A near on founder member of HLFCH here in Perth WA, the one & only, courageously intrepid Arpad ‘Paddy’ Bacskai, born in Hungary on 13th October 1940. Let us get to know a little more about this great & intriguing man.
Paddy’s early childhood was no walk in the park, barely a toddler he was forced into hiding as a refugee when he & his family fled for their lives. Paddy has been on the hoof as they say, in one way or another ever since. His early memories of a childhood most of us took for granted are blighted by his being an internee of the Nazi work camp program or ‘Arbeitdinst’ & in particular at Lager (Camp) Mitterberg 1 near the upper Austrian town of Schwanenstadt.
At the war’s end Arpad was declared an IDP (Internally Displaced Person), he along with his mother & his grandmother, in spite of Communist occupation having returned whence it came, remained a further five years as Mitterberg (Middlehill) internees, experiencing freedom but an almost equally awful existence. The final culmination was selection by the UNO (United Nations Organization) & forcibly sent onto Australia as a draft refugee/IDP.
Arpad & his mother had no say in the matter whatsoever. However, they were just grateful to be alive & took the order when it came, albeit that Australia was just a word & they had no idea where this new strange land was located.
Arpad’s life, as he was still known then, was steely, tough from the outset, he endured more trauma, carnage, beatings & witnessed more heinous crimes against humanity from the age of 4 to 10 years old than most of us will ever read about in a life time. As if that was not enough he then ended up being put through more hardship with his new step father Joe & his mother upon their arrival into the land of milk & honey. They were sent to the Big Bell Gold Mine south of Meekatharra in far Northern West Australia.
It is there that Arpad became ‘Paddy the bush boy’ while schooling in his 3rd different language, his first having been Hungarian, his second German & finally in Australia in English. This hard outdoor life was Paddy’s first sense of normality & he grew to adore the Australian outback & his Irish nun tutors who as Paddy said ‘were great at swinging the cane for air conditioning’, christened him Paddy & gave him an Irish demeanour, a sense of humour that he still possesses today.
Paddy left the harsh, humid, barren bush of the far north-west in 1955 aged 15 & by 17 Paddy had signed up to the Australian Infantry in the hope of avenging crimes against his family back in Hungary. He wanted to take on Communism, meet it force with force for what he had witnessed & suffered under its’ rule back in his home country of Hungary, a country where he suffered the loss of virtually his entire family with only his mother, his grandmother & himself surviving, while his father died as a direct result of his military service as an officer for Hungary on the Russian front, fighting against a brutal invading communist force.
By 1959 aged 19 Paddy had been sent to fight the communist terrorists in Malaya & was deployed there for a 2 year rotation without any stand-down. This deployment encompassed part of the 1948 – 1960 Malaysian Emergency, a fierce encounter epitomised by the loss of over 11,000 lives. This was followed by the ‘Thai-Malay Border Operations’ which virtually continued until 1998, long beyond Paddy’s own service in that theatre.
Having returned to his beloved Australia in 1961, Paddy married, had children & eventually applied & passed the famed SAS selection course, entering the SAS proper in 1966 for immediate deployment to the Indonesian Confrontation in Borneo or to be deployed in Australia’s interventions in Vietnam. Paddy being Paddy ended up flying straight into Tan Son Nhat airport in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) South Vietnam. The aircraft’s Captain calmly reporting over the PA that ‘the outside temperature was 30, & the gunfire on the ground was estimated at light to moderate’.
Paddy completed over two Tours in Vietnam, managing to survive a 1 SAS Squadron, partial 3 SAS Squadron & a continued 1 SAS Squadron deployment over this time. With all personnel returned home & on constant stand-by & training until the regiment finally rotated out of Vietnam in 1972 along with the rest of the Australian Defence Forces. Paddy’s latest call of duty for his country was again complete.
For the next 15 years, Paddy became an integral part in the ‘Unconventional Warfare, Intelligence & Special Operations’ side of the regiment’s involvements. This at a time when counter terrorism efforts world wide were pitted against the likes of the Italian Red Brigade, German Bader Meinhoff Gang & Middle Eastern Black September movements in cohort with Popular Front for Liberation of Palestine. The Bin Laden of the day was Illich Ramirez Sanches, but much better known today in movies & books as ‘The Jackal’. This work continued on until his final demobbing in February 1981.
So in 1978 while an acting Warrant Officer (Squadron Sergeant Major) & while moonlighting in private sector security in Perth WA, Paddy commenced his affiliation with Healthy Life Fitness Centre which was the Hillarys Squash Courts back then.
Paddy watched the club being built brick by brick in the late 1970’s as he secured the building site as a security guard & he has trained in it ever since its early days, so if not a formal founder member in the strictest terms, he is none the less part of the furniture. An amazing commitment of some 26 years in the one health club, Healthy Life Fitness Centre as it is known today.
Ray Pitcher then bought the venture in the early 1980’s & named it Kicks which it remained under John Wilkes & later under Louise Ferguson too. Paddy even bought shares in the early 1990’s as apparently many members did & so gained equity in the club. Thus by way of that contribution Paddy must surely be considered at least a patron if not an actual owner. In 2000 Louise Ferguson saved the club from receivership & ran it until passing it onto its’ fifth owner in late 2010.
Paddy is featured in seventeen books on war, history & humanitarian migration. Books with titles like, ‘SAS: Phantoms Of The Jungle’, ‘We Came by Sea’, ‘Voices of War’, ‘Milk & Honey – but no Gold’, ‘Who Dares Grins’.
In his current occupation as a short story writer, his work is often featured overseas, as well as assisting with the provision of material for TV & DVD documentaries. If you want to learn more about this amazing man & his astounding battles to stride through life’s curved balls & left field throws – a life each of us mostly take for granted, just give him a shout in the gym where he still trains every day. Paddy trains & socializes without a care, a man with a smile & a good word for everyone, along with a flower for the odd lady. ‘The joy of giving’, quotes Paddy, remains a pleasure from a time when there was nothing.
A credit to himself, his former birthplace & a nation that became ‘home’, plus a credit to our own Healthy Life Fitness Centre members. We honour Paddy here on member focus. Thank you for sharing a small part of what you have lived through Paddy & we all wish you good health, great training, & many happy days here in your home-town gym.