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Jeromin, Heinz (1925–1987)

by Siobhán McHugh

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

Heinz Jeromin (1925-1987), carpenter and works foreman, was born on 11 May 1925 at Lyck, East Prussia, Germany (Ełk, Poland), son of Franz Jeromin and his wife Maria. From 1942 Heinz served as a private in the German Army. Captured in Normandy in 1944, he was interned as a prisoner of war in Britain and in the United States of America, where he picked cotton. After he was repatriated in 1949, he worked as a carpenter at Hamburg. He had lost contact with most of his family in World War II and his homeland had been taken over by Soviet forces.

N 1951 Jeromin was one of about 650 German tradesmen recruited by an Australian engineer, Roy Robinson, to work for the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority. Eager to leave the chaos of postwar Germany, he signed up for an initial two-year contract, his fare (approximately £160) to be repaid from his wages of about £10 a week. Understanding the word `snowy’, he took his old German Army greatcoat with him—a boon in the sub-zero temperatures around Cooma, New South Wales. He was 5 ft 8½ ins (174 cm) tall, sturdily built, blond and blue-eyed.

Ermans were the third largest ethnic group on the `Snowy scheme’, after Italians and those then known as Yugoslavs. In the early years particularly, German workers attracted hostility from their former foes, especially Poles. Jeromin was among a group of Germans locked up for the night at Cabramurra township for a rowdy celebration of Hitler’s birthday. But gradually the workforce of forty nationalities evolved into a harmonious and cohesive community, the Snowy proving a social as well as a physical engineering feat.

Ppointed to the salaried staff of the SMHEA in 1961, Jeromin was made a temporary works foreman in the field construction division. By 1963 he had decided to quit his job and move to Sydney, hoping to find a wife. He had married Ursula Marie Inge, possibly on a visit to Germany in 1956, but the marriage had ended in divorce and he had lost touch with his son. As he was preparing to leave for Sydney, however, he was transferred in January 1964 to the construction of the new town of Jindabyne. He was overcome to be offered such an important task: `Me, a little squarehead, got an order to build Jindabyne! So that’s what I had to do’.

In 1987 Jeromin reflected on his life in Australia. He knew he had become institutionalised, dependent on his unvarying routine of work and hostel accommodation: `I need someone to tell me what to do’. Although he never remarried, he had found a place for himself on the Snowy, and was proud of the contribution he had made through his work. `We just wanted to show you, we can make something for peace too’, he said. Survived by his son, he died of myocardial infarction and alcoholic cardiomyopathy on 5 June 1987 in the SMHEA staff hostel at Jindabyne and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • M. Unger, Voices from the Snowy (1989)
  • S. McHugh, The Snowy (1995)
  • F. Robinson, A Study of Occupational Health and Safety Practice in the Construction of the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme (2000)
  • series A11394, item Jeromin H, series A11395, item Jeromin H, and series SP908/1, item German/Jeromin Heinz (National Archives of Australia)
  • S. McHugh, taped interview with H. Jeromin (1987, State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Siobhán McHugh, 'Jeromin, Heinz (1925–1987)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/jeromin-heinz-12699/text22895, published in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 25 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

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