Recorded: 9 September 2004
Length: 59 minutes
Interviewed by: Bill Haskett and Diana Tapscott
Reference: OPH-OHI 80

Listen to the interview

00:00

Meinhold’s background, early childhood and family history.

02:15

Brothers' experiences in the Russian Gulags.

03:21

Latvia’s political history and independence.

06:30

Arrival in Australia and meeting Mr Calwell.

07:50

Conditions in post-war Europe.

12:16

Travel from Fremantle to Bonegilla migrant camp, then to Canberra.

16:36

Arrival in Canberra. Marriage at Manuka Church.

19:56

Family reactions to migration.

28:16

Meeting Mrs Petrov.

33:49

Mrs Petrov’s relations with her husband, Vladimir, and his dog, Jack.

43:34

The Petrovs' defection and its consequences.

52:41

The Petrovs' life in Bentleigh after their defection and their relationship with ASIO.

00:00

Meinhold's background, early childhood and family history.  

R Meinhold: My full name is Regina Meinhold.

B Haskett: And your maiden name?

R Meinhold: Pinkams.

B Haskett: Where were you born?

R Meinhold: I was born in Latvia in 1920 on 12 May.

B Haskett: Were you born in Riga?

R Meinhold: No, I was born in Rezekne, or in other words Rositten–you can pronounce it one way or the other way.

B Haskett: Did you come from a large family?

R Meinhold: Yes, I came from a very large family–eleven children. Six boys and five girls.

B Haskett: And your parents–your father was involved with the railways?

R Meinhold: Yes, he was a passenger train driver.

D Tapscott: Regina, you say there were eleven in the family–where did you come in that line?

R Meinhold: I was ninth.

B Haskett: Did any of your brothers and sisters come to Australia?

R Meinhold: I managed to get my sister to Australia. The others couldn’t come because some of them had gone somewhere else, to other countries. My brother went to Sweden during the war and I couldn’t get them from there. Some brothers stayed in Latvia, but one was brought to Siberia for some unknown reason, two brothers were brought to Siberia to the Russian head office of something. They didn’t do anything wrong at all, they just wanted to take intelligence away from them, so they were deported to Siberia, slave work.

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02:15

Brothers' experiences in the Russian Gulags.  

B Haskett: To the gulag–did your brothers survive?

R Meinhold: Only one survived. The other died there from pneumonia. The other survived because he wasn’t doing very hard jobs. He was a doctor so he was not pressed to do some hard work.

B Haskett: They were not charged with any crime, they were just taken by the Russians?

R Meinhold: They were taken by the Russian authorities but they didn’t say for what. It’s unknown for what.

B Haskett: Was that a very common experience in Latvia for many people?

R Meinhold: That’s right–completely innocent people. Whole families were deported at night, put in cars and deported straightaway into the trains. It was shocking. It was really shocking. No reason at all. They didn’t take the very simple people, they took only intelligent.

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03:21

Latvia's political history and independence.  

B Haskett: Forgive my ignorance, but before the war was Latvia an independent country?

R Meinhold: A completely independent country, yes.

B Haskett: A monarchy with a king and queen?

R Meinhold: No, we didn’t have a monarchy. The three Baltic states–Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia–three independent Baltic countries.

B Haskett: It must have been a very difficult time then, first the Germans, then the Russians?

R Meinhold: No, first the Russians–1939. That was terrible. They just occupied the country for no reason at all. They were rude, very brutal. Then when Germany started the war against Russia they went to Latvia and all the Baltic states and then the Russians ran away back to Russia, and then the Germans came and relieved us from Russian occupation. But then again, towards the end of the war, when Germany started to lose its power during the war, frozen many people for the Moscow and all that, so then the Russians pushed them out again from Latvia. So Germany went back to Germany and the Russians came in again, and they stayed. They stayed until about 1991 or something like that, until the Latvian people couldn’t stand any more Russian occupation and they fought very hard against the Russians and they managed to get independence.

B Haskett: Have you been back to Latvia since independence?

R Meinhold: Yes, I have been. I’ve been there about three times, even during the Russian occupation.

B Haskett: Have you noticed many changes?

R Meinhold: Well somehow too many Russian people came to Latvia, as migrants, because the border was open and they just came into Latvia by thousands and thousands and thousands, because they knew Latvia was a very nice country, a very nice country. So the change I saw was too many Russians there, absolutely filled with Russian people and Russian army, it was shocking to look at. We didn’t see any Latvian image anymore. It has absolutely killed Latvian image.

