Inside the Collection

The Trolley man Part 2

Sketch of a hunched over man with a trolley
Cindric sketch by Richard Goodwin, Collection: Powerhouse Museum

In May 2010 I published a Curatorial blog piece about Josef Cindric and his trolley.

Towards the end of his life, Cindric became something of a minor celebrity. Artists photographed and filmed him. Journalists speculated as to his life and the contents of his trolley. In her recent Sydney book, Delia Falconer summarises some of these myths:

‘On his death, a journalist would discover that he was Joseph Cindric, a refugee; and that his trolley did not contain poisonous snakes, as other journalists had speculated, but tools from his days as a shipwright and letters from a son in Europe with who he had lost touch after the war

After writing about Cindric I was impressed by the surviving popular memory of the trolley man, evident in the responses we received. I was also struck by how little still we know about Cindric – apart from the journalistic speculations mentioned above. So I began searching the migration and police records for traces. The archives documented Cindric’s encounters with bureaucracy and the courts, but the result is too partial and intermittent to be called a biography. It answers some questions, but raises many more.

Black and white Photograph of a man in hard hat hunched over a trolley
Photography by Raymond de Berquelle. Collection: Powerhouse Museum.

One conclusion can definitely be drawn: Josef Cindric’s life in Australia is a tale of migration gone wrong, of a fearful loner who conformed to none of the narratives and expectations of migration.

The earliest record I located was Cindric’s application form for migration to Australia, filled out at the Displaced Persons Camp at Ansbach, Bavaria, Germany (US Zone) in May 1948. According to this form, Cindric was born in 1906 at Sastavol, Yugoslavia and worked on his father’s farm from childhood. He did not attend school, could not read and could only sign his name.
In June 1941, two months after the Nazi invasion of Yugoslavia, Josef Cindric was sent to Germany as a ‘forced evacuee’. He worked as a coal miner there for four years. About twelve million people were sent to Germany from occupied nations to work during the war. Many were prisoners of war, others were abducted at random from the streets. By 1944 forced workers formed a quarter of the German workforce. Many of these people were literally worked to death, but as Cindric was not Jewish or from the USSR he would possibly have received a small wage and been granted a few liberties. However labour camps were built near many German coal mines and the miners’ working hours and conditions were extremely harsh.
At the end of the war Cindric worked in a gas works in Germany and then for a year or so polishing lenses, presumably for cameras or other optical products. By this time Cindric was living privately at Fondheim away from the Ansbach refugee camp. The selection officer who filled out his application form commented:

‘a good worker working in German economy & not content to sit in DP camps doing nothing. Accepted’.

On top of the experience of Nazi forced labour, there is a dark shadow evident in the records. Cindric is described as ‘single (widowed)’ with two children. However his medical papers describe the children as ‘gestorben’ (dead) of unknown causes. Clearly a personal story remained untold in these records, one unlikely to be recovered. [National Archives of Australia, A11927, Item 51]

Cindric’s acceptance for migration to Australian is significant considering that, in addition to his illiteracy and lack of education he had no English (although he had ‘fair’ German as well his native language) and no relatives or friends in Australia. Our post-war immigration policy was more accepting than its contemporary version, although with the significant difference of insisting on European ethnic heritage. In addition Cindric was in good health and had no criminal record. Like most post war refugees, Cindric signed a two year contract with the Australian government which obliged him to work where directed. Hence the immigration archives record Cindric’s first two years in Australia in some detail.

What follows is a chronology of Josef Cindric’s first two years in Australia, as recorded by staff of the Commonwealth Employment Service:

29 October 1948 Arrived Sydney on the Charlton Sovereign.

29 November 1948 Commenced work as a labourer with NSW Railways at Nyngan in western NSW.

12 May 1949 Went to Nyngan police, complained that

‘other migrants were going to do him harm. When I asked them about it they were very amused and said Cindric was definitely a mental case and imagined a lot of things…His working ability is very poor…He loses a lot of time and is likely to leave his camp of a night and not report for duty the next day. I have doubts regarding his sanity’

29 July 1949 Awol from railway work:

‘Mr Cindric, whose present whereabouts are unknown, is reported to have only a very limited knowledge of the English language, and…his commanding officers experienced considerable difficulty in making clear the necessity for regular attendance at work’.

2 August 1949 Applied for work at the employment office, Dubbo. Offered positions as a farm labourer on stations near Dubbo, initially refused then accepted a position at a station near Coonamble.

‘He only remained in the position for several days and left without notice. I was subsequently informed that this person walked to Quambone, a distance of 26 miles, and reported at the small hospital there… but walked, or in some way obtained a lift to Coonamble…he proceeded to the Police Station and there left his large portmanteau, overcoat and blanket’.

Cindric then hung around the town ‘making a nuisance of himself…I was of the opinion that this person was mentally deficient, and in my opinion should be immediately placed in an institution under observation’. Disappeared, leaving his possessions: “I fear that this person might take his own life’.

