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Hospodaryk, John George (1952–2012)

by Robert Darlington

This entry is from Obituaries Australia

John Hospodaryk, n.d.

John Hospodaryk, n.d.

photo supplied by Puls Polonii

John George Hospodaryk (1952-2012), teacher, author, musician and singer-songwriter, was born on 9 July 1952 at Penrith, New South Wales, the only child of Mikolaj Hospodaryk and Maria Hospodaryk, nee Kapusta, both of whom came from the Brest Province of Poland, where the eighteenth century Polish hero Thaddeus Kosciuszko was born. Mikolaj and Maria migrated to Australia as refugees after World War II.

John grew up in what are now the western suburbs of Sydney. He was educated at Colyton Public School and Rooty Hill High School and graduated (BA, Dip Ed, 1976) from Sydney University. John was a tall, slim, handsome man with blue eyes and a full head of dark hair that hardly greyed as he aged. In his youth he enjoyed sports; as he got older, he was content to garden and walk his dogs. Although he was never religious and liked a debate on religion, John always respected the faiths of others.

John taught History and English. He spent his entire teaching career working in relatively disadvantaged schools, including Dunheved, Shalvey, Evans and St Clair high schools. He chose to work in those schools because he passionately believed that every child, especially the underprivileged and disadvantaged, deserved a good education. This was a fundamental part of his ideal of social justice. He was able to work in those schools because of his qualities as a teacher and as a genuinely decent man. John brought academic depth to his teaching along with great patience, a keen sense of humour, and compassion in helping with the problems presented by many students. Shortly before John died, the NSW Department of Education presented him with a medal in recognition of his dedication to public education.

John began writing history texts for school students in 1991, when he and Robert Darlington approached David Kellock at Heinemann publishers with an idea for a new kind of text on Australian history. The resulting book, Understanding Australian History, was published in 1993. It sold over 45,000 copies and its success was due in no small part to John’s ability to make complex historical issues accessible and exciting for students and to present those issues with total honesty. John was probably the first textbook author in Australia to use the term ‘invasion’ for the British occupation of Australia from 1788 onwards. Over the following 20 years, John contributed chapters to twelve other history texts, ten with Heinemann and then two with Jacaranda Wiley. Those last two books, History Alive 7 for the Australian Curriculum and History Alive 8 for the Australian Curriculum, were published shortly after his death.

John’s work as a singer, instrumentalist and songwriter spanned over four decades. He played a range of instruments, including 6-string and 12-string guitars and banjos, in community events, concerts, folk festivals, pubs, clubs and other venues in Sydney, the Blue Mountains, Canberra, Bulli and beyond. John’s repertoire included blues, reels, rock, folk and bush ballads. He brought his passionate commitment to social justice to his music, especially in songs about community history and the struggles of the labour movement. Among the many songs he composed and performed was one called Black Armband that was recorded by Wobbly Radio for the Labour Council of New South Wales in 2002. It was a defiant protest against Howard government policies affecting refugees, economic inequality, industrial relations, the environment and public education. In 2001 John won the Maritime Union of Australia Song Writing Contest. He demonstrated his amazing musical versatility in his 2007 album Railway’s Coming Through. John won the Rail, Bus and Tramways Union’s Railway Song and Poem Competition in 2009. In 2010, he produced another album called Music from a Lonesome Road.

The Polish community in Australia had a special place in John’s life and his creative work. He spoke very fluent Polish as well as some Russian but it was mainly through his music that John maintained strong links with the Polish community. Like all good songwriters, he drew on his experiences, heritage and influences to enrich his songs. These included the struggles of his Polish immigrant parents and his own childhood in 1950s outer Western Sydney. His mother and father had also both been teachers. Before that, his father had been wounded as a young soldier in the Polish army that fought against the Nazi invasion in 1939. John’s mother later taught Polish to children in refugee camps in Germany.

Mount Kosciuszko has a special significance for the Polish community in Australia because it was named by the Polish explorer Paul Edmund Strzelecki after General Thaddeus Kosciuszko, a Polish international hero who fought for democracy, equal rights and freedom. John related strongly to Kosciuszko as he shared those values. This admiration for Kosciuszko was expressed through John’s involvement in annual festivals held in the Snowy Mountains. February 2007 saw John perform in Kosciuszko Music on Mt Kosciuszko, the first organised concert ever staged on Mt Kosciuszko’s summit. This event evolved into annual K’Ozzie Festivals. For these events, John composed and performed The General’s Song, (about Thaddeus Kosciuszko), Across the Snowy (about Strzelecki), Adyna (about Strzelecki’s fiancée), My Mountain Kosciuszko (lyrics by U. Lang), High Country Stream and Kosciuszko Paper Daisy. The audiences loved his songs and the fact that many of them were inspired by the Snowy Mountains.

In August 1982, John fell in love with a beautiful young Polish engineer named Anna Kogut. They were married on 3rd September 1983 in the Polish Catholic Church at Marayong and they lived together at Mount Druitt through most of their married lives until late 2011. John was a devoted husband and he wrote and recorded a profoundly beautiful love song without words called Anna’s Here. His next great love was his daughter, Victoria, who was born on 20 June 1998. He loved playing chess and other board games with her and when she was a young child he read her a bedtime story every evening. He was extremely proud of Victoria and he was overjoyed when she topped her first year at Penrith Selective High School.

In 2011, the Hospodaryk family moved to Glenbrook in the lower Blue Mountains. They had barely settled into their new home when John’s illness was diagnosed. But even throughout his sickness, John always considered his family before himself. He was incredibly courageous and he never complained. He remained determined to beat the disease right up until he was told there was no longer any hope.

John was deeply loved by his family, colleagues and his many friends. He was an extremely modest man who rarely spoke of his own achievements but he was never afraid to speak his mind about the things that angered him: injustice, tyranny, oppression, exploitation and discrimination. John was a humanitarian, a staunch trade unionist and a democratic socialist, in the very best sense of that term. He was proud of his Polish heritage and of the egalitarian traditions of Australia. He wanted a world that would be guided by compassion and fairness rather than by fear and greed. He died on 28 March 2012 and was buried at Pinegrove Gardens at Minchinbury in Western Sydney.

Original Publication

  • Puls Polonii, 27 February 2014

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Citation details

Robert Darlington, 'Hospodaryk, John George (1952–2012)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://labouraustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/hospodaryk-john-george-17833/text29419, accessed 23 November 2017.

© Copyright Labour Australia, 2012