B Haskett: Did you find that the Germans treated the Latvians better than the Russians?

R Meinhold: One hundred percent better, yes.

B Haskett: Were there many Germans living in Latvia?

R Meinhold: Not many Germans living in Latvia, no. Not many at all.

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06:30

Arrival in Australia and meeting Mr Calwell.  

B Haskett: Regina, when did you then come to Australia?

R Meinhold: I arrived in Australia in 1947 on 29 November.

B Haskett: You caught a boat from Europe?

R Meinhold: Yes, from Germany we got the boat, the General Heintzelman, it was an American boat, from that boat about 2000 Baltic State people arrived in Australia as migrants.

B Haskett: Did the boat stop anywhere?

R Meinhold: It stopped in Fremantle. Mr Calwell, then Immigration Minister, greeted us very pleasantly. Very pleasantly.

B Haskett: You remember Mr Calwell?

R Meinhold: Yes, certainly I do.

B Haskett: You must have been one of the first boats to arrive then?

R Meinhold: The very first boat, yes.

B Haskett: Did the boat also stop in Africa or Ceylon?

R Meinhold: No, the boat didn’t stop anywhere–so we didn’t take any new migrants into the boat or anything. They were all Baltic State migrants.

D Tapscott: What were the conditions like onboard ship?

R Meinhold: Onboard were very good conditions, there were no complaints from anybody. Very nice, yes.

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07:50

Conditions in post-war Europe.  

B Haskett: How were the conditions in Europe when you left?

R Meinhold: Well I left from Germany. The war had just finished but nobody was sure if it starts again or not, because you can never be sure, but luckily enough that was the end of the war, yes. Ruins you could see in the cities, ruins and shocking bombardments. I even escaped bombardment too, from Heilbrunn, a German town. I had just got on the train and the train moved from the station and about 15 minutes later all the attack planes attacked with bombs–English planes attacked Germany. We just managed to get the train away from Heilbrunn, a very nice German town.

B Haskett: So you were in Germany during the war?

R Meinhold: I was, during the war, yes.

B Haskett: You were working there?

R Meinhold: Yes, I was working. I was working, many jobs I had. First of all I came to Germany because when the Germans occupied Latvia they needed somebody who spoke German and I knew already then five languages and I spoke German very fluently. So somehow they found me and they wanted me to work for the firm–they were building some bridges and repairing some streets–the name was Teif Bauer Gesellschaft, in German, that was the name of it, and they wanted to employ me. So I started to work for them. They had a lot of Polish war prisoners, Polish and Russians, and they couldn’t communicate with them and they needed me badly and I spoke the languages. So I was working there making wages, because they were working for them too and some other people too, and when they needed me very badly in Germany they asked me if I would be so kind and go to Germany and help them with interpretation in Germany because they had the Polish and Russian migrants there, or prisoners of war, and they needed my help. So that’s how I came to Germany. I worked in an office as a stenographer and also the interpreter.

B Haskett: What sort of things were the Polish and Russian prisoners of war talking to you about?

R Meinhold: Actually they didn’t talk to me personally. I only had to translate whenever they were asked or what their answer was. That’s all I had to do, just translate the conversation, but nothing to do with me talking to them.

B Haskett: Is it common in Latvia for people to speak so many languages?

R Meinhold: Well Latvia is border with Russia and Poland. Two main languages - Polish and Russian. Then I learned the German language and I also learned English language. My mother was Polish, so at home we spoke Polish. My father was Latvian so he learned Polish too.

B Haskett: How did you come to learn English?

R Meinhold: We learned at school. I just missed out on the French language, it was cancelled when I entered the high school.

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12:16

Travel from Fremantle to Bonegilla migrant camp, then to Canberra.  

B Haskett: When you came to Australia you said the boat docked in Fremantle–did you disembark at Fremantle?

R Meinhold: At Fremantle, yes–we went to Perth. We went to a suburb called Greenland through the Salvation Army, they were taking care of us there. They gave us accommodation and food until we were located somewhere else in Australia. Then we went to Wodonga–to a camp for us in Bonegilla. So we went to Bonegilla and there too they wanted me to work in the office, like telephonist, because they needed also English translators. So I worked there. Then I became very sick and I had to go to hospital to have my appendix removed–I was very sick. Then I didn’t come back anymore to work in Bonegilla. I was then transferred to Canberra.

