Pete Swarski was born on May 10, 1947 in Freiburg, Germany.

His father, who was Polish and his mother, German, met on her family’s farm, where his father had been shipped to for work after World War 2.

When Pete was two years old his mother and father decided to make the journey to Australia by boat. They found themselves in Bonegilla Migrant Camp and then travelled to the West Sale migrant camp, which became home to more than 700 families after the war in Europe.

Seeing the long row of huts was one of Pete’s earliest memories, as they were here for some time while they waited for the government to allot jobs to them.

Photographs by Caitie Richardson – Caitie Richardson Photography.

The family moved to Heyfield and then Maffra, where Pete’s mother, who was a great cook, got a job as a chef at the Star Hotel and his dad saved and bought a truck and carted gravel.

The Swarski family bought their first home in Sale, where Pete still lives today. When they moved in, Pete’s father dug up the backyard (coming from very hard war times) and planted potatoes and other vegetables for the family to eat, as well as having a meat smoker in the back corner.

They took pride in their home and their community and even had boys from the Kilmany Boys home stay with them on occasional weekends.

Pete remembers it was hard being a migrant child and was called all kinds of names (mainly Wog) and was picked on a lot at school even though he never really knew any other place that was home.

Photographs by Caitie Richardson – Caitie Richardson Photography.

In 1952, Pete went to 545 Primary School Sale and then, as a young teenager, went to the Tech school. He didn’t enjoy either and felt he didn’t get much support or help to learn to read or write.

Pete worked hard from a young age to help support his family and left school at the age of 14 to work at a dairy farm, milking 200 cows, which was a lot for that time. The family only had the father’s truck to get around in, so Pete saved hard and bought their first car, which was a VanGuard.

Pete loved push bike riding and started racing at the age of 15. He did very well and ended up making it to the next stage, which was Melbourne, along with another boy, Stephen Payne. They started training together, which consisted of them riding from Sale to Maffra to Stratford and back to Sale three times a week.

One particular time, they were riding on the edge of Sale near the outdoor cinema. Pete was in front and heard an almighty bang. Stephen was hit by a car just metres away and was instantly killed.

Pete was badly injured as a bike handlebar pierced his thigh, which he had to have surgery on and still has a metal plate in his leg as a reminder of losing his friend that day.

Pete never rode again after witnessing such a horrible tragedy, which took a toll on him as a young boy.

Photographs by Caitie Richardson – Caitie Richardson Photography.

At 17 years of age, Pete got a job with Jack Leg Road Construction, which took him all over Victoria, driving different types of machines even though he didn’t hold a driver’s licence yet.

When Pete was 18, he got his licence, moved to Boisdale and worked delivering bread. He then moved back with his parents in Sale when he took a position with SuniCrust and soon became a manager with four delivery drivers under him and was appreciated by the owner.

He then joined a local car tyre business selling tyres all over Gippsland before working at the milk bar on Dawson Street in Sale that most of you would still know.

After some time, Pete bought the business, and his mother worked alongside him before she got too sick to work with bowel cancer. She became so tiny and frail – Pete remembers carrying her most nights to the toilet. She died when Pete was 32 years old.

Pete continued working hard, now with a wife and two children to look after, as well as his father. Interest rates hit 20 per cent, which made things even harder for a business owner.

Pete’s milk bar was the first in Victoria to apply for a liquor licence and have a bottle shop connected. He then bought the Centre Bakery, which won the first contract to supply the newly built Fulham Correctional Centre with bread and cakes – an incredible achievement.

Pete’s third business was the Cherry Pit in the Gippsland Centre (which, as a child, I loved), and his fourth business was Raglan Wine Cellars on Raglan Street.

Owning and running four businesses at a time was a testament to Pete’s hard work and perseverance, especially since leaving school at such a young age and not being able to read or write well even to this day.

The Cherry Pit, milk bar and Raglan Cellars were all sold over time, and Pete focussed solely on Centre Bakery.

A few rough years came for Pete.

His father sadly died, and he went through a messy divorce and became very ill with bowel cancer, which runs through his family.

Pete fought his cancer and went into remission.

It was time to go back to work, so he started back at Centre Bakery.

When the church building came up for lease on Cunningham Street Sale, Pete jumped at the opportunity, and this was when he started going out with Annie. Their relationship grew, and they were married in 2009, a day Pete says was the best moment of his life.

Pete then ended up at the Sale College canteen, and this is where I met him when I was in Year 11.

Pete was well-liked by the students and had the nickname ‘Grumpy’, but even when he was being stern, there would always be a twinkle in his eye and a smirk in the corner of his mouth.

I always looked forward to chatting with him and having a laugh at lunchtime.

Then, one week, he wasn’t at school, and a lot of us were worried as he hadn’t looked well for some time.

Pete’s bowel cancer was back, so he had to stop work and start chemo again, but he fought it for a second time.

The next time I saw Grumpy was six years later when I photographed Heidi and Russel White’s wedding, not realising Pete was married to Heidi’s mum, Annie. Who would have thought I would have run into him at a wedding all that time later?

We had a great catch up, and I was so glad to hear that he is still cancer-free.

Pete has been a huge part of our community’s history, and I am sure a lot of people will enjoy seeing these photos of his lovely smile. He is retired now, taking each day at a time with his gorgeous Annie by his side.

Some life advice from Pete: “Enjoy whatever you have in life while you have it; money isn’t everything.”

“Treat others the way you would like to be treated, and remember that you can do anything you put your mind to, you just have to put in the work.”

A big thank you to Pete and Annie for their time and to you all for reading.

If anyone knows any locals who you think would like to talk to me about their life, head over to my Facebook page and send me a message.

About the author

Caitie Richardson is a local family photographer based in Sale who services all of Gippsland. Her passion is helping people tell their stories that they can keep safe within photographs for future generations to come.

In her spare time, she has started photographing and chatting with elderly members of the Gippsland community. Caitie writes each individual’s story and feels very privileged to be able to help keep those stories alive.

Peter Swarski is the subject of this interview with local photographer Caitie Richardson. The pair have known each other since Pete worked the canteen at Sale College where Caitie was a student.

Caitie’s work may be seen on her website, Caitie Richardson Photography.

Alternatively, head to Caitie’s Facebook Page.