Continuing our Moments in Time series, Del and Paul Tomchin of Montefiore Woollahara share their significant memories and treasured mementoes from 60 years of marriage.
A whirlwind romance
Del: I worked in my brother in law’s deli and he told me: “There’s a guy who comes in on Saturday or Sunday afternoons and loves his fancy food – show him what’s new and he’ll buy it.” So, Paul comes in, says “I’ll take it all” then asks me out. I said no, as I had dates for the next two weekends. “Well, I’ll book you for the third one.” We both loved dancing. He was fun to be with, and good company. And for the next 60 years, he has cooked beautiful food for me, because I hate cooking.
Paul: I’d never just asked someone at a counter on a date before, so there was something there. I took her out in April and we were married in September. When I proposed, I borrowed the car from my mother and Del and I had dinner at a very posh restaurant called Sid’s. Then I drove her to Kirribilli overlooking Luna Park, and said to her: “I can’t really afford to keep taking you out, so we should get married!”
Moving to Australia
Del: Dad had already lived in Australia after working his way over at 21 – his visa showed he was born in Istanbul so he wasn’t allowed into the country due to the White Australia policy. As the ship was about to leave, he ran to immigration and pulled out his Magen David in desperation saying “Me Jew!” and they let him ashore. He always told us “I’m so glad my mother told me to keep my five-pound note in my shoe, because I ran down the gangplank without my bag and jumped on a train before they could catch me.”
I was born in Cairo, a very cosmopolitan city with Greeks, Italians, Maltese, English, you name it. During WWII, as my father was an Australian citizen we billeted a Major in the AIF, and when he heard we were coming to Australia in 1948, he invited us to stay with him until we were settled. So that’s how I ended up as the first ‘wog’ kid in Hornsby! On my first day of school here in 1948, I turned up in my brown school uniform from Cairo (all the uniforms here were navy) corkscrew curls, and a big ribbon that looked like a helicopter – very fashionable in Cairo but not in Australia. It was a nightmare! The other kids kept about six feet away, but a teacher named Miss Stockford with a profound Scottish accent helped make Australia feel more like home. She was wonderful.
Paul: I was born in 1930 in Harbin, China, where many Jews came from Russia via the rail link from Siberia. When I was five, we moved to Chenxing, not far from Peking, where my father had a tailoring business. Funnily enough, I attended a Catholic school to study English, but my parents never learned. I finished school in 1946 and moved to Shanghai to attend a French university, before leaving for Israel to escape the Communist Revolution. In 1948, the United Nations sent a ship to pick up all the Jews from Shanghai bound for Israel as a nation was born. My parents soon followed, and we lived in a Moshav together. We shared a single room divided by three quarters of a wall, there was no running water, no electricity, and our toilet was a hole in the ground. After a while, my father couldn’t take it. We were lucky enough to have relatives in Australia, so my parents arranged visas as quickly as they could. I remember being reluctant to leave, so my parents went on to Australia without me. Even though I barely spoke Hebrew, I had a good job in Israel and I was worried that I’d have to be a farmer in Australia because I knew they were in short supply. When they arrived my father contacted me saying “You don’t have to be a farmer!” So I left Israel to join them here.
Del: We worked very hard for a long time. Paul was a technical man, he bought a blind factory, and I bought a curtain factory and eventually we worked together. We worked together for 15 years – luckily without killing each other! We worked very hard – seven days a week.
When we retired, Paul was 65 and I was 55, and we had our bucket list ready. Paul was in charge of organising everything. He hired cottages in different provinces in France, all over the place. I would never drive, so he would drive, and we would just get in a car and go off to places that usually people would never visit. We’ve had incredible adventures.
As told to Lara Ritch.