Vale Charles Kalman

About a week ago, my wife’s father died. His name is Karoly Kalman. We called him Charles. It’s been a difficult week and on Wednesday we remember him in a service at St Benedicts Catholic Church in Mudgeeraba. When residents of the hinterland die who have made a community contribution I often post on Facebook and let people know. Sometimes I know those people well, and sometimes information is provided to me by others who have asked they be remembered. In both cases, it is an important exercise to recognise legacy.

Today I’m going to do that for Charles.

But first, I want to confess that I didn’t know Charles Kalman very well. When I met my wife Jude, his daughter, Charles was already 86 and was having some issues with remembering things. He remembered some things really well, and other things were a struggle. Over the last few years it got worse, and he died last Tuesday night after being unwell in and out of hospital for some time. I felt a sense of relief because his pain ended, even though I shared the grief of his family who were so desperately sad to see him go. Much of what I know of Charles is through the many clippings and newsworthy items his wife Eva kept, and I want to thank her for being so diligent with this because it augmented what I knew of Charles through what I’d been told by my resilient, hardworking and compassionate community-minded wife; her qualities evidently inherited from him.

Charles was born in Hungary in 1929 to two school teachers, and was the youngest of 7 children. He was a great student, and a scout, and in his early teenage years received an award for saving a man’s life who had been injured on train tracks, just minutes before a train came. In 1943 he was accepted into the prestigious Csaba Kiralyfi Military Academy in Eastern Hungary. In 1944 he was shot in the head and miraculously recovered in the military hospital. He was interrogated by the KGB in his parent’s home and forced to join the Hungarian Red Army. He could not reconcile the communist ideologies against his own values and escaped with a mate to Austria, where he was arrested and jailed by the British occupying forces because they thought he was a spy. Eventually discharged, he joined the French Foreign Legion and a friendly French officer helped him emigrate to Australia in 1949, aged 20, as a refugee.

On the boat on the way over, BHP Steel Works offered him a job on a two year contract. That two year contract ended after 35 years, and after Charles had worked his way up to an executive staff position. BHP recognized Charles’ talent and many of his new contributions to the steel industry (such as certain European styles of gabion cages introduced to Australia) are still being used. He received many awards for his work with BHP.

In 1953 he married Norma and had a son, Charles Jnr. His marriage to Norma ended in the early 1970’s and he met Eva, who he’s been married to this year for 46 years. In the 1970’s, living in Sydney, Roger and Jude were born.

From the year he arrived in Australia, Charles embraced his love of soccer with his fellow Hungarian and the broader European-Australian migrant community. He was instrumental with the St George Budapest Football Club from it’s early years in the late 1950’s, including being the Chairman of the Sports Committee at the time of the club’s  fifteenth anniversary in 1972.  It was due to the efforts of people like Charles, that the St George Budapest club was able to become a force in Australian soccer from its humble beginnings in the late 1950s. Indeed, Charles is regarded as one of the top half a dozen people who drove St George Budapest forward, helping the club to become so dominant by its second decade.

In 1987 Charles and Eva moved to Tallai with their young family and the children attended Marymount College. They loved living on acreage and kept horses, which Charles loved to break in and ride. After a short early-retirement break, Charles restarted work at QLD Wire Industries and later worked at Neumann Steel on the Gold Coast until he finally retired in the late 1990’s. Even in his last few years of life Charles remembered Mr Neumann fondly and recalled him as his favourite employer.

Charles & Eva at a Hungarian Club function at the Gold Coast’s German Club

Charles and his family had joined the Mudgeeraba Catholic Community, and Charles served as a steward from the late 1980’s. Roger and Jude would often put out the chairs and pack them away as the church met in Mudgeeraba Memorial Hall, Mudgeeraba Showgrounds and Mudgeeraba State School and even under the big old figs in Firth Park over the years. In the 1990’s Charles helped the church build St Benedicts Catholic Church on Wallaby Drive in Mudgeeraba. Charles continued his service in St Benedicts until well into his later years.

Charles was also the President of the Gold Coast Hungarian Association for some time and an active member of the Hungarian-Australian community. For a few years, Charles and Eva were members of the Mudgeeraba Lions Club.

Charles Kalman was a military serviceman, a Hungarian, a community-minded Catholic, a steelworker, a horseman, a Scout, a Lion, and a soccer player and soccer coach and soccer administrator. He survived the KGB, the French Foreign Legion, communism and a gunshot wound to the head. He was a business leader and an innovator. For more than two decades he was a Mudgeeraba local. He was also a migrant refugee who arrived in Australia on a boat.

In happier times, Charles with Jude

Charles Kalman lived a life of adventure some would never dream of but he was also a father who inspired three now amazing adults who are, in turn, getting married and raising their own families, and now those families are getting married and raising their own families. He is well worthy of recognition in our community and I am so very proud I can call him my father-in-law, and I am so happy he inspired, even maybe in some strange ways sometimes, my wife Jude to be the woman she is today.

Charles will be sorely missed.

Vale Charles Kalman. 

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