APPRECIATION: John Zammit (1926-2017)
John Zammit was born on 20 May 1926 in the town of Paola, Malta. His was a very happy life until the age of 14, when war broke out and Malta became a country under siege. From 1940 to1942 it was under constant bombardment. John witnessed the loss of many lives − none more sad than that of his grandparents, whose house was flattened in one of the many attacks. These painful memories of war lived with John for the rest of his life.
John left home one day after his 17th birthday, when he joined the British military occupation forces, as a civilian in Tripoli, Libya in North Africa. It was during his time there, at the age of 19, when delivering a message from Malta to the Cassar family that he met the love of his life – Jane Cassar.
After a two-year courtship, aged 21, he married Jane. this was to be a beautiful union between two people who would remain devoted to one another for an amazing 69 years and 7 months.
Still in Tripoli and now employed as a district clerk for the Hom/Cussabat district in North Africa, John became a father. In 1949, when he was 23, his first child Dorothy was born. Fatherhood brought immense happiness to John, a role he loved and treasured all his life. Imagine his ecstasy when in 1953, his first son Saviour was born. John was 27.
John was an adventurer. For many years he had read about this huge continent called Australia – full of opportunities but on the other side of the world. He would tell Jane often about these opportunities hoping he would infect her with his enthusiasm.
So in July 1955, John undertook the long 8-day trip by air to Melbourne, via Sydney, in Australia, where he would settle before bringing his young family out in Sept that year. They also flew into Sydney and John was there to greet them. The re-united family flew together to Melbourne. John met them in Sydney because he couldn’t be one more day without them.
Life began in Australia at 86 Highett St Richmond. It was there that John was blessed with his second son – little Aussie Vincent – his family was complete.
It was at this time that John went to work for the state electricity commission (the old SEC). He worked hard, he took on extra studies, and gained many promotions culminating in the position of the Secretary of the Approvals Board of the SEC. He held this position for 20 years until he retired aged 58. It was a most rewarding career.
John loved Australia and the unlimited opportunities he could see. In 1958 John and Jane purchased their first home and moved their very young family to Glenroy. Miles and miles of beautiful open space, no made roads, no gutters, really no infrastructure – but lots of fresh unpolluted air John said, but Jane was less than happy!
So there in the middle of nowhere, John’s community spirit kicked in. He came to realise lots of fresh air was great but the community needed roads, storm water drainage, buses, and parks. So John formed “the Progress Association Committee”. All meetings were held in his lounge room and John began the process of canvassing members of parliament until one at a time infrastructure in his community became complete, including a park for the neighbourhood children.
At the same time John’s love of Australia’s opportunities was being shared with friends back home, who were seeking to ensure a better life for their children. John sponsored many families to Australia, the Minglis, the Gabrieles, the Grechs and the Schembris to mention just a few.
John saw the need for immigrants to inter-act with a strong healthy support system so along with Paul Paris and Father Galea and others he helped establish the Maltese Community Council of Victoria (MCCV). John Zammit was one of the founding members and its first Secretary.
This council provided Maltese immigrants with lots of support, helping them find employment, translators and help with simple paperwork. They ran charity nights to collect money to help families suffering financially. He would visit families in their homes to ensure they were settling in and he’d help resolve many of their problems while settling into their new country.
One of the recurring issues was the attainment of drivers licences without a good grasp of English. So in 1964, as MCCV Secretary, John went to Canberra to campaign and he lodged a request for licence tests to be published in the language of each culture. His argument was this would increase opportunities for employment and aid in their successful settlement in their new country South Australia was the first state to offer driver licence questions in other languages followed closely by the rest of Australia.
John remained active within the community he lived in and the Maltese community until his retirement at 58.
Retirement took John to Dromana and, on Jane’s insistence, they joined Main Ridge Lawn Bowls Club – and he became Secretary of the Executive Committee and re-wrote the constitution of the club. Interestingly, at about the same time, John took to writing a book – a fictional story that read really well and many of us thought he should have tried to have it published. He loved words. While he enjoyed his bowling, what he really enjoyed was the camaraderie and friendships he formed.
He spent many wonderful years within the lawn bowling fraternity and, once again, that generous nature of his to include everyone came up with the idea that Malta should field a bowling team in the upcoming commonwealth games to be held in Melbourne. Sounds simple and realistic provided you don’t acknowledge that (a) no one in Malta plays lawn bowls, (b) Malta has no bowling club or even a green and, as a result, (c) Malta was not a member of the Commonwealth Lawn Bowling Federation.
As to the fine details of this impossible task we’d need John himself to take us through the long, slow frustrating administrative process – but he succeeded. Lawn bowlers residing in Australia of Maltese heritage were able to compete in round robin playoffs to qualify to represent Malta in the Commonwealth Games.
He then engaged a world class coach, Rex Johnston, to train the Maltese team, which would compete in the 2006 Commonwealth Games, and John was Team Manager.
At the age of 80 he was the oldest person to march in the Opening Ceremony of the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne. Only Her Royal Highness the Queen sitting in the stands was older by one month. He resided in the athletes’ village with the team- he met and chatted with many interesting people including Prince Edward. I think the Prince would have enjoyed the conversation.
The first ever Maltese triple team played off for bronze and even though they didn’t win it was an amazingly successful first entry! Since then Malta has competed in India and Scotland and has won one silver and one bronze medal and enjoyed success in the international games. John remained fully active in an administrative capacity.
This man’s interesting life was carefully interwoven with his first love – his family and extended family. He was a devoted husband to Jane- she came before all else and he loved her so dearly. His children, grandchildren and great grandchildren were his heart’s great joy – John Zammit lead the life of a very good man.
May he rest in peace. S
Eulogy provided by John’s daughter Dorothy