D Tapscott: Regina, when you arrived in Fremantle, who was with you on the boat–your parents or husband or family?

R Meinhold: No, I was a single young lady. They were always single people, all the migrants all single, no children. No parents, no children.

D Tapscott: How old were you?

R Meinhold: I was 27.

D Tapscott: On your own coming to a new country?

R Meinhold: On my own, yes. All the other people were on their own.

B Haskett: Did you have a choice back in Germany as to where you would be sent, or was it just by accident?

R Meinhold: What I wanted was the very first chance to go anywhere–to America or to Australia. I preferred Australia, so I was listed to go to Australia.

B Haskett: What did you know of Australia?

R Meinhold: At school we learnt something about Australia–Adelaide was a very big port, a very beautiful city. We didn’t learn very much about Australia, just geography.

B Haskett: Did you have any idea in your mind about what it would be like when you came here?

R Meinhold: Well we thought that will be a very nice place to be, like a paradise. But when we arrived in Canberra, at the Canberra station where we had to disembark, we didn’t want to get out of the train. We looked around, it’s supposed to be the capital of Australia and it was nothing like it. We thought we were deceived. We thought we were out somewhere in the country and we don’t even know where it is, because we didn’t see any high buildings or anything built around, just a little shed for a railway station. We nearly cried that we were deceived, we didn’t know what to do. But then some Immigration people met us and located us to the place we had to go.

B Haskett: So you caught the train from Fremantle?

R Meinhold: From Bonegilla to Melbourne and then from Melbourne to Canberra.

B Haskett: What are your memories of Melbourne at that stage?

R Meinhold: We didn’t stay, we didn’t get out in Melbourne. Maybe just a short while sitting in the train, maybe just half an hour, that was all we had. We didn’t disembark in Melbourne for a couple of hours, no, just a very short while we stayed there, because we had to continue the journey to Canberra.

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16:36

Arrival in Canberra. Marriage at Manuka Church.  

D Tapscott: Where did you stay when you got to Canberra?

R Meinhold: Well they put me into Havelock House to work as a waitress. No–I forgot the name, something like Havelock House–to work as a waitress.

B Haskett: Where did you meet your husband?

R Meinhold: I was transferred from Havelock House to another place in Turner–they have a market there now–Gorman House–I was transferred there to be a waitress also. I met my first husband there, he was a guest there and we got acquainted. We became very friendly and good friends and we got married. After we got married, maybe one year later, I stopped working because I was to deliver our first child. So I stopped working there.

B Haskett: You were married in Canberra?

R Meinhold: In Canberra, yes. We were married at Manuka Church, St Christopher’s Church.

B Haskett: Where was your husband from?

R Meinhold: He was from Scotland. My first married name was Aitken. His name was Andrew Aitken.

B Haskett: As you explained to us before the interview, he passed on very young?

R Meinhold: Very young. He was 32 when he passed away, yes.

B Haskett: Leaving you with two small children.

R Meinhold: Two small children, that’s right, yes.

B Haskett: Where were you living at that time?

R Meinhold: At Narrabundah–in those little prefabricated houses.

B Haskett: So your second husband was Mr Meinhold?

R Meinhold: I got married to my second husband in 1960. He was from Germany, yes.

B Haskett: What made you initially move to Canberra?

R Meinhold: I had no choice. I was sent from Bonegilla to Canberra. I had no choice.

B Haskett: Was that because of the skills you had? Did they say they needed linguists or…?

R Meinhold: Maybe. I don’t know really. I don’t know. I was sent, because of my skills or something, I spoke the languages and they needed interpreters. At some stage I was interpreting at the courts, I was an interpreter there for a short while until I stopped it.

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19:56

Family reactions to migration.  

D Tapscott: Your family must have been very sad and sorry to see you go to Australia?

R Meinhold: Yes, that’s correct. Very sad.

D Tapscott: Were your parents still alive then?