The station owner, WB Cornish, wrote: ‘The man you refer to stopped with me three days, then pretended sick…I have since heard that he said I was a good boss, but it was too quiet.’

30 September 1949 Director of Toric Lens Manufacturing Co, Sussex Street, Sydney confirms that ‘Cindric is working for us at this address and we are satisfied with him as a worker’.

31 October 1949 ‘Reported to Mascot Office (Commonwealth Employment Service). Has accom Yugoslav Club 36 Campbell St Sydney. Wants employment with Industrial Brick Co Roseberry. Mascot advised to see if Brick Company will accept’.

1 November 1950 Orange office of CES: ‘advise that since taking up duty with the Electricity Manufacturing Company Ltd of Orange on 28th June 1950, Cindric’s conduct and employment has been satisfactory.’

Known locally as Emmco, this former munitions factory employed large numbers of new migrants in the production of domestic white goods. Given the lack of sufficient housing in Orange, many Emmco workers lived at a camp on the town fringe.

16 November 1950 Orange office of CES: ‘For your information a deportation order was taken out against Cindric but since has been deferred. If his conduct and employment continue to be satisfactory no doubt a certificate to remain in Australia will be issued in due course’. National Archives of Australia, SP656/1, Item T3260

Central Western Daily, 17 May 1951: ‘

A Yugoslav migrant had carried a home-made pistol because some Ukrainians had threatened to murder him, Orange Court was told yesterday’.

Cindric had made three home-made pistols from pipe, these were capable of firing a shotgun cartridge. Police had gone to a house where Cindric lived on the verandah after being told that someone had fired a gun there. Cindric said (through an interpreter) that he had been testing one of his guns: ‘

Some Ukrainians out at the Emmco camp had said they were going to kill me, so I get this and I kill them”.

A detective had visited Cindric two months previously (March 11) and Cindric told him ‘that he intended making a gun to shoot a man at Emmco camp’. Cindric had promised not to make more guns or to carry knives. Cindric had not been able to tell the detective the identity of the men who were threatening him.

In court,

Cindric said he had carried firearms and weapons in his own country, but he did not know if it was illegal or not…’I admit I am guilty. I was carrying the knife for self-defence also, as the New Australians at Emmco had many times threatened to kill me’’.

The magistrate said it was ‘evident that he was a very dangerous man to have in the community’ and he should be deported. Cindric was given two sentences of six months goal with hard labour.

After this the records are largely blank apart from Cindric’s encounters with the police. His record in the NSW Police Gazettes:

Orange, 16 May 1951: Carry an unlicensed pistol at night; have cutting implements in possession. 6 months hr served concurrently.

Released by remission from State Penitentiary, Long Bay 13 May 1952. Rail pass to Immigration Authorities issued.

Glebe, 7 May, 1956: Vagrancy; house-breaking implements in possession at night. 6 months hl on each charge, accumulative.

Released from Parramatta Gaol by remission, 6 March 1957.

Burwood, 21 March 1957: Vagrancy; house-breaking implements in possession. 6 months hl on each charge, accumulative.

Released from Parramatta Gaol by remission, 3 August 1957. Rail pass to Burwood issued.

Glebe, 3 February 1964: Vagrancy. 6 months hr. Released from Parramatta Gaol 17 June 1964.

The court transcript for the third of these vagrancy arrests is still held by State Records. Cindric was sitting by the Leichhardt Canal in January 1964 at about 11pm when approached and questioned by Constable Tange, who ascertained that he had no home, work or money. Cindric claimed to have £15 from a taxation refund, but the constable testified that ‘

he had no money in his possession at the time. He said he sleeps all round…sometimes Leichhardt. He said sometimes he ate at the St Vincent De Paul. I asked how long since he slept in a house. He said…Before Christmas…about 2 months. I asked if there was anything wrong with him physically and he said no’.

Speaking through an interpreter, Cindric told the court that
‘I live where I pay…St. Vincents Hall…somewhere..everywhere. No money for hostel.’
His last job was 14 months ago, ‘I work for sugar company’.

He also revealed that he had applied for a US visa because ‘They give jobs in that country…I want to work on a ship…I’m getting a job on a ship. The American consul told me…2 weeks ago’.

When asked why he had not gone to the US, Cindric replied

I’m afraid I might not be very good…it might be too hard’.

Two things stand out from this brief record. One is that Cindric still required an interpreter after living in Australia for 15 years. Another is his apparent naivety. Asked to outline his employment history Cindric volunteers the information ‘

They lock me up in goal after Orange. I work there one year. The policeman found a knife with me…and said “What for do you carry knife”. I get six months for that’.

However, Cindric finished his testimony with a defiant note. Asked if he had ever been in a mental institution or ‘anything other than a goal’, he replied:’No. I’m not sick’.

