Ray’s quest to preserve history
- Ray Korte has travelled the world and today lives at IRT Parklands
- He came to Australia from Finland when he was 19
- He’s written a book in Finnish about his travels
- Ray and his wife Linda have five grandchildren
Reijo ‘Ray’ Korte is a self-confessed travelling man.
“At 16 or 17 years old I wanted to see the world,” Ray explains from his IRT Parklands home.
Born and raised in Finland, Ray was keen to spread his wings. At the time, national service was compulsory in Finland so Ray chose to complete his service early, so he could start travelling sooner.
He left his homeland at 19, bound for Australia. The original plan was to go to Canada but after reading a magazine article about Australia he was sold.
“I had very little English at the time,” Ray explains. But that didn’t hold him back and he was granted a visa.
“I went to Stockholm with my brother, then onto Rotterdam, where I got on the ship.”
The trip took five weeks and Ray travelled to Southampton in England, Egypt, through the Suez Canal, Sri Lanka, Singapore and Melbourne.
After arriving in Victoria he went to the migrant camp – Bonegilla – and while staying there he made a couple of friends and travelled to Queensland for work.
He signed a five-month contract to cut sugar cane in Ingham, North Queensland. “The Finnish had a good reputation for being hard workers,” he says.
During his first cane cutting season Ray was also the cook – despite never cooking in his life – so he got up early each morning to make the cutters breakfast, then cut cane all day, and went back to the barrack to make dinner.
“I lasted the five months but two of the guys I went with never lasted a month. It was hard work.”
Ray ended up cutting cane for four seasons. “If you had a good reputation as a hard worker, you got the better farms.”
During the off season he worked on tobacco farms and timber plantations.
When he was 23 he moved to Sydney but ended up back in Queensland – this time in Mt Isa working in the mines. It was during this time he met Linda – a young migrant from Wales who had come to Australia with her family.
“We’ve been married 55 years now.”
Ray and Linda had three boys and today have five grandchildren.
Ray retired after 30 years with the Mt Isa mines and they moved to Mission Beach, North Queensland in 1994. “We lived there for 15 years before moving into the retirement village on the Sunshine Coast.”
Since living in Australia Ray’s made ten trips back to Europe and seen a lot of the world – as he always wanted to do. He’s also been helping to keep the history of Finnish immigrants alive through storytelling and preserving history.
“In 2007 I was part of a Finnish TV program which told the stories of Finns living overseas,” Ray says. It wasn’t long after that he met Professor Olavi Koivukangas from the Institute of Migration in Finland, who was trying to get sugar cane artefacts to Finland. “And I volunteered to help.”
Ray explains The Finnish Emigrant Museum was searching for a sugar cane barrack, which housed Finnish workers, to install in the museum.
Thousands of Finns lived and worked in the Queensland sugar cane fields during the 1900s.
On returning home to the Sunshine Coast from that trip in 2009, Ray and Linda placed ads in the local paper, seeking a suitable barrack to dismantle and send back to be installed in the museum. They located one in Ingham, which was donated by a farmer. “There were a lot of calls and paperwork. I had to organise volunteers to pull it down. It took two weeks to take it down. The Finnish Ambassador visited us too.”
Ray then found and purchased a shipping container to ship the barrack back to the museum in Finland. Linda and Ray visited the museum when the project was completed.
Ray also started writing a book in retirement. It’s written in Finnish and is called Reissumies Down Under, which translates to Travelling Man Down Under. The book was officially launched in 2018 and 70 copies were printed.
Ray feels very honoured that a copy is in the National Library of Finland and his story is preserved for future generations.