R Meinhold: My mother was still alive. My father was shot by the Russians. As I said before, he was a passenger train driver and when the Germans started to move into the Baltic States and the Russians were running away, that’s 1941–or 42 or 43 or something like that–my father had just come from work, he hadn’t slept yet from night duty, and the Russian policeman came and he had to drive the train to take all the Russian people back to Russia who wanted to go there. So he had no choice, he had to go on the train. They were going to Velikiye Luki in Russia. At one distance there you go up the hill, down the hill and up the hill again, and while he was driving down the hill he didn’t know that there was another train there with other Russian people. There were no petards on the train–petards are lights on the end of the train. There were none of them, so he didn’t see any train there and as he went down to go up the hill again, he ran right into the train. So it was a very big catastrophe and he was arrested straightaway and he had a very short court and he was sentenced to death. So he was shot somewhere in Velikiye Luki and nobody knows where. That’s what happened to my father.

B Haskett: How many of your brothers and sisters survived the war?

R Meinhold: When the Germans came, Latvia organised their own army, so my oldest brother joined the Latvian Army as a doctor. Another brother was still working as a doctor but not in the army, but he was in big trouble. At one stage he was put in prison but then they let him out again. Another brother, shortly before the Germans came in again, got a boat from Latvia, from Riga, and went to Sweden to escape Russian deportation. The other brother stayed and there was a big problem with Russian people in the jail and everything. He didn’t do anything bad at all, but they were just funny people, sometimes they just take you for nothing and put you in jail, anybody, something bad, sometimes complete lies.

So my other brother, during the Russians there, was sent to Siberia to slave camp. One of his friends, they went together to the high school, and when the Russians came his friend put a red hanky in his suit pocket. My brother saw that, he took that red hanky out and put it on the floor and stepped on it. His friend was very annoyed and he reported it to the police, so they arrested my brother. He didn’t know what happened. When the court came he was asked in the court he was asked why he stepped on the red hanky–you know that’s communism, why did you step on it? He said I didn’t, I don’t remember. They said we’ll give you the evidence, and that man came and said yes, he did, because he got a job somewhere in the prison as an officer. That’s how my brother was sentenced for life in Siberia and he died there of pneumonia.

My other brother was also sent to Siberia because he didn’t like the Jews and one Jew reported it, because they’re sometimes very deceiving, those people–some good people, some bad, you can’t say they’re all bad, but that person was really bad. He reported it also to the police and he was also sent to Siberia for 15 years. After 15 years he came back home but with no right arm. There was some accident somewhere and he lost his arm. When he returned he said he remembers his brother died of pneumonia in that Siberian camp. But this other one, John, he returned after 15 years with no arm.

B Haskett: Terrible. You said one of your sisters came out to Australia?

R Meinhold: Yes. When I arrived in Australia I wanted to get my sister to Australia too, because she wanted to come here too. So I got her into Australia in 1949. She’s still in Canberra.

B Haskett: You’re still close?

R Meinhold: Oh yes. She lives also in O’Connor.

B Haskett: Did you get involved with the Latvian community?

R Meinhold: Always–very close, yes. I’ve been in the Latvian Choir singing for many, many years, about twenty years. I’ve been singing on stages, I’ve been to Adelaide to sing and in Canberra I’ve been singing also.

B Haskett: We’d love to hear a bit of Latvian music–is there any chance you could give us a few bars of something? Can you sing your favourite Latvian song?

R Meinhold: There are too many. Well, a Latvian hymn… [SINGS]. Excuse me, my voice is not the same anymore!

B Haskett: That’s lovely, thank you so much. What’s the translation of that, what is that in English?

R Meinhold: This is ‘God Bless Latvia, our homeland, lovely homeland’–all the nice things. The Latvian girl sings, the Latvian boy sings, all that–God Bless Latvia.

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28:16

Meeting Mrs Petrov.  

B Haskett: Lovely. You were telling us before about how you met Mrs Petrov?

R Meinhold: Yes. I didn’t expect something like that to happen to me. That was 1952. I was living in Narrabundah. My husband was still alive then, 1952, but he died in 1953. I met in the old Baccarat shop at Kingston a lady spoke to me–‘How are you?’–while I was looking at some materials, I wanted to do some sewing for myself. She said are you looking at materials, I said yes, I want to sew a little bit. ‘Can you sew?’ I said I will try. There are some sewing patterns and I try to sew according to the patterns. She said which country do you come from. I said from Latvia. Then she said she was from the embassy. I said then you speak Russian, I said I speak Russian too. She asked me if I could do some sewing for her. I said no problem, I can try. So that’s how we met.

