The old socialist who opened a Bulli fish shop

Paul Yolkin *

Pavel ‘Paul’ Yolkin came to live in Bulli with his partner Glad Polleski in 1923.

After retiring, dusted from the Bulli colliery, Yolkin and Glad opened a fish shop on the highway opposite the Bulli Family Hotel. But it wasn’t his fish shop he was known for. He was known as a pioneer of the early socialist movement in Australia. The Russian immigrant was one of the many hundreds of thousands of immigrants, who came to Australia before World War I to build the railways and towns and mine the metals.

Paul Yolkin died at the age of 86, and the following article, published in the Tribune, recalled the fascinating life of the old socialist on his death in 1982.

Paul Yolkin — a pioneer of Australian – socialism

Paul Yolkin (left) in Viet Nam
demonstration in Wollongong – Tribune

By Laurie Aarons

The death of Paul Yolkin at the age of 86 in Wollongong last month broke one of the few remaining links with the pioneering founders of modern Australia and the early socialist movement.

He was one of the many hundreds of thousands of immigrants, who came to Australia before World War I to build the railways and towns and mine the metals. This was also the time of growing unionism, the early Labor Party and the socialist movement.

Whereas most immigrants; came from England, Scotland and Ireland, Paul was one of the Russians who came to Australia. He was born in 1896 into a farming family in Toorashi village. When he was 14 the family fell on hard times and migrated to the Chinese city of Harbin, seized to become part of the Russian Empire. Here, he was introduced to revolutionary politics and the struggle against the Tsarist autocracy. Harbin, close to the then Russo-Japanese border, was under strict military control and workers demonstrations were suppressed by force. Paul was one of a group who swam the Sungari River with red flags wrapped around their bodies to celebrate May Day in Japanese-occupied Manchuria!

War seemed near in 1912, so he and five other, young men decided to emigrate to avoid conscription into the army. They went to Port Arthur to go to the United States, but Paul decided at the last minute to board a ship for Brisbane.

Broke in Brisbane Arriving in Brisbane broke, he found the Labor Exchange and was on a train for Bundaberg the night he landed, to cut cane. This was the beginning of Paul’s Odyssey of backbreaking labor around Australia. He joined his first union, the Amalgamated Workers Association (later the AWU) and the Russian Socialist Group, then active in Brisbane.

From Bundaberg he went to work at the Mt Chalmers copper mine, took part in his first strike and experienced life in a company-controlled town, living in barracks and forced to buy everything from the company store. He then sailed to Albany in Western Australia where he first cut jarrah for railway sleepers, then worked in the Great Boulder goldmine.

The war broke out while he was in Boulder City and he publicly opposed it, bringing harassment from the police who finally escorted him out of town. Eight bob a day Moving on to Kalgoorlie, he worked on the Transcontinental Railway, then under construction. He was in one of two gangs of 400 men who laid one mile of track a day for a wage of eight shillings for 10 hours’ work. While in Kalgoorlie, Paul heard the legendary Monte Miller speak. Then in his eighties, Miller had been at the Eureka Stockade and was a leader’ of the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World).

Paul moved on in 1915, working briefly at the Port Pirie lead smelters. From there he took his pushbike, stopping off to plant grapevines at Mildura and then riding to Broken Hill where he settled for nearly three years, working in the silver-lead mines. Broken Hill was a militant and highly political town, with a strong socialist movement. Paul again met up with Russian socialists and marched with them in December 1917 to celebrate the Russian Revolution. Another famous working-class figure, Percy Brookfield, befriended Paul. Brookfield was then a member of the NSW parliament, representing Broken Hill miners, a brilliant orator and a convinced socialist who was later assassinated at Sydney’s Central Railway Station.

Paul took part in the famous 1918 strike which lasted 18 months and is remembered as the “potato and onion” strike. He left the Hill to collect money for the strikers in Cobar and Coonabarabran, pushing his bike and then riding on to Sydney. He joined up with the Russian Socialist Group there and resumed his friendship with Peter Simonov, a friend in Harbin and Brisbane who became the first Soviet government representative in Australia. The Russian Socialist Group joined the United Communist Party established in 1922 and Paul began his 60 years’ membership of the CPA.

Settled at Bulli

From Sydney, Paul went to the South Coast where he lived for the rest of his life. He settled in Bulli with his friend Glad Polleski in 1923, started work at the Old Bulli mine and formed a CPA branch there with Glad, Jack and Maude Hickens* and others. When he was forced out of the mines by the dreaded dust in 1938, Paul and Glad started a fish shop in Bulli opposite the hotel. They had two shop-windows, one displaying their fish and the second Tribune and other CPA publications. Tragedy struck in 1942 when Glad contracted a kidney disease in pregnancy which was fatal for both mother and child — a terrible blow which Paul felt deeply. He sold the fish shop, became a builder and continued his political activity which he sustained till his final illness. He was active in the Pensioners Association and the Australia-Soviet Friendship Society, and was deeply committed to the peace movement, hardly missing a Wollongong demonstration. His many fiends and comrades are proud to have known a man who worked hard all his life gave so much to the cause he espouse for nearly 70 years, and remained unpretentious and modest.

* Jack and Maude Hitchens

* This photo of Paul Yolkin hangs in the Bulli Senior Citizens in Hospital Road, Bulli. Yolkin donated the land for the centre. Thanks to Suzi Wakefield.

This plaque sits under the photograph of Paul Yolkin in the Bulli Senior Citizens Centre. Picture: Suzi Wakefield

Subscribe to the latest Looking Back stories

Can you help by donating to Looking Back?

Would you like to make a small donation towards the running of the Looking Back and Bulli & Clifton Times websites? If you would like to support my work, visit my donation page where you can leave a small tip of $2, or several small tips, just increase the amount as you like. Your generous patronage of my work and research, however small it appears to you, will greatly help me with my continuing costs.


One thought on “The old socialist who opened a Bulli fish shop

  1. Thanks Mick… Very relevant… my grandfather was Jask Hayes… quarry and waterside worker and active in politics….

    ……………………………………….. Best Regards, Mike Davey WhatsApp, WeChat & Phone +61 (0) 412 369 552 …………………………………………


    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s