KATICA SEPAROVICH opens the door to her Spearwood home cradling a four-kilo zucchini like it’s a small child.
The 81-year-old smiles with a mixture of mirth and pride.
“Early in spring I planted three seeds,” she says.
“And I say, ‘well, if something comes, be good’. And they start to grow and grow and grow.”
Despite playing down her role in producing the 48-centimetre whopper, Mrs Separovich’s got one of the greenest thumbs in the district and her family is synonymous with market gardening.
Mrs Separovich emigrated from Croatia to Fremantle in the 1950s as part of the great European migration following World War II.
“I had sister here, and she was lonely too. She say to me; ‘life might be better here, why don’t you come?’”
The sisters discovered a community of Croatian and Yugoslav people within Fremantle, one of whom was Ivan Separovich.
“Life start when I meet him,” smiles Mrs Separovich.
“I wanted a man who was kind, honest and good at dancing. He was all those things.”
Once married, the young couple lived with Ivan’s parents next door to where Mrs Separovich lives today.
Together they worked hard, digging garden beds and planting seeds, creating what became a roaring market garden culture in Spearwood.
“It used to be my career,” says Mrs Separovich.
“We grew in summer time lots of beans, and lots of onions, and you have to plant them one by one.”
Back then, the pocket of land between Newton St and Spearwood Alternative School was filled with their garden beds, supplying markets around Perth with produce.
“This property here was all flowers, roses and other beautiful ones. My stepmother loved flowers.”
These days Spearwood’s market gardens are almost just a memory, with only a couple of hold-outs keeping small plots under cultivation.
Mrs Separovich says it was hard to make friends with the language barrier.
“I used to miss Croatia very much; my people, my friends, my music, my entertainment. It was hard.
“But kindness goes farther than language,” she says.
Mrs Separovich remembers meeting Margaret Harper in 1962: “We were both in hospital, and didn’t speak each other’s language.
“Margaret was from Katanning, and she had long plaits. She was unwell and became tired brushing them, so I brushed her hair.”
When the women’s husbands came to visit, they realised they had met when Mr Separovich visited Mr Harper’s bakery.
The two couples formed a life-long friendship.
“When Margaret’s daughter was pregnant with her third child, she named her Katherine, after me. We always give them vegetables.”
Decades later, Mrs Separovich says she still loves gardening, but has never produced a giant zucchini like this before.
“I didn’t expect to get that big,” she laughs.
“I won’t cook all at once, I’ll cut it in pieces and leave some in the fridge. I like to cook simple but nice.”
by MOLLY SCHMIDT