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From the Balkans to Batlow

Vera and Mike Veljanovski have been coming to the caravan park four times a year for thirty years.

Vera and Mike Veljanovski, nestled under a tarp with a bottle of rosé while a sudden downpour of summer rain rattles against their caravan, have been coming to the Tumut region several times a year for 30 years.

Peter Jovinov, doing the same thing in the bay next to them at Riverglade Caravan Park except with scotch and coke, has been coming for 21.

They are each part of the former Yugoslav community in Sydney, and fell in love with the mild climate, abundance of fruit, rolling crests, and giant leafy elms of the Southern Highlands because it reminds of them of their European home.

“We come four times a year: Christmas time, Easter time, and then the public holidays,” said Mr Veljanovski.

“We come for Christmas for a few weeks, the same spot every year – this is my 30th year.

“We started with a tent, then a pop-up camper, and then a small caravan, and now a bigger caravan – we don’t know what’s next! We just missed out on buying a house in Batlow, we put down a deposit and everything, but the seller changed their mind.

“We love it here, it feels like home – like Macedonia.”

Mr Jovinov fondly remembers the plum trees growing by the side of the road in his hometown, that anyone could pick and eat. His wife grew up surrounded by fields of strawberries, potatoes, and grapes.

Now, in Batlow, Yugoslavs make up a sizeable portion of the cherry farms’ pick-your-own customers.

“They like getting hands on and picking their own,” said apple and cherry grower Greg Mouat.

“A lot of the second generation is starting to get involved, which is good to see, some of the original people who used to come down are a bit older now and aren’t as mobile, but they’re showing their kids.

“We haven’t really promoted it but [that community] has a nose for finding where there’s good stuff where they can pick their own, we’ve been doing that for a long time now.”

Mr Jovinov, now in his late 60s, moved to Australia when he was 19. He’s been all over, but keeps finding himself drawn back to the Tumut Valley.

“This, you don’t have this anywhere else in Australia,” he said, gesturing to the fast-flowing Tumut River behind his caravan and the wider surrounds. “You can only find it here.”