Soon after, when my husband died, I started to do some sewing for her. Her husband usually brought her in the car to my place and left her there and then he went back to his house until whatever the arrangements were, one hour or something like that. So in that time I was measuring and sewing and doing this and that for her. Then her husband would come and collect her. Then some other ladies in the Russian Embassy wanted some sewing also that I could do for them. I said I had no objection, because I had little children, I had no job, so a little bit of money would help me. So I started sewing for them too, three or four Russian ladies came, besides Mrs Petrov, and I was doing the sewing for them. That’s how I got to know Mrs Petrov.

B Haskett: Dr Bialoguski said that Mrs Petrov was a very intelligent woman…

R Meinhold: She was a very intelligent woman. I’ll never forget, when my husband died, it was the first Christmas on my own. She rang and asked if she could come. I said yes, why not. So her husband brought her in the car. She came and she brought big parcels of everything–some ham, some cakes, a bottle of wine, some presents for my little children. I was so–I didn’t know what to do, I was crying for being happy, what she did for me, really crying. I hugged her and kissed her and she was kissing me too. We spent a couple of hours there, discussing some things and talking and having drinks and crying in the meantime too, you know. That was a very, very emotional time to meet her and be together with her. I never, ever expected something like that to happen, never expected. I will never, ever forget–never.

B Haskett: She must have been very sweet.

R Meinhold: Very sweet, and very emotional–very emotional. After a couple of hours, we were both very emotional, her husband came and was waiting outside to pick her up, so she went home. But she kept coming to my place, with other people too, doing the sewing. So we became very good friends. I was doing a lot of sewing for her. She said she had to send them back to Russia because she intends to go back. So all the sewing I did for her, evidently she sent them back to Russia–but she probably didn’t know what was going to happen, had no idea that her husband was going to defect.

D Tapscott: Why did she send the clothes back–was she sending them back to family?

R Meinhold: No, her own clothing–because she was going back to Russia too. Her term expired, being a diplomat, and it was time to go back to Russia. That’s why she sent all her things. And all the other ladies also k- it’s a term and when it expires you have to go back to Russia. So that was the time then.

B Haskett: One thing that always amazed me is how even given what happened in Russia under Stalin, even though Mr Petrov had defected and Mrs Petrov must have known that she would be punished…

R Meinhold: Yes, probably. Yes, she knew that–that was the Russian regime.

B Haskett: But still their love for their homeland was so great.

R Meinhold: Of course, yes. That’s where she was born and all that. Yes.

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33:49

Mrs Petrov's relations with her husband, Vladimir, and his dog, Jack.  

B Haskett: Did Mrs Petrov discuss politics with you?

R Meinhold: We never, ever discussed politics. Never, ever. Sometimes she invited me to her house in Griffith. It was a very nice house. She had a very big dog, a German Shepherd.

B Haskett: Jack.

R Meinhold: That’s right, yes. He was also on a leash, so he wouldn’t go near anybody else.

B Haskett: This is the dog that bit Mrs Petrov?

R Meinhold: That’s correct, yes. He attacked her.

B Haskett: Did they get on, Mrs Petrov and Jack?

R Meinhold: Actually sometimes dogs get sick, mentally sick, especially those German Shepherds. They get sick and they attack anybody, even their owner. There is nothing you can do so you have to destroy them.

B Haskett: Did Mrs Petrov mention to you anything about having any difficulties with Mr Petrov?

R Meinhold: No, no she didn’t. No.

B Haskett: I was under the impression that Mr Petrov was a heavy drinker.

R Meinhold: Not then, but after he defected and after he was given premises where to live. Actually I didn’t expect, I only got to know, she didn’t tell me that she was going to be defecting. She was going back to Russia but she didn’t tell me, or she didn’t know herself, that she was going to be arrested by the Russian Communists. She didn’t expect that. But when she was taken to Sydney by those two Russian Communists holding her under the arms and she lost her shoe, she was so emotional and so distressed she didn’t know what to do. That’s what she told me when she rang me from Sydney. She said that we’d meet again anyway. Somehow with the help of another lady policeman, she wanted to go to the ladies room and that lady policeman had to take her to the ladies room, and from there she escaped from the ladies room. She went with that police lady to the police station and she gave herself up. She gave herself up.

B Haskett: This was in Darwin?

