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11 listopada 2008
Jindabyne Monument to the Great Polish Explorer Sir P.E. Strzelecki
Ursula Lang

Right:Sir James Rowland
This week, the imposing 9m-high bronze statue of Sir Paul Edmund Strzelecki in Banjo Paterson Park in Jindabyne, will have pointed towards Australia's highest mountain, Mt Kosciuszko, for 20 years. It seems like just yesterday that it was erected. The occasion of this 20-year Anniversary has given me reason to reflect on how it all came to be.

The idea was first generated in the early 1980's by the Polish-Australian Cultural Association in Sydney, under the leadership of Harry Hefka. The Sir Paul Edmund de Strzelecki Monument Committee was formed in 1983 and developed the project up until 1987, when it was taken over by the Australian-Polish Chamber of Commerce in Melbourne, the President of which was Robert Strang. Senator and President of the NSW Ethnic Affairs Council, the late Tony Mulvihill, took on Patronage of the Project and gave it his strongest support.

I have since watched archival footage of the event of the unveiling of the Statue. The ceremony took place in Banjo Paterson Park on 14 November 1988. The Statue was presented as a Bicentennial Gift to the people of Australia, by Tadeusz W. Mlynczak, representative of Poland and President of the "Polonia" Society which had overseen the project from the Polish side. It was then unveiled by Sir James Rowland, the incumbent Governor of NSW, in the presence of a crowd of a few hundered made up of local Councillors, members of Jindabyne Lions Club, local residents and visitors.

Sir James Rowland said during his speech that this was a most significant event in the history of the Polish community in Australia and the local community of Jindabyne.

The Australian Flag which covered the Statue before its unveiling was later presented to the Sir P. E. Strzelecki Primary School No. 53 in Gluszyna, Poland, which keeps the flag to this day as a very special memento relating to its namesake and patron Sir Paul Edmund.

Sad to say that, whilst in the process of writing this article, I was informed that the sculptor, Jerzy Sobocinski, passed away on 1 November 2008, at the age of 76, in his home town of Poznan, Poland. His funeral is to be held on 12 November, just two days before he was to attend celebrations in Poland to mark the 20-year Anniversary of the gifting of the statue to the Jindabyne local community by the people of Poland.

Photo: Andrzej Mikolajczyk, 14th Nov. 1988

Jerzy Sobocinski just recently was commissioned to create a commemorative plaque to Strzelecki which was to be unveiled in the church in Gluszyna where Strzelecki was christened. Jerzy Sobocinski was to be present at the unveiling this Friday 14th November. He will be sadly missed at the ceremony.

Jerzy Sobocinski was a well-known and celebrated artist in Poland, with over 130 sculptures in a range of European countries, to his credit. Many of these sculptures have received distinctions and have been awarded prizes.

In doing some research on this issue, I found that Jerzy Sobocinski came to Jindabyne in 1988 to supervise the construction of the plinth that supports the Statue. He worked alongside local stonemason Ken Baxter, who tells me that Jerzy was a "good bloke" and nice to work with.

To mark the current 20-year Anniversary, Poland's Postal Service has just issued a special commemorative postcard featuring Strzelecki's monument.

It’s sad that whilst the town of Poznan in Poland is celebrating, nothing to note the occasion is happening here in Jindabyne. Well, nothing more than the Cultural Foundation of Puls Polonii asking the Council to locate the original "Maintenance Agreement" relating to the Statue to try and establish who is responsible for its conservation. At the moment, the Statue is in desperate need of cleaning and slate tile replacement.

Ursula Lang

The Monument today.Photo Puls Polonii