From Estonia to Thirlmere: Mall Juske’s migrant farming story

The Estonian migrant community is deeply woven into the fabric of Wollondilly’s history.

Families fled their war-ravaged homeland after World War II to make a new life in Australia.

They set up poultry farms, established a bustling market and eventually helped Thirlmere become the largest egg producer in Australia in the 1970s.

Mall Juske is just one of the farmers who played an important role in Thirlmere’s farming history.

With her husband Helmut, she established a successful poultry farm.

She still lives in Thirlmere at Taara Gardens retirement village.

“Setting up the poultry farm was hard work but fun in a way,” Mrs Juske said.

“It started as bushland that we had to clear. We slept in our carting ute while we slowly built the house.

“Then we built the shed for our chooks.

“I enjoyed spending the time with my husband.

“We were doing it for ourselves. For our future.”

Mrs Juske, born in 1935, lived in Tallinn, Estonia with her parents Linda and Albert Karp.

She had a normal childhood, but only went to school for half a year, before the war. Her mother worked as a mender in a textile factory and father worked at a car part import company. 

During the war, Mrs Juske’s family home was burnt down in a bombardment. She then lived with grandmother.

“When I was six or seven the Russians were driven out by the Germans; there was a lot of firing and bodies lying around,” she said.

“We left Estonia on the last barge to leave the harbour. I was nine years old.

“We fled across Germany and went to Geislingen displaced persons camp after the war.”

Mrs Juske said she had a good life in the camp. They had food, she went to school and they lived with other families.

In 1948, her family moved to Australia. They lived in Drummoyne.

Mrs Juske finished school and worked as a secretary until she married her husband in 1955.

In 1956, the Juskes were living in Auburn and they applied for a piece of Crown Land at Thirlmere to start their farm. It cost 460 pounds.

Mrs Juske went to technical college to learn about poultry farming and egg producing while her husband set up the farm.

“I learnt about the best way to house the chickens and what to feed them,” she said.

“I passed the knowledge onto my husband.

“After setting up our house, we converted a shed into cages under one roof.

“At one stage we had 10,000 chooks.”

The Juskes sold eggs to locals from their farm and sold eggs at shops.

They also regularly shopped at the ‘cooperative’.

The first wave of Estonians before the war started 'Kungla', the Thirlmere farmers cooperative in 1939. It was continued by the second wave of new settlers after the war.

It considerably increased the viability and efficiency of the poultry industry.

Chicken feed and day old chicks were freighted by rail.

The cooperative sold feed, farming equipment and household goods.

“I was proud to be part of that community,” Mrs Juske said.

The couple had two daughters, one who still lives in the region.

They sold off their farm in 1987 because it had become unproductive – they could not compete with large-scale farms that had been established in NSW.

“It was sad to see it go but we had to accept reality,” Mrs Juske said.

The family moved off the farm and lived in the Thirlmere township.

Mr Juske died in 2002. Mrs Juske moved to Agris Hutrof House last year.

“It is sad to see the poultry industry in Thirlmere has gone,” she said.

“There are only about eight children of farmers who are still living in the district.

“But I can’t complain. I have had a good life here in Thirlmere.”

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