R Meinhold: In Darwin, yes. Then when she came to Sydney she had her security officer. She was staying in that hotel near the railway station, and she rang me–please Regina, please come and see me, I’m in the hotel such-and-such, please see me. So when I got the bus, when I knew when I was leaving, I told her please meet me wherever you can, I will be on the bus and the bus will be arriving at such-and-such time. So when I arrived on the bus she was waiting for me with the security officer in the hall in the building. So two nights I stayed there with her in that hotel, and then I went back home. She was clinging to me and she said ‘because of you I didn’t want to go back to Russia, because I knew I had a very good friend and you know you are my very good friend.’ So that’s how she stayed.

Then for a certain time we didn’t have contact for a short time until she was allocated a premises in Melbourne. Of course she had to change her name, to Allyson. But she had been writing to me from Melbourne and telephoning me very frequently, and then she asked me to come and visit her in Melbourne. That was not in East Bentley, it was another place before, and I went to see her. That’s when her husband was starting to drink a bit. After that, I didn’t see her at those premises, near the farm or something like that, she was allocated to East Bentley. Then she invited me to come and see her at East Bentley. So I went and visited her at 96 Parkmore Road in East Bentley, Victoria. That’s how we got very, very close again, constantly visiting each other. She would come to me, stay one week with me, but her security officer always accompanied her. At one stage she came on the plane and stayed with me for one week, then I took her to the airport again and she went back.

D Tapscott: You said she called herself Allyson–was that her Christian name or surname?

R Meinhold: That was her new surname, not Petrov. Maria Allyson.

B Haskett: Did she speak to you after the defection in later years about what she’d been doing at the embassy?

R Meinhold: No, no. We never discussed her job at the embassy, what she was doing–never, ever. I didn’t ask and I wasn’t trying to get it out of her because it was not important for me. At one stage, and I’m very grateful to her, she said ‘Regina, one of the embassy men will come and visit you. I’m warning you, please don’t tell him your maiden name, because he will get all your relatives in trouble.’

B Haskett: Pinkhams?

R Meinhold: Pinkhams, yes. “All your relatives will get in trouble, but please don’t tell him I said that.’ I said ‘never in your life.’

B Haskett: Which year was that?

R Meinhold: I think that was 1953.

B Haskett: Before the defection?

R Meinhold: Before defection, yes–’53–after my husband died. That man came and he asked where I come from, I said from Latvia. And what is my maiden name, I told him a lie, complete lie. Do I have any other relatives beside my family, I said no. He said you know, it’s best if you go back to Latvia, you’re on your own now, you have two little children and in Latvia you will be well cared for by us. You’ll get your children to school, you’ll get good accommodation there in Latvia, our management will help you and everything, you will be very pleased. We can arrange that very shortly that you can go back to Latvia and live there. I said at the moment I can’t decide and I can’t tell you if I do or not, but I said I think I’d better not, I don’t think I will, because my children are born in Australia and Australia is a very good country, so I think I’ll stay in Australia. He said alright, but if you should change your mind please let me know. I said thank you very much. So he went.

I promised Petrov that I would call her afterwards when he was gone. Somehow, some trouble with the children, they were sick or something, I couldn’t call her straightaway. I called her only the next morning. She said ‘I couldn’t sleep all night, I was so nervous, I was walking up and down, up and down, waiting for your call, I was afraid that you’d give my name to him’. I said no, I would never, ever do such a thing. But she was very nervous and she was grateful that I didn’t reveal her, that she warned me what to say and what not to say.

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43:34

The Petrovs' defection and its consequences.  

B Haskett: What was the reason for the visit by the Russian Embassy man?

R Meinhold: Actually, because he knew that some other lady was coming to do sewing and he knew I was from Latvia, so he probably wanted to find out something more, what’s happening in Latvia, and just to report, maybe get my relatives in trouble.

D Tapscott: Do you think they might have been watching you to see whether you made contact with Petrova at all?

R Meinhold: I don’t know what their reason was, but I think their main reason was to find out my maiden name so he could put all my relatives in trouble, because you know my brothers were well educated, three doctors, and they just wanted to put them in trouble, that’s all.

B Haskett: Were you surprised when you picked up the newspaper or turned on the radio and heard that Mr Petrov had defected?

R Meinhold: Yes, that was heartbreaking for me. Really, I cried. When I saw her picture in the newspapers, such a sad picture, emotionally sad, and no shoe, one shoe is lost. I was so upset, so upset. I was so glad when I got a phone call from her the next day.

