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Emigration experiences of Jacek Koman

Jacek Koman.

What do you do?

I work as an actor, but I also do several other things. Semi-professionally you could say... or come to think about it no, professionally, I also sing, I have a band and... I often get paid for it often.

Where are you currently living?

Melbourne, Australia, I have a house and family there.

Leaving Poland was a chance or a necessity?

It was one which included the other, or at least entailed the other.

When and why did you leave Poland?

The reasons, I think, were complicated, some were obvious for me from the get go, some, with time a person realises that... they had to have some significance, although probably less consciously. And these reasons obvious for me... surely it was a sense of being jailed, physically. Here... as with any cage, it becomes... annoying.

How did you stayed in touch with family and friends that stayed in Poland?

This contact, because it was 1981, and we arrived in Australia at the beginning of December, 3 December 1981 to be precise, and 10 days later martial law was introduced in Poland. And then, suddenly... our first telephone conversations during those first 10 days, it was euphoria, happiness, you arrived, and now everything is cut-off, you can’t get a phone call connected, letters arrived after a very long time, stamped of course that they were read, all conversations were eavesdropped on. The World shrunk, so over the years, contact became, somehow, easier, and it was easier and cheaper to talk on the phone. And after a time, correspondence wasn’t controlled and letters travelled faster.

In Australian theatre you worked with Cate Blanchett and Geoffrey Rush. Please tell us about you working together.

I had the opportunity to work at a theatre, for example with Cate Blanchett and Geoffrey Rush and several others. And since the specific nature of working at a theatre includes spending more time together, there are more opportunities to spend time together on and off stage, on the tour, in various situations, and Cate and Geoffrey and I were doing “Hamlet”, quite a memorable show, memorable spectacle, and we toured with it around Australia a bit. Geoffrey is a very funny guy, there are situations, probably when working together, you have more opportunities to be with other people than on a movie set. When making movies, you often meet for an hour of intensive work, when you need to focus and... there may not be an opportunity to... joke around, however, there were times that we could. Work on “Moulin Rouge” is already six months in and it was a lot of fun.

Why this choice of countries? First Austria and then Australia?

Austria was this necessary threshold you had to cross, simply put, a way to the outside, wherever. I think most Poles back then travelled through Austria. Australia was decided on earlier, I think that this exoticism I mentioned, drew me to that place.

What would you say to young people that want to leave?

Go for it. You can prepare for that... learn the language.

What were your dreams while coming back to Poland?

I dreamt about returning to Poland, it was like a dream come true.

Which Polish tastes and smells did you miss the most?

The smell of fresh bread, country bread, the smell of sauerkraut-and-meat stew, the smell of freshly cut grass.

How did you get adjusted to the new environment?

Well, in the beginning it was like a frenzy, inebriation with the exoticism, how different it was, savouring the new and extraordinary. And after some time, the new, extraordinary, and different... when the first impression faded, the euphoria passed, well... life started and... luckily we were young and... prepared for any difficulties.

What made you a worldwide renowed actor?

A stroke of luck you could say. Because that’s always important. It isn’t easy to talk about this. Work. Hard work. I think that I put more effort at times like these than my local friend had to.

How did you carry Polish traditions throughout all these years?

It would sound brutal if I said that I separated myself from Polish culture, but at that time you had to initially throw yourself at the deep end and the language... I felt that there’s so much to make up for and I always feel... that... there is so much to make up for in terms of the local culture, literature, art, knowledge about that part of the World, about its history, that well in a way one might have neglected to properly cultivate and develop in that area, but it’s impossible to reconcile. You would need two lifetimes, however to... balance, it was always kind of a problem for me.

What difficulties did you encounter?

Exactly those, this kind of an obvious barrier, most noticeable in the beginning, it’s the language.

Whom do you feel? Polish? Australian? Citizen of the world?

Because, I don’t know, I grew to like that culture and it became a part of me, all of this that was created, born, that me, who was born in pain, can be satisfied only there, and this me, who was born and grew up here... here... what is this all about? I don’t know. About how great it is to immerse yourself here and this sense of humour and this... this type of relationship between people other than that other one, and that other one is fitting for that place, so I think it’s good that they are separate. In a way, it would be cool to create a single one, but with globalisation and how... how we become this global village, it’s nice to retain these differences, and I for example hold the uniqueness of this culture and place in very high regard.

What people leaving one's country should remember?

And this somehow falls into place with these earlier things, you need to know the language, that’s first, the mundane things, a job helps, and to be prepared for what being separated from your country and family entails, that is, if you can prepare for that.

Jacek Koman, photography by Bartosz Krupa/East News
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Jacek Koman, fot. Bartosz Krupa/East News
Jacek Koman, photography by Bartosz Krupa/East News

Jacek Koman was born on 15th August 1956 in Bielsko-Biała. He graduated from the acting faculty at the Leon Schiller National Higher School of Film, Television and Theatre in Łódź.

In 1981 he emigrated to Australia, after having spent eight months in a temporary refugee camp in Traiskirchen, Austria. In emigration he has worked as a film and theatre actor. He is also the lead singer in the VulgarGrad band.

Today, he shares his life between Melbourne and Warsaw.