Commemorative plaques that were feared lost have helped bring the past to life at a reunion of post-World War Two migrants and their loved ones on Friday.
The reunion was 70 years in the making. Eight of the 19 attending had arrived in Newcastle on board SS Roma on December 18, 1950.
The gathering was held at the Honeysuckle Hotel, a stone's throw from the former Lee Wharf, where 949 passengers disembarked from the Roma. One was four-year-old Halina Paczynski, who arrived with her Polish parents. Seventy years on, she helped organise the reunion.
"I didn't want to be celebrating today by myself," Ms Paczynski said. "And it's definitely a celebration because it's been a good life, and it was a good life for my parents as well."
Pointing to the harbour, she said, "This is where my life started".
Paul Trzcinski had travelled from Melbourne, and his brother, Steve, from Adelaide, to attend the reunion and learn more about their Polish father, Peter, who had arrived on that ship in 1950.
"This has closure for me," said Mr Trzcinski. "Last year, I was in Germany and saw where the ship sailed from, and now I'm here, where it arrived. So it's emotional, it's reflective, for me."
For Steve Stojanowksi, this was a double celebration. It was his 72nd birthday and a commemoration of his arrival in Newcastle, just as he turned two.
"This is really something special," he said. "Brings a tear to my eye."
Along with the stories and memories etched with the past, there were the commemorative plaques brought along to the reunion. And a mystery was solved.
The shed at Lee Wharf, where Halina Paczynski and the other Roma passengers disembarked, was later converted into the Newcastle Maritime Centre. Outside the museum was a Welcome Wall, celebrating the port's migration history. The wall featured plaques etched with the names of people who had arrived by ship. Halina Paczynski had paid to have her family's name included.
However, after the museum closed in 2018, the Welcome Wall was dismantled and Ms Paczynski feared the plaques had disappeared.
On Friday, Bob Cook, a former spokesman for the Newcastle Maritime Centre, attended the reunion with a few of the plaques, including the one inscribed with the Paczynski family's names.
"It's wonderful," said Ms Paczynski. "Absolutely exciting, because I thought it had gone."
Bob Cook explained the metal plaques had been stored by the Hunter and Central Coast Development Corporation, which passed them onto him. Mr Cook was delighted to have brought the plaques to the reunion.
"It's quite clear to me that the story of these people is about Australia," he said. "It's the story about who Australia and who Newcastle is now, because what they have done for Australia changed Australia."
Mr Cook and Ms Paczynski said they hoped there would be a new Welcome Wall built, somewhere near the waterfront, perhaps at a new maritime centre - when that long-running issue was resolved.
"I'm hoping we'll have some sort of a story to tell about the plan in the new year, not far into the new year, but it will be a progressive plan," Mr Cook said.
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