B Haskett: Was there anyone from the Latvian community in the crowd at Mascot who were trying to stop the Russians from taking Mrs Petrov?

R Meinhold: No. I didn’t know. No, I didn’t know.

D Tapscott: I’m amazed how she was able to get to that toilet in Darwin and got that policeperson on side.

R Meinhold: Yes, She needed badly to go to the toilet and she escaped through the window. I don’t know what kind of window was there. She said she escaped with the help of that other lady, the policeperson, through the window.

D Tapscott: Where would you go?

R Meinhold: Yes–because if she would have come out the same way they would have just grabbed her again. Through the window somehow she escaped.

B Haskett: Of course they had guns, the Russians…

R Meinhold: That’s right, they had guns, yes. Anyway, ever since then we became very, very good friends. All the time she would come to my place and stay for a week. I used to live here, and then I used to live in Curtin, I had a big house there, she used to come there and stay for a week, or I would go to Bentley and stay with her for a week. That’s when her husband got to drinking. She often complained that she hid the bottle of alcohol somewhere and he would chase her around the table to catch her so she would tell him where the bottle was hidden. Sometimes he was very upset, very upset. He was a really heavy drinker then, very heavy drinker.

B Haskett: How was their life in general in Australia–did they regret having made that decision?

R Meinhold: I don’t know if they regret. Maybe they did, but they wouldn’t have any life in Russia. She would be shot, definitely, or put for life in prison. But she had no choice, she knew what would happen, why these two Russian couriers were dragging her, she knew something very bad was going to happen–very bad.

B Haskett: But strangely her family weren’t persecuted, were they? I read that her father lost his job but that was the worst that happened to them.

R Meinhold: Yes. Well, they couldn’t do anything with her mother and sister because they didn’t do anything bad. But still, I don’t know how they escaped that. I don’t know.

So we kept in touch all the time. She was writing to me all the time, letters and on my birthday, happy birthday–all in the Russian language, because I could read Russian too. In the end, my daughter was getting married so I invited her to my daughter’s wedding, she was very happy to be at my daughter’s wedding. You saw the pictures of the wedding. We kept being together and seeing each other until two years ago, I had a call from her security officer, he said ‘I just want to inform you that Mrs Petrov died, Ducia died’–that was her first name (Evdokia)–Ducia died on the 28th of September. I started to cry, I said when is the funeral, he said the funeral is tomorrow. I said I want to go to the funeral. He said that wouldn’t be advisable, he said ‘I don’t advise you to come to her funeral.’ So I couldn’t go to her funeral.

B Haskett: Very sad for you.

D Tapscott: That was two years ago–2002?

R Meinhold: That’s right, yes–on 28 September.

B Haskett: I’m sorry to harp on the same question again, because you’ve already told us that you and Mrs Petrov didn’t talk about politics…

R Meinhold: Never. Never.

B Haskett: You don’t know then whether she remained a communist?

R Meinhold: I don’t know, but when I was at her place in East Bentley, because I’m Catholic and wanted to go to church, she went to church with me, and she was making the cross too in the church, she was in the ceremony in the church until it ends, and at home every time we go out together she would make a cross. I say Ducia, but you have no religion, but she says I always make a cross when I go out, I believe in God–even though I don’t have a religion, I believe in God, she said.

B Haskett: Was she brought up as Russian Orthodox?

R Meinhold: Well she would be Russian Orthodox. That’s the way she made the cross, Russian Orthodox–twice, like that.

B Haskett: So she never spoke to you about Prime Minister Menzies or Doctor Evatt?

R Meinhold: Never, ever. I think it didn’t interest her at all. Her thoughts were somewhere else, not with those people–definitely not.

B Haskett: What about when the Iron Curtain came down, when the USSR collapsed and Russia was again an independent country, free of communism–did she have any view on that? Did she say she’d like to visit Russia then?

R Meinhold: No, she wouldn’t go to Russia, because she knows that eventually she would be in jail. But after everything was alright her sister wanted to come to Australia, so somehow with the government’s help she came to Australia. But somehow she didn’t agree very well with her sister. Her sister always seemed to be much smarter than her and she was always upset, sometimes for no reason, just trying to be smarter, you know, just overpowering her and making her absolutely small. She didn’t like that and she was often upset. So she decided if she would be alright she would get accommodation for her somewhere else so she could live in peace. So she found somewhere, a room to share a house somewhere. After that her sister found a boyfriend and everything was alright with them, with her and boyfriend, and Ducia was all by herself in peace and quiet.

