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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Pulkownik, Wladyslaw (Walter) (1909–1987)

by Kerry Regan

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

Wladyslaw (‘Walter’) Pulkownik (1909-1987), chocolate-maker and baker, was born on 11 September 1909 at Pogranichnaya, Manchuria, one of six children of Ivan (Jan) Pulkownik, a baker from Vilnius, Lithuania. Wladyslaw’s parents, both of Polish nationality, had migrated to China in 1900. Educated at Harbin, he left school at 14 to take up an apprenticeship as a pastrycook in his father’s factory. On 15 February 1931 at Harbin he married Ludmila Sitnikova, who was of Russian descent. They lived under Japanese occupation for some years before joining other refugees travelling to Australia.

Reaching Sydney in the Kamo Maru in December 1938, Pulkownik first lived at Ultimo and established a chocolate-making business, which failed when imports of cocoa dried up in World War II. Turning to bread- and pastry-making at Paddington, he was exempted from military service because of his occupation. The business, Mars Better Bread, supplied coffee shops with pastries and specialty breads and employed up to thirty-six staff. During the war he supplied the American officers’ club, in Macquarie Street. Rapid expansion led to financial difficulties in 1962 and the company was liquidated. Now known as Walter, Pulkownik worked as a foreman at a meat-pie factory before returning to chocolate-making, hawking his handmade ‘Paddington Chocolates’ around the Double Bay and Woollahra shops.

The fame of Pulkownik’s chocolates spread by hearsay. David Jones’s food hall sold them and they were also available at small outlets in other capital cities. Unlike other commercial products sold in boxes, the Russian-style chocolates were wrapped individually in brightly coloured foil and sold in cellophane bags or transparent cylinders. High-grade couverture was supplied by H. Small & Co. Ltd’s chocolate factory at Stanmore. The ganache fillings were restricted to five distinctive flavours, for which he had secret recipes: rum, crème de menthe, hazelnut cream, coffee cream and marzipan.

Pulkownik’s shop at Elizabeth Street, Paddington, was small but distinctive with a tinselled window and two silver samovars. He ran the business assisted by his daughter and a son. Local children came after school to wrap chocolates, for which they were paid twenty-five cents per kilogram. They reported that it was easy work but the practice ended in 1976 when the State Department of Labour and Industry charged Pulkownik with employing under-age labour and having inadequate fencing for a machine; he was fined $850. Proud of his accomplishment as a chocolate craftsman, he never gave in to mass manufacturing. At age 76 he handed over to his son Walter.

A jovial man with a sense of humour, Pulkownik was over six feet (183 cm) tall, fair, blue-eyed, barrel-chested and strong, having had to mix dough without machines in China. He was fluent in Polish, Russian and Chinese, but struggled with English, declaring it the most difficult language to learn. Fond of a beer at his local (the Grand National Hotel) and a spot of fishing, he enjoyed Polish and Russian music. Naturalised in 1946, Walter sponsored Poles and Russians to come to Australia. He died on 22 August 1987 at Wahroonga and was buried in the Russian Orthodox section of Rookwood cemetery. His wife and their daughter and two sons survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • Sydney Morning Herald, 7 Feb 1976, p 14, 24 Feb 1977 p 1
  • Sun (Sydney), 24 Feb 1977, p 1
  • A12508, item 50/1986, A435, item 1945/4/6151 (National Archives of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Kerry Regan, 'Pulkownik, Wladyslaw (Walter) (1909–1987)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 12 August 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

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