The magistrate then reviewed Cindric’s criminal record, noted ‘It appears he doesn’t like work’, and sentenced him to another six months imprisonment with hard labour. One searches the transcript for any evidence of anti-social behaviour on Cindric’s behalf. But no work, no money was all that was needed to proved for a vagrancy charge.
[State Records NSW, 10/4514, Glebe Court of Petty Sessions)

The 1960s and 1970s saw a campaign against the Vagrancy Act from lawyers and civil libertarians. The high point of this campaign was the 1975 report by Justice Ronald Sackville , ‘Homeless People and the Law’ which investigated the effects of vagrancy and public drinking laws – both laws that made people a criminal for doing something that would be legal if done in a private house. Justice Sackville concluded: ‘

There is almost universal acknowledgment that penalties imposed on vagrants and drunks serve neither a deterrent nor a rehabilitative function. In fact, the criminal sanctions tend to perpetuate the very lifestyles there are designed to check’.

The Vagrancy Act was repealed in NSW in 1970 and replaced by the Summary Offences Act, which retained vagrancy as an offence. This was repealed by the Wran government in 1979, from which time homelessness was finally no longer a crime in NSW. However begging and drinking in public are still offences, though they are punishable with fines rather than imprisonment. In practice some beggars and homeless people still end up in prison because of their inability to pay fines. From the other side of this history, Cindric’s persecution for poverty is still a shock and is perhaps the most striking revelation of the archives.

Black and white Photograph of a man in hard hat hunched over a trolley walking in the street
Image courtesy Richard Goodwin. © all rights resevered

We already guessed that Josef Cindric was not a migrant success story. But we tended to assume that this was a result of individual eccentricity, embodied in his hand-made trolley. We didn’t know the extent of his rejection by/of his new country, which seems to have started almost immediately, with the conflict with other migrants at Nyngan. We can only speculate as to the background, though presumably wartime enmities were at its centre.

After the second conflict with other ‘New Australians’ at Orange, Cindric entered a cycle of imprisonment and poverty. There was now little chance that he would again be the ‘good worker’ he was in Germany. His alienation became complete. Cindric didn’t learn English. He didn’t become a naturalised Australian. He must have narrowly avoided deportion during the 1950s. But to some extent he was rescued by his trolley.

In the 1964 court proceedings, there is no mention of a trolley. Cindric must have started building these some time during the late 1960s. His trolley was not only a practical boon, giving him a means of carrying and protecting possessions. It also gave him a public identity and he become an object of sympathy and interest. Although Cindric seems not to have cherished his new role as a Sydney ‘eccentric’, it was certainly an improvement in his status. Combined with a more tolerant view of homelessness, Cindric’s trolley eased his last two decades of homelessness.

If he hadn’t built his trolleys he would be known to no one. Instead he survives as a symbol of ingenuity and stoicism, embodied by his last trolley.

Polaroid photograph of a man in a dressing down. With hand written text reading " Joseph Cindric"
Josef Cindric, 1994 Collection: Powerhouse Museum

5 responses to “The Trolley man Part 2

  • What a touching story! It would be interesting to put together an international exhibition of recovered biographies of street legends.

  • I remember Josef wandering the streets in the 60s and 70s. While pushing his trolly he would make a loud noise like letting out steam and he would regularly punch the air with his right fist at the same time. He certainly was an odd fellow. For a considerable time he carried a sign attached to the trolley railing against the evils of psychiatry. The signs in English were crudely made and I always assumed the he had written them!

  • I have just listened to ABC radio with the curator Charles Pickett and Richard Glover. It was brought to my attention to listen to this segment as I photographed ‘The Trolley Man’ in October 1991,when I was 18yrs old. I took a photo of him as he stuck me. He was a contrast to all the other passer byes. I entered this photo of him in an amature photographic competition and was asked to give this image to the NSW State Library,which I did with great pride along with a couple of other photos. I believe that, photographer David Moore was a judge in this competition. The photo was also published in the Sunday Telegraph in November 1991. 
    It was interesting to hear about Joseph’s life and his how it is he came to live in Sydney. 
    Im glad I was able to capture an image of The Trolley Man.

  • Hi, I was a policeman from 1966 on. I am now 73 retired, and I remember for vagrants who were convicted were given a 3 month sentence in the country stayed in our lock up for that time (sometimes I would take them home for lunch) That is also the time the track rations were given out. I can remember back at that time even if they had 10 shillings on them they could still be convicted for vagrancy hope I am right. Hopefully you might send me a email about this to silence some critics. Thanks..Fred.

  • I was the NSW Historian for Australia Post from 1977 to 1988 and my family arrived in Sydney late in 1800, hence my interest. I saw Joe Cindric often around Angel Place and the inner city but never knew his history. I came across many eccentrics as a train driver, and generally they were harmless even if unemployable.

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