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52:41

The Petrovs' life in Bentleigh after their defection and their relationship with ASIO.  

B Haskett: Did their neighbours in Melbourne know that they were Mr & Mrs Petrov?

R Meinhold: I don’t think so. I don’t think so–that was a very well-kept secret–very well. There were some Lithuanians living next door, they were good friends, but she never revealed her identity.

B Haskett: Did she ever speak to you about any of the ASIO agents, like Michael Thwaites or Ron Richards or Colonel Spry?

R Meinhold: No, never ever. I never heard these names, never ever.

B Haskett: She must have been a very discreet woman then?

R Meinhold: She must have been, yes. Never, ever, any other people working in the embassy or anything–never, ever.

B Haskett: I suppose she was a very highly trained intelligence agent, so she would be trained not to speak of things.

R Meinhold: That’s correct, yes.

B Haskett: I suppose she knew how dangerous too it could be to talk about things.

R Meinhold: That’s correct, yes, you’re right.

B Haskett: Mrs Petrov had a daughter from her first marriage, but the daughter died?

R Meinhold: Well, that was in Norway, when they were there as diplomats. She had a miscarriage and that was the end of it. Her very first child was a miscarriage.

B Haskett: And she had no children after that?

R Meinhold: No, none anymore–after that she never had any children.

B Haskett: Did Mr Petrov have children from a previous relationship?

R Meinhold: I don’t know. I really don’t know.

B Haskett: He had several different names, didn’t he–he was Proletaski and Petrov and another name when he was born?

R Meinhold: No, I don’t know about that.

B Haskett: Is it common for Russian people to have several different names?

R Meinhold: No, not at all. There must have been a reason that he was doing that. No, it’s not common at all.

B Haskett: Regina, could you just talk about the photograph you were kind enough to lend us, of yourself and Mrs Petrov?

R Meinhold: That’s Mrs Petrov and myself, yes. This is myself, this is my sister and my two children.

B Haskett: This is at a party?

R Meinhold: No, just when I lived at O’Connor–15 Bird Street–in those prefabricated homes. She arrived from Melbourne and we had a little gathering, it had a little barbecue there near my house. That must have been 1959 or 1957, something like that.

B Haskett: So from the left we have Mrs Petrov, your sister, yourself, and then your two children?

R Meinhold: Yes, my children–Andrew and Robert.

B Haskett: I have three photographs now of Mrs Meinhold’s daughter’s wedding that we have copies of at OPH. The first one shows Mrs Meinhold hugging her son-in-law with Mrs Petrov on the right of the photo and various other family friends in the background.

The second photograph is Mrs Petrov with some other guests sitting at a table at Mrs Meinhold’s daughter’s wedding.

The third photograph is some wedding guests and Latvian relatives from America. The wedding was in 1991 at the Yowani Golf Club in Canberra.

You were telling us that Mrs Petrov didn’t really have any friends in the Russian community here, so her friends were mainly from the Baltic community?

R Meinhold: No, I don’t think so. Well, of course, I wasn’t always there–maybe she had some little friends, some ladies, some acquaintances, but she didn’t have any real friends.

B Haskett: Did she have a fairly lonely sort of life?

R Meinhold: Yes, very much so.

B Haskett: Was that from choice, do you think?

R Meinhold: No. It was because she had to somehow keep incognito. Incognito.

B Haskett: Were they in fear of their lives?

R Meinhold: Not here, not in Australia–no.

B Haskett: They didn’t worry that the Russians might try to assassinate them?

R Meinhold: Well evidently none of them knew where they were, and they were under different names, so it was hard to find out. I kept my promise, I never reveal anybody, I didn’t tell anybody. So it was hard to find out, unless they got into the department or the government or something like that, to find out their name.

D Tapscott: We’re almost at the end of the interview, but is there anything else you’d like to add to this interview today, anything about your life or your association and friendship with Mrs Petrov?

R Meinhold: Well, after her death I am not the same person anymore because I miss her very much. I miss her all the time.

D Tapscott: Okay, I think we’ll cease at this time.

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