I was elected president of the club. That was a great feeling. I was really happy and so honoured that people believed in me.Heading the Knights is a big responsibility so, no matter how busy I get at work, I need to be there most days.
It's a bit of a drive to get from the southern suburbs, where I'm based, to the club rooms, which are in the western part of Melbourne. Sometimes it can take up to two hours. But I do it willingly - it's a love. You know how it is. I'm so proud of the Knights. We have produced some really great players who went on to have significant European careers. They include goalkeepers Joey Didulica and Frank Juric, defender Josip Simunic, striker Joe Spiteri and Socceroos [Australian national soccer team members] Danny Tiatto and Mark Viduka.For the past 12 to 15 years I've worked very, very hard to bring quality to the football field.
Australians are only now starting to understand what quality is - and that goes for the building industry too. I think that Australian football is on the up. It has finally come of age. The Knights started off as a Croatian club and, yes, we continue to have a lot of support from the Croatian community.
But these days other nationalities are involved with us too. Back in the time from the 1950s to the 1970s, when we were new to this country, football was a way to keep in touch with each other and our heritage and support each other too.I can't say if I would've done better or worse with my life had I stayed in Croatia.
I would have been successful wherever I ended up. Success depends on who you are, where you were born, the way you were brought up. The people of my village have a saying: "When you start something, you don't give up". I live by that.I call Melbourne home.
After all, I've spent the greater part of my life in Australia. But I still feel a strong connection with my Croatian culture. I have relatives there and I usually visit once ortwice a year - mainly at Easter and Christmas.Some of the villagers do still say to me: "Come back home".
But after being away for so many years, now I feel like I'm a stranger. Having said that, when I'm in Croatia I have about a dozen childhood friends who are still there and I like to catch up with from time to time. We go for coffee to a bar. That sort of thing. But although I'm still very fond of them and enjoy meeting them, we don't relate in the same way as we used to.Australia has changed a lot since I arrived.
The huge influx of people from all over the world means that everyone, whether they like it or not (and some people don't) has to accept that it doesn't matter where you were born, what culture you're from, what religion you follow, we're all Australians.I've travelled around the world a lot and, from what I've seen, there's no place quite like Melbourne.
It's one of the best places to live because it has everything you could want in life - great lifestyle, sport, culture, different sorts of people.The mix of people is mostly what sets this city apart.
In most parts of the world you have the same sort of people living together. In Croatia, you have mainly Croatians; in Italy, you have mainly Italians. Then in other parts of the world you might have people living together but not necessarily peacefully. But Melbourne has different nationalities living side by side and, although we've all got our own communities, we also have our doors open to people from other nationalities.For me, even though I'm close to the local Croatian community, they make up 5 per cent of the people I deal with in my everyday life.
I think that's a good thing. It makes it harder to become set in your ways. And it means you have the luxury to pick and choose from all the different cultures that are here. During the 1970s all the Aussies knew were pies and pasties. Look at the place now: you can do cevapcici [Croatian meatballs] one night, pizza another night, something else another night. And that's just the food.
Formatted for CROWN by Marko Puljić
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