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Józef Karol Czulak (1915–1985)

by Gail Clements

This article was published:

Józef Karol Czulak (1915-1985), bacteriologist and cheese technologist, was born on 18 April 1915 at Miedzybrodzie, Cracow, Austria-Hungary (Poland), son of Leon Czulak, gentleman farmer, and his wife Maria, née Wallus. After matriculating in 1935 from the gymnasium at Kepno, Poznan province, Józef enrolled at university but was soon called up for military service. He graduated from the Polish cavalry college as a second lieutenant in 1938. Posted to the 12th (Podolian) Lancers Regiment, he fought on horseback against German tanks at Mokra on 1 September 1939 and was wounded. Two weeks later, when the Russians entered Poland, he fled into Romania and was interned. He escaped in December and travelled through Yugoslavia and Italy to France. Joining the 10th Polish Armoured Cavalry Brigade, he saw action near Dijon late in May 1940. In June, following the surrender of France, he was evacuated to England.

After spending time in hospital, Czulak rejoined remnants of his unit in Scotland. In 1942 he attended the Polish Army Staff College, Peebles, and was promoted to captain. Serving in the 1st Polish Armoured Division, he participated in the invasion of Europe in July 1944 and was awarded the Polish Cross of Valour for his part in the battle of the Falaise Gap in August. Back in Britain, he entered the University of Reading (B.Sc.Agric., 1948) in October 1945. He was naturalised on 28 July 1948 and on 9 December at the register office, Reading, he married Agnes Gillespie Swales, née Brough, a Scottish medical practitioner; she was a divorcee who had a daughter. Next year he completed a postgraduate diploma in bacteriology at Reading and began work with United Dairies Ltd, London, as a research bacteriologist, investigating cheese starter cultures.

Appointed research officer with the dairy research section of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, Czulak arrived in Melbourne with his family on 2 April 1951. He was located at first at the Victorian Department of Agriculture’s School of Dairy Technology, Werribee, transferring to the CSIRO laboratory at Fishermens Bend in 1953 and to Highett in 1955. Within three years he had designed a system for preparing freeze-dried starter cultures, which were distributed to cheese factories through State departments of agriculture. He then led a team that worked on mechanising the making of cheddar cheese, and by 1957 had produced a pilot plant that encompassed all stages of the process: cheddaring, milling, salting and hooping. The machines, commercially developed in collaboration with James Bell Machinery Pty Ltd (later Bell Bryant Pty Ltd), became known as Bell-Siro cheesemakers. They revolutionised cheddar cheese manufacture and were sold overseas. For this work Czulak won the Australian Society of Dairy Technology’s gold medal in 1960.

In 1962 Czulak visited India under the auspices of the Colombo Plan. At the Kaira District Co-operative Milk Producers’ Union Ltd, Anand, Gujarat, he succeeded in developing methods for manufacturing cheddar and gouda cheese from buffalo milk. Sardar Patel University, Anand, awarded him an honorary doctorate of science in 1973. In the 1970s he introduced the `factory-derived system’ for propagation and management of cheese starter cultures. This gave greater reliability and predictable performance in large-scale manufacture of cheese, factors which were important in meeting the stringent requirements of developing export markets, particularly Japan. A dynamic and at times volatile leader, who did not suffer fools gladly, Czulak commanded great respect and loyalty from his teams, both in Australia and in India. Colleagues protected him from the effects of heavy drinking. He was promoted to chief research scientist in 1973 and retired from CSIRO in 1976. Elected a fellow (1976) of the Institute of Biology, London, he then worked as a consultant to the Australian Dairy Corporation, and in 1978 chaired the new technology session at the International Dairy Congress in Paris.

Czulak had been divorced in 1968. On 22 April that year at the registrar general’s office, Sydney, he married Jeannette Durham, née Burgoyne, a broadcaster; she was a granddaughter of Thomas Burgoyne, a great-granddaughter of Thomas Cotter, and a divorcee with a daughter. Survived by his wife, Czulak died of myocardial infarction on 5 August 1985 in his home at Mount Eliza, Victoria, and was cremated. The biennial Joe Czulak award for excellence in dairy technology was established in 1997 and is administered by the Australian Starter Culture Research Centre.

Select Bibliography

  • A. McKay et al, Surprise and Enterprise (1976)
  • B. Collis, Fields of Discovery (2002)
  • CSIRO, Food Research Quarterly, vol 36, no 4, 1976, p 82
  • Australian Dairy Foods, Dec 1996, p 24, June 2002, p 32
  • A8520, items PH/CZU/1, pts 1 and 2, PH/CZU/1B, pts 1 and 2 (National Archives of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Gail Clements, 'Czulak, Józef Karol (1915–1985)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 13 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (Melbourne University Press), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


18 April, 1915
Krakow, Poland


5 August, 1985 (aged 70)
Mount Eliza, Victoria, Australia

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