Manjimup is a small timber and farming town 300 kilometres south of Perth. My aunty, Teta Stoina, told me about a nice girl in town. Her name was Ristana Popova /Dimova (or Dimou in Greek). Her family was referred to as Popova because her grandfather Georgi was a priest. Ristana's family are from Turie which is a neighbouring village to Neret. A few weeks after meeting Ristana, I shifted to Manjimup and then on the 15th of September 1957, we were married at St Martin's Church of England. Prolonged engagements and courtships were non-existent for our people at that time - you had to be pretty much married before you could go out together. We were fortunate enough to have two boys, George, born 30th October 1958 and John, born on 9th October 1961.

We had many people attend our wedding. Well over 400 people crammed into the Manjimup town hall, with many making the 300km trip from Perth. Early the next morning straight after the wedding and only having had a couple of hours sleep, there was a knock at the door for my new bride and I to get up so we could work on my fathers-in-law's tobacco crop. That is where we spent our honeymoon. You would think we would be cut some slack for at least one day.

During my first year in Manjimup, Ristana and I agreed to work for my father-in-law. We were to be paid $1000 pounds for the year which was pretty good money at the time. Unfortunately, it proved to be extremely hard, relentless work, for more often than not seven days a week. On the farm we used extremely toxic pesticides such as Dieldrin and Metasystox to control insects and weeds, both of which have since been banned. We would tend to the crops, weeding and watering during the day and spraying in the evenings when it was cooler. We never wore masks when using the insecticides and often walked through the misty spray. God only knows how neither of us got sick later in life as a result. My father-in-law would, at times, receive pleas for help from other growers who needed assistance with their tobacco crops and in doing so, would send Ristana and I to help out.

I learned my lesson from that first year and in the following year, 1959, I leased out some of my father-in- law's farm and we worked the land ourselves. We made very good money from that year's tobacco crop as we did in the following year. We used much of these earnings to build new kilns and 2-storeyed drying and bailing sheds. Unfortunately, all of this money that Ristana and I sunk into infrastructure was to prove a waste as the tobacco industry in Western Australia folded in 1961. There were warnings that the industry was going to fold and that no more tobacco was to be sourced from Western Australia and shipped to the Eastern States for processing, but many growers dismissed it as rumours, especially many growers of Macedonian background who were not able to read and communicate efficiently.

Financially I was back to square one again - penniless. I had to start all over again and the first thing was to look for work. I firstly went to seek work at a timber mill in Palgarup (which is a very small town just outside of Manjimup) but was told that there was no work available. I believe that they feared I would not commit for a long enough period and instead would leave soon after if new work opened on farms.

I then went to the local shire council in Manjimup. They also said that there was no work available at that moment, but I was asked what sort of skills I possessed. I said that I could do construction work. My father-in-law had constructed all his tobacco buildings and when the time came to construct mine, we worked together, and I learned a lot from him. By the time I had finished, I was able to construct a timber roof and do bricklaying, a requirement for building kilns.

Bill Crombie was the person who I spoke to and as I was leaving, he called me back and asked me if I could bricklay walls. I said that I was confident that I could do it and he said OK you can start tomorrow. Initially I started doing paving and roadside curbs. Gradually I worked my way up to the position of leading hand. I also learned how to use a theodolite so I could do surveying tasks. I used these skills to help with drainage and sewerage works. I grew in confidence to the point where I was given the task of marking out and erecting the support posts for the fence around the Manjimup Sanctuary (this is now the Manjimup Timber Museum). I also coordinated the construction of a new road through thick bush near Quinninup. I marked out everything and everyone followed behind me - bulldozers, graders, trucks, rollers etc. Whilst at the shire council, I also learned how to drive all sorts of machinery - trucks, graders, rollers, bulldozers etc.

In July of 1966 (as the decimal currency system was newly introduced) I left my council job to open my delicatessen store called "Kirou's Store" on Giblett Street which was next to Thompson's Shell Garage and near the Manjimup Hotel. The business was very lucrative but once again required working seven days a week with long hours. I would leave Ristana to look after the store whilst I travelled at least once and sometimes twice a week back and forth to Perth picking up supplies from the Perth Metropolitan Markets which were in the heart of the city at that time and other suppliers such as Kakulas Brothers. I had numerous tyre blow outs because the van was always overloaded and struggled with the excessive weight. The Toyota van started off as an open, flat bed utility which was modified in Perth into a totally waterproof enclosed van. It had a lockable back door but aerodynamically it was terrible. The van was difficult to control, and it tended to sway as it was constantly buffeted by wind. I also had numerous broken front windscreens, and every time that would happen you could bet it would rain. I can recall getting home late at night on several occasions drenched and freezing because of a shattered front windscreen that I had to remove in order to see where I was going. On another occasion, which just so happened to be the last trip to Perth, on the way home, I had a broken rear axle and the back wheel shot off in front of me. The van's rear was now scraping along the bitumen, and I had no rear brakes. I managed to somehow control the van enough to avoid a log truck coming the other way, ending up in a ditch with no major damage and lucky to be alive. Soon after that incident we sold the store.

Whilst we were still operating the shop, I got seriously ill. I went to see my GP on several occasions complaining of severe stomach pain but was sent home each time and told to rest and take medication for the pain. One morning after just seeing my doctor, I woke up in excruciating pain with bleeding because of a burst duodenal ulcer. My father-in-law took one look at me and said this is serious - we're going to Perth. We drove non-stop to see Dr Gligoroff who was a Perth doctor of Bulgarian background that many Macedonian patients visited because they could converse with him in Macedonian. When we got close to Perth, even though I was in severe pain and I was worried about blacking out, I had to drive the last few miles because my father-in-law was not confident driving in the city. We eventually arrived at Dr Gligoroff's practice. Once he saw me, he organised for me to be urgently seen by doctors at Royal Perth Hospital and told them that I would need a blood transfusion and an operation. He was so upset with the misdiagnosis by the doctor in Manjimup that he made a phone call to him, and I could hear him yelling at the doctor and telling him that he shouldn't be practicing if he was incompetent.

