From Japan to Bunbury, Paul shares his personal journey

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Nicolette BarbasSouth Western Times
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Bunbury resident Paul Vukelic believes he has had a wonderful life.
Camera IconBunbury resident Paul Vukelic believes he has had a wonderful life. Credit: Nicolette Barbas

On Sunday October 26, 1941, the Centaur docked at Fremantle with 76 passengers on board — and Paul Vukelic, 11, and his mother Edith were among them.

Paul’s Danish mother and Yugoslav father were living quite separate lives in Tokyo and after his school closed down in March 1941 and political tensions heightened, his father organised their evacuation.

“We couldn’t go to Denmark because it was under Nazi occupation so my mother decided to go to her sister in Western Australia,” he said.

“We lived with my aunt and uncle as a family in Claremont until I grew up and left home.

Paul went to Claremont Primary School for a few months where he was taught by Australian politician Kim Beazley Sen.

“I was not very good scholastically, and no good at sport either, so I left school at the age of 14,” he said.

“After attending Hale School I enrolled at City Commercial College where I received a business education learning shorthand, typing and bookwork skills.”

Paul began delivering magazines, books and newspapers around the Perth CBD.

“I got up at 2.45am most days, it was hard work but it kept me busy and fit,” he said.

“It was on my newspaper delivery I met my first wife, Beverly.

“Our love blossomed over two years but we were on different paths and I wanted to travel, so that is what I did from 1951.”

In early January 1950 Paul set sail for Denmark.

“I spent three years hitch- hiking around Europe and they were the best years of my life and have influenced everything I have done since,” he said.

“I arrived back in Australia in late 1953, very different from the young man who departed.

“One day I was at a service station in Perth filling up my car when I got talking to the owner who asked if I would like to set up a station in Bunbury.

“So in March 1956 I opened the first Caltex down here where I worked seven days a week, 12 hours a day. I started selling used cars at the station and soon enough started my own car dealership, Paul Motors.”

Late in 1959, Paul and Beverly discovered they were still drawn to each other and before they knew it they had bought a house in Bunbury where they had three children — Anne-Marie, Diane and Drew.

“Eventually things started to change and I realised we had grown apart and were irritating each other,” he said.

“I think it was obvious for both of us that the relationship had run its course.

A few years later, Paul’s daughter Diane wanted to study Japanese and during the search for a tutor Paul stumbled on a tutor named Pauline Harris.

After his return from a trip to Tokyo, Diane had asked her father to deliver a gift to her tutor and the pair discovered a mutual attraction which led to a proposal in 1981 and two children, Asher and Mia.

Through his own efforts, Paul became a successful businessman, father of six, grandfather of 11 and a lifelong traveller.

“I became invested in property development, helped build the Bunbury Entertainment Centre and was part of the Bunbury City Council during the period Bunbury became a city,” he said.

“I believe that to do anything well, you must enjoy what you are doing.”

Today, a retired 90-year-old Paul sits on a bench in his backyard at his 2ha property in Bunbury, where he lives with his third wife, Susan.

His mornings consist of a workout, reading the newspaper and catching up with Charlie Martella for coffee.

“I think I have lived a wonderful life,” he smiles.

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