Filip Koubek: Today’s Czechs in Australia fit in easily

Filip Koubek, photo: Ondřej Tomšů

Many Czechs in Australia will be familiar with the voice of Filip Koubek. This is because for many years he presented special Czech broadcasting produced by the country’s SBS radio aimed at Czech expats living in the country. Now, more than 40 years after its launch, the service has been discontinued.

Filip Koubek,  photo: Ondřej Tomšů
I met with Mr Koubek, who has recently returned to the Czech Republic, to discuss the Czech broadcasting as well as the reasons behind its closure.

“SBS was established in 1975 as a special broadcasting service for people who didn’t speak English that well. It became the largest multi-language broadcasting in the world. In 2016 we had 74 languages, so it was really huge. Now it is just 67.

“The Czech programme was one of the oldest and served the Czech community, which was really big at the time. We had people who came from Czechoslovakia in 1948 and 1968. These two waves were the largest for the Czech community.”

Unfortunately, the Czech programme has recently been suspended. What are the reasons behind this decision?

“What I know is that the Czech community is not that big now. Australia is growing very fast. There are around 150,000 people heading there every year.

“Another thing is that the English proficiency in the Czech community is pretty good, so there was very little reason to continue the Czech broadcasting. This is the main argument.”

But that doesn’t mean that the second- or third-generation of Czech expats would not be interested in news from their homeland?

“They probably are, but you need to think about budgeting and you need to allocate the funds in some way. And there are probably communities who need broadcasting in their language more.”

Will there be some sort of replacement of this service for the Czech community?

“The English proficiency in the Czech community is pretty good, so there was very little reason to continue the Czech broadcasting.”

“At this moment, I can’t really tell. What I can say is that we have a Slovak programme as well, so if people are interested, they can tune in to the Slovak programme and listen to that.

“But other than that, maybe after the next census, which is the period when they do a so-called review of the radio schedule. And that will happen in three or four years.”

Can you tell us a little bit more about the Czech community in Australia? Where is it concentrated?

“The biggest community is in Sydney. I can’t tell you the exact numbers, but it is in thousand. The Czech Foreign Ministry says we have 30 to 40,000 Czech speakers in Australia. In Cairns, Perth, Adelaide, and other cities as well.”

How did you yourself end up living in Australia?

“I like adventure and I like English and I thought it would be nice to go to Australia to improve my English and learn new skills. So I just went.”

And how did you become an SBS Czech presenter?

“That’s actually a longer story. When I was at high school, we organised a pirate broadcasting called Radio Platypus, together with my brother David, who created a transmitter for this. So this was the beginning of my radio career.

“But I studied journalism and I also really love camera. I used to work as a cameraman for Czech Television, although I never studied didn’t really study camera. And then I went to Australia and I started to work for SBS Czech.”

Tell us a little bit more about SBS Czech. What kind of topics were the Czech listeners interested in?

“The main idea was to give the people living in Australia information about the country, such as Australian government, law, financial system and so on, in a language they understand. So we were also broadcasting information about politics, culture and nature.

“Another thing was news and current affairs from the Czech Republic, because the community was really interested in news from their homeland. So these were our two main areas of interest.”

Sydney | Photo: Matthew Field,  Wikimedia Commons,  CC BY 2.5
How frequently was the programme broadcast?

“When I was there, it was once a week for one hour. So we were one of the smallest programmes.”

And what did the programme look like?

“We had news we had sports, we had an editorial, which was my own view on current topics. We also had current affairs and a commentary from the Czech Republic concerning politics, culture or society. We also had our own features and interviews.”

How many people were there on your team?

“There were three of us: one regular employee and a few outside workers. We also had two commentators from the Czech Republic.”

So you were the regular employee…

“Yes, working as a presenter and executive producer.”

What about your listeners? Who are the people who are coming to Australia these days?

“We had maybe three different groups. There were old Czechoslovaks who came to Australia after 1948 and then, obviously, people coming after 1968.

“After 1989, when the Iron curtain fell and the borders opened, the group of that came to Australia was a bit different, and many of them decided to settle down there. So it’s a pretty diverse community with quite old people as well as some young people, such as students and holiday workers.”

During your work at SBS, you actually interviewed many Czechs who settled in Australia and started a new life there. Can you mention at least some of them?

“There were really many stories. For example the oldest living Australian Olympian was a Czechoslovak. He competed in Cortina D’Ampezzo in 1945, if I am not mistaken, and he competed in ski slalom.

“There are also many high-profile Czech scientists in Australia as well as many Czech artists. For example one artists of Czech origin created the prime minister’s sculpture. So it’s pretty interesting.”

“I think Australians are very positive. It’s the number one thing you notice when you come to Australia.”

I imagine that when you went to Australia, you didn’t really plan to stay for such a long time. What made you stay for six years?

“That’s right. I wasn’t planning to stay for that long. But Australia is a very nice country and there are many things to do. I was also planning a big trip, which I did. It was a motorcycle solo trip around Australia. It took me three months and it was and it was like the cherry on top of my Australian cake.”

What did you like about Australians and the Australian way of life? How is it different from the Czech Republic?

“I think Australians are very positive. It’s number one thing you notice when you come to Australia. Also, Australia is called lucky country, because most people don’t have problems with money. They have quite reasonable and fair incomes and they have a lot of sun as well.

“So the country is really nice and really welcoming. And people also say it is a very rewarding country, so if you work hard you can have a nice life.”

What are your plans for the future now that you have returned to the Czech Republic?

“I would like to write a book about Australia and about my motorcycle adventure. Other than that, I would love to stay in touch with the country?”

Can you tell as a little bit more about your motorcycle adventure? How long did you have to prepare for it?

“I am not really a big planner. I basically needed just some an outline of the trip. I knew it would take me about three months. I had to prepare my motorcycle really well, because the trip is pretty tough. Other than that, not much.”

Can you describe the route?

“I called it around Uluru trip, the coastal way. It is a joke, of course, because there is no coastal way around Uluru other than the whole thing. So I took it counter-clockwise, from Sydney to Brisbane, to Cairns, to Cape York, which is a very wild area, and then to Darwin, Broome, Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne and back to Sydney. It is, as I said, three months, and 27,000 kilometres.”

What kind of difficulties did you face during your journey?

Brisbane,  photo: Brisbane City Council,  CC BY-SA 2.0
“Oh, had so many. Firstly, I had troubles with my motorcycle and then some crocodiles and other wild animals. I also hit an Emu, this kind of big bird…

What about the people you met during your journey?

“I met just nice people. They were very helpful and I received many beers and hugs.”

So you made it in the end…

“I did. The bike died a day after I returned. I couldn’t start it anymore. But I made it!”