I spent several weeks in hospital, and I knew things were serious because I was in intensive care for some time. I can clearly recollect the man in the bed next to me constantly asking the nurses and doctors how I was fairing, and they signalled that it wasn't looking good. I had a portion of my intestine removed and I was on soft mushed up food for quite some time. I put the ulcer down to stress and worry. I was always concerned about providing for my family and about my parents' welfare back in the village. I would always work hard to make enough money so I could regularly send funds to my parents and siblings back home. Since then, I've changed my outlook to life and decided worrying and stressing was not going to solve anything and what good would I be to my family if I was sick. Unlike before, now, when my head hits the pillow, I switch off and get quality sleep. Whilst I was in hospital, my father-in-law was kind enough to cover for me until I was well enough to resume.

My 12 years in Manjimup were difficult as I was newly married with a young family, and I worked hard to make a better life than that which I had left in the village. However, there were also many good times living in Manjimup as there was a very large Macedonian population and there would be regular picnics held at Fonty's Pool and dances organised in the town hall with traditional live music being performed in Macedonian - something that was difficult to do back in the village. The boys had a great time growing up surrounded by relatives all around them. We lived on 50 Graphite Road and on number 48 lived my wife's sister, Petra with her two boys. On 52 Graphite Road lived my in-laws who proved invaluable as babysitters whilst we worked. On 54 Graphite Road lived my wife's other sister Lena with her husband Stase and their three boys. Three doors down on 60 Graphite Road lived my sister Kata and husband Giro with their young daughter and son. There were also relatives over the road and nearby in town as well as on farms out of town.

A photo taken in the late 50s of the house at 48 Graphite Road which was originally occupied by my in-laws and then later by Ristana's sister Petra and her family.

Photos from our wedding 15/09/1957.

From L-R: Me, Ristana, Petra Stoikova (Ioannou - Ristana's oldest sister), Teta Stojanka Koleva (Nicolaou), Sotir Stoikov at the front and Giro Stoikov at the rear during the tobacco days. Circa 1958.

Tending to tobacco plants - weeding and raking around the plants. Circa 1957.

Me on the tractor with Lazo Kolev carrying a bale of tobacco leaves. Circa 1959.

From L-R: Me, Ristana, behind Ristana is Risto Kolev, Tetin Mitre Dimov (Dimovitis), Lazo Kolev, behind Lazo is Vasil Stoikov (Ioannou), Stojanka Koleva and Petra Stoikova. Circa 1959. The photo was taken between 48 and 50 Graphite Road on a strip of land that was a vehicle access route from the main road to the paddocks behind the houses. Vasil was tragically killed two years later in 1961 when he was knocked off his bicycle outside our house by a drink driver.

This is the house we first lived in after we got married in 1957. The house is on 52 Graphite Road with a Zepha 6 parked in the garage - our first car. To the right in the photo, you can see one of several sheds that had been built during the tobacco days. Not long after they were erected, they were dismantled. In their place, straight after the collapse of the tobacco industry we built a new house next door on 50 Graphite Road. This is where we stayed until our move to Perth. My in-laws moved to our old house 52 Graphite Road and Petra and Vasil with their three children moved into my father-in-law's house on 48 Graphite Road after roughing it in a makeshift shack that my father-in-law had constructed for them after they arrived in Australia in 1958. Petra was already married and initially remained in Turie when the move was made by my father-in-law to bring everyone to Australia.

A photo of the large tobacco shed which stood at 50 Graphite Road. It comprised of two levels. As can be seen in the photo, the lower level had gaps between the horizontal wooden slats. This allowed for air flow. The initial stage in the tobacco process was to have the newly picked leaves hooked onto tall wooden stakes that had long protruding metal spikes. The green leaves were firstly placed into wood-fired kilns that helped to hasten the drying process. This process would take about a week or so and required 24-hour monitoring to make sure the fire didn't go out and that the heat intensity was at the correct level.

The kilns were a short distance behind the building in the photo. Unfortunately, nobody thought to take a photo of the kilns as at the time they seemed insignificant. The partially dried leaves were then transferred to the lower section of the main tobacco building where they were placed out of the sun, and the cooler airflow could do its work in continuing the drying process. Once sufficiently dry, the leaves were taken to the upper level for grading and packing. The tobacco leaves had to retain some degree of moisture and suppleness - if they were too brittle and flaky then they were considered too dry.

In the top level of the building, each leaf was painstakingly assessed for quality and then, with the aid of a press, packed into large bales. These bales were then marked with our details and made ready for shipment to the eastern states. I have, to this day, kept the metal template that was used to mark the bales as a lasting souvenir.

The metal template used to mark the bales of tobacco.

Our new house on 50 Graphite Road, circa 1961. This is the block where all my tobacco sheds once stood.

Our young family with children George and John. Circa 1965.

My sister Fania, husband Petre Kitin (Kitis) and young daughter Helen with Ristana, George and myself. The Kitin family regularly came down from Perth to visit us. Note the tobacco crop in the background. This photo was taken circa 1959.

Picnic at one of the farms not long after getting married. Circa 1957.

Picnic at Fonti's Pool. L-R Mara Eftova (Blakers), Vesa Novachkova (Engeleva), and Ristana. Circa 1958.

However, with the boys, George and John, growing up and the thought about them requiring tertiary education, together with the lack of work opportunities and inadequate medical facilities in Manjimup, on the 9th of August 1969 we shifted to Perth.

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The Life Story of Tanas Kirev


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