Lisa Perkovic went to Croatia to find her roots, and found Perkovic itself!

Growing up I always felt a little bit different. The long, complicated last name, a Papa instead of a Pop and a whole side of the family I’d never seen a single photo of. There was a piece of my family’s past that was missing.

My grandfather was just 19 when he walked away from his life. During the turbulence of the post WWII environment, he left his Croatian homeland with nothing, seeking political freedom, crossing the Italian border illegally in the dead of night. It was his second attempt to flee tyranny and torment, and he would go on to spend the next three years in an Italian refugee camp before finally setting sail for Australia. He would never see his mother again, nor many family members for decades.

His story, of playing near land mines as a child, and ending up with shrapnel scattered through his legs, of struggling for food and facing no job prospects, is not something we have learnt easily. Bits and pieces of his past have been gleaned over the years – I learnt more about his past during a school assignment than my father and uncle had ever known. It was news to them that he picked fruit in Mildura before arriving in Sydney. For many years he had closed the book on his past, anglicising our last name, learning to play cricket, marrying my grandmother, and going on to raise two very Aussie boys.

And so, desperate to learn more about where he, where we all, came from, I booked a trip to Croatia, more specifically to Šibenik, a small city one hour’s drive north of Split. Spending time in a city right on the edge of the Adriatic certainly had plenty of appeal, but rather than head to Dubrovnik, or Split, Croatia’s more popular resort towns, I wanted to see the spot where our stock started.