Manfred Dobrow – 75 years young

Manfred is a horse man. It is hard to have a conversation about anything without it leading back to his beloved four-legged friends. Get him started talking about Max, his German Warm Blood horse, who was 18 hands high, 800 kg at his fittest, and one of the biggest horses in the country to ever be on the dressage circuit and the enthusiasm in his voice is infectious.

It all started when Manfred’s mother saved the family from invading Russians during World War 2 but the family was left as refugees with nothing. With the prospect of National Service looming and his dream of becoming an architect diminishing, Manfred was keen to find a way out of Germany.

The Australian Government held film nights to recruit immigrants to the land of plenty and Maurice quickly put up his hand. It was not long before he received a telegram telling him to pack his bags and he was on a plane with 120 other young, fit men heading to Australia.

“We were allowed to bring a bag of no more than 20kg and that is the sum total of everything I had when I arrived in Australia. I didn’t even speak English.

“I remember the plane journey over, which was my first. We had 5 stops and all the guys were talking animatedly about the connections they had in Australia and the work they had lined up.

“I became more and more anxious as the journey wore on because I had absolutely no plans and did not know a soul in Australia.

“When we arrived at Essendon airport, the international airport back then, I noticed the authorities were splitting the arrivals into two groups and placing either a green or red button on each man’s lapel.

“I shrunk to the back of the line and found out what the buttons meant. One meant you were going to stay with family or friends, the other meant you were being sent to a notorious hospital for screening then God knows what,” Manfred recalls.

Manfred describes putting himself in the line to receive a button that would mean he was instantly free to stay with friends or family then being horrified about not knowing what to do.

“I had a phone number written on my arm for a person I had never met. Someone on the plane had written it for me. I rang the number and fortunately, someone answered the phone and then caught two trams to come and pick me up.

“That was the start of the kind treatment that I have received in this country ever since.

“I was guided to the Commonwealth Employment Office then sent to Kerang. From there, I remember being picked up in a Ute and traveling a couple of hours away to start work on a farm.

“Imagine. Australian returned soldiers were given land to clear and farm and they had German people, against whom they had just fought a war, as labour.

“Nonetheless, I was very readily accepted into the local community. Even better than the Englishmen who were also working in the town.

 

“I played in a band on guitar and vocals, in those days. We played sixties dance music at the Tullakool and other Halls on Saturday nights. It was great fun.

“There were lots of Italians in the district growing tobacco and I remember learning a few songs in Italian. It made grown, homesick men cry!” Manfred recalls.

Manfred became a keen horse rider whilst working on the farm and got a phone call one day from George Simons, a well-known dairy farmer from Bendigo, offering him a job delivering milk by horse and cart and exercising his horses.

“We used to harness up at 1am in the morning and deliver milk until 8am. Then I would help my mate Lenny, who had also come to Bendigo, renovate his house and we’d have a game of squash,” he said.

Manfred had already become an accomplished brick layer in Germany, a workman’s craft being a prerequisite for an architecture degree in Germany from when he was much younger. He went to the School of Mines in Bendigo and learnt building construction and got a job as a draftsman as well as doing contract administration and onsite building management. Manfred has supervised all manner of construction all over Bendigo. After some time he moved to Melbourne and started a company selling equestrian equipment to be closer to his passion. The company was successful but had him traveling all over Australia which took a toll, so he came back to Bendigo, and his two sons, and went into business with a mate specialising in mud brick production and construction.

Manfred has tried to retire a few times, but to this day still has six people working for him selling equestrian gear, especially horse floats. He has competed all over Australia in various horse racing events and bred his own horses in Huntly, just outside Bendigo, for many years.

He now describes himself as an ‘inmate’ in a retirement village where he lives with his wife, who also loved riding horses, and where he first heard about the Forever Young choir.

“I was sceptical at first but my wife encouraged me to persist and now I love the choir.

“I’m going to miss everyone when the forthcoming concert is over.

“Our Choir Director, Laura, is wonderful, especially putting up with us! Everybody loves Laura.

“And Marg Keech, our ‘Roadie’ is amazing. I’m not sure we’d have the choir without her, “he said.

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