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Dragan Miljanovic (1922–1974)

by Tom Dyster

This article was published:

Dragan Miljanovic (1922-1974), charity worker, was born on 3 September 1922 at Bunic, Lica, Yugoslavia, third of five children of Djuro Miljanovic, a small farmer, and his wife Sava. Educated locally, Dragan was raised by his grandmother after his parents moved to France to seek employment during the Depression. He worked as a shepherd until 1937 when he joined his parents and became a labourer in the north of France. Following the outbreak of World War II he served in the resistance movement, but in 1940 was conscripted into a Nazi labour camp in the Ruhr valley, Germany. He escaped and made his way to Munich, only to be stricken with rheumatic fever. Miljanovic later worked at a hospital and a warehouse. When the war ended he spent two years in Germany in a displaced-persons' camp, run by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. His care of the sick and hungry was widely appreciated: known as 'Francuz' ('the Frenchie'), he was able, against all odds, to find food from a range of sources.

It was difficult for Miljanovic, an anti-communist, to return to Yugoslavia. In 1948 he emigrated to Sydney. After a term in the immigration centre at Bathurst, he spent four years in a similar camp at Woodside, South Australia. Five ft 8 ins (173 cm) tall, with blue eyes and dark brown hair, he drove for the Department of Supply before being naturalized on 25 August 1953. At the Congregational Church, Stirling West, on 22 May 1954 he married Tamara Kutschuk, a 21-year-old nurse. They lived at Stirling in the Adelaide Hills where Miljanovic found a job as a gardener. He began twenty years of unselfish service to others, initially through the Good Neighbour Council of South Australia which helped immigrants to assimilate. With his donkey, Don Pedro, he patrolled Adelaide beaches in 1961-62, collecting money for the surf life-saving movement; he also gave children rides on Don Pedro at charitable functions. He often dressed in a tasselled pillbox hat, red scarf, white shirt and riding-breeches, and sang folk-songs while accompanying himself on a shepherd's lute, a tamboritza or a gusla.

By 1963 Miljanovic was employed as a monotype-operator in Adelaide. That year he won the Gertrude Kumm award for citizenship, presented annually to an immigrant who had made an outstanding contribution to the community. In the same year, to assist young artists, he opened the Don Pedro Gallery in a nineteenth-century cottage which he had restored at Stirling. Miljanovic demonstrated his concern for the underdog by establishing the Independent Youth Club; his passionate interest in the conservation of the Adelaide Hills led him to found the Mount Lofty Ranges Association.

Late in life Miljanovic worked as a surveyor's assistant. Survived by his wife and daughter, he died of septicaemia and peritonitis on 17 November 1974 in Royal Adelaide Hospital and was cremated. His formidable drive and eccentricity had made him a compassionate and colourful figure. In 1975 a plaque in his memory was unveiled at the Heart Centre, Adelaide.

Select Bibliography

  • T. Dyster, Dragan (Adel, 1992)
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 20 Mar 1961, 27 May 1963, 24 Oct 1966, 19 Nov, 6, 10 Dec 1974, 19 Dec 1975
  • Mount Barker Courier, 12 Dec 1962
  • Canberra Times, 3 June 1963
  • naturalisation file, A435, item 1949/4/3156 (National Archives of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Tom Dyster, 'Miljanovic, Dragan (1922–1974)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 20 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (Melbourne University Press), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

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