This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000
Mieczyslaw (Michael) Kulakowski (1915-1978), businessman, was born on 15 January 1915 in Warsaw, eldest of three sons of Julian Stanislaw Kulakowski, businessman, and his wife Anna, née Chmielewska. Educated at the Higher School of Commerce, Warsaw, Mieczyslaw served as an officer cadet in the Polish Army in September 1939. He was captured and taken to Germany as a prisoner of war. Escaping to France in 1942, he joined the Polish Red Cross at Lyons, unsuccessfully attempted to cross to England, and eventually reached Berne where he worked for Pro Polonia which aided Polish prisoners of war. Later, he remained in Switzerland, helping to provide food and clothing for war-devastated Poland.
On 14 February 1948 at the Polish Church, 16th Arrondissement, Paris, Kulakowski married Nathalie Starza-Miniszewska, who had also worked for the Polish Red Cross in France. Although neither spoke English, they emigrated to Sydney, arriving on 13 December 1949. Having completed their contract to work for the immigration department for two years, they began to search for a productive occupation. Michael found it by supplying the needs of thousands of new Australian citizens who longed for music and memories of their homelands, and whose radio or gramophone was their only luxury. He sold this equipment, as well as records in the European languages. The business flourished and in 1952 Carinia Co. Pty Ltd (named after an Aboriginal word meaning 'home') was founded to sell continental records previously unavailable in Australia. The trademark was a victorious mermaid (the symbol of Warsaw) rising from a map of Australia. Importing the matrices from Europe, the company produced vinyl discs and cassettes—in over thirty languages—at their Willoughby factory. For thirteen years Carinia's 'Continental Cabaret', a weekly radio programme, was broadcast on Radio 2KY.
Michael and Nathalie were naturalized in 1955. Six ft 2 ins (188 cm) tall, he wore glasses and had brown hair, a moustache and grey-blue eyes. Generous and endowed with 'charm and old world courtesy', he was devoted to his clients. Kulakowski was an outstanding example of the contribution postwar immigrants made to Australia. He enjoyed sport (particularly cycling in his youth) and acquired a knowledge of cricket. Possessing a good singing voice, he was an enthusiast for classical music. In 1962 the company acquired the exclusive Australian distribution of German Telefunken recordings. Other labels were added to its catalogue, and classical music comprised 65 per cent of sales by 1977. That year the business celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary by presenting a bronze bust of Chopin to the Australian National Gallery.
Carinia became the largest, privately owned record company in the country. From 1954 Kulakowski travelled frequently to Europe and the United States of America, but his love of his adopted country was deep. The couple lived at Castlecrag and had a holiday home on Dangar Island, in the Hawkesbury River, where Michael enjoyed fishing. About 1973 he suffered a serious heart attack, but continued to work at his usual pace. While travelling in France on business, Kulakowski died on 8 July 1978 at Antibes and was cremated; his ashes were placed under a blue spruce at Northern Suburbs crematorium, Sydney. A Catholic memorial service was held at the Polish church, Marayong. Nathalie continued to run Carinia until 1988. The Kulakowskis and their clients had helped to change the sound of Australia.
Chris Cunneen, 'Kulakowski, Mieczyslaw (Michael) (1915–1978)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/kulakowski-mieczyslaw-michael-10767/text19091, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 28 August 2015.
This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000