||Issue No. 138||31 May 2002|
Interview: The Star Chamber
Politics: The Odd Couple
Media: Audiences Before Politics
International: The Off-Side Rule
Economics: The Fake Persuaders
History: Terror Tactics
Poetry: Food, Modified Food
Review: Spiderman Spins Out the US
Satire: England's World Cup Disaster: Star Hooligan Breaks Foot
The Locker Room
Week in Review
In Defence of Latham
Swans A Pathetic Con-Job
Stevanovic, with the support of the CFMEU, is on a one-man strike with his painstaking restoration of Blacktown's Serbian Orthodox Church, St Nicholas', just months away from completion.
Why? Because he's become another victim of an immigration regime that doesn't follow through on the thousands of work visas issued each year. Besides, the church can hardly go out and get someone from Work For The Dole to finish the job.
In his mid-40s, Stevanovic is an iconographer of international repute. He holds double fine arts degrees from Belgrade University and studied his ancient craft in Italy, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Holland, Greece, Spain and Portugal before completing a scholarship in Norway.
Prior to his homeland being bombed beyond recognition he had painted the insides of 10 Yugoslav monasteries, some of which were 700 years old.
In 1997 he came to Australia to visit his sister in Blacktown. News of his presence spread throughout the Orthodox community and it wasn't long before the priest at St Nicholas' was onto DIMA about the possibility of a special work visa.
The cleric could envisage the inside of his western suburbs church being transformed into the equal of most anything in Europe, a job that would take the best part of five years.
Clearly, we're not talking a ladder and a can of Dulux here. The walls and ceilings of traditional Orthodox churches are covered in intricate Byzantine frescoes - real Michaelangelo stuff.
It was a toss-up for Stevanovic whose wife and two children were still on the family farm, 140km south Belgrade.
But, having already turned down a professorship to remain a working artist, it was the state of his homeland that swung the issue. Today, in Serbia, there is not enough money for penicillin, let alone gold paint and most places of worship have been ruined. Prior to leaving, Stevanovic had found himself restoring the works of others, rather than creating his own.
He set about St Nicholas' with enthusiasm, covering the walls with his finest handiwork and spending more than a year, flat out on scaffolding, applying intricate designs to the ceiling.
But, early on, when the priest gave him a disused hall, without bath or shower, for his paint and told him it would double as his living quarters, the seeds of doubt were planted.
They flowered as promised cash continually failed to materialise.
In the four and a half years before being referred to the CFMEU, Stevanovic says, he received $30,000 in ocassional stipends and a good $20,000 of that went back into buying paint and equipment for the job.
He has kept himself going by turning out dozens of small, wooden icons outside the 70-80 weekly hours he has devoted to St Nicholas'. One of his best customers has been a priest from the nearby Catholic church.
The work at St Nicholas' has been praised by church and community leaders but Stevanovic insists there won't be another lick of paint until wages and entitlements have been sorted out.
CFMEU secretary, Andrew Ferguson, calls the situation "another Ruddock outrage", comparing it with the eight Hindu stonemasons the Minister's department had working at Helensburgh for $110 a week.
"We don't blame the Serbian church for this situation. The Federal Government is facilitating the abuse of this man's skills while trying to drive down the wages and conditions of Australians," Ferguson says.
"They let in as many as 15,000 people on working visas each year but don't follow them up. Everyone knows about the temple stonemasons but these highly-skilled people are just the tip of an ice-berg."
Construction companies, Ferguson says, bring in Chinese and Koreans on 12-month visas then send them home to be paid in their own currency at Chinese or Korean rates.
"It's a rort and this Government is encouraging it," Ferguson argues.
So where does all this leave Stevanovic? In a hut in a Blacktown park working on a mural, depicting the history of the region, he will donate to the local council.
He wants to bring his wife, son and daughter to Australia and, armed with four or five contract offers from around NSW and Queensland, has applied for permanent residence.
That way, at least, he would attract Australian wages and conditions when he embarks on his next masterpiece.
Besides, argues a man whose work has already been finalist-listed for Australia's prestigious Dobell Prize, he has the skills and experience to make a contribution to this country's artistic development.
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