Williamstown’s Vedran Drakulic was 30 in 1992 when war broke out in Bosnia, and it was only thanks to his work with Red Cross that he got out alive.
Now the refugee has been honoured with a Medal of the Order of Australia for his service to the community through charitable organisations.
“I often say that Red Cross saved my life because, if I didn’t work for the Red Cross, I probably would have ended up in the army and then got killed,” he said.
“It’s not an exaggeration – I’m positive about that because I often say I have no friends from my generation in Sarajevo … they either left like I did or they were killed in the war.
“In the war, I lost my only brother. He was killed as a civilian victim very early in the war when there was a lot of shellings of the city – indiscriminate, just they start shelling and people die.”
Mr Drakulic left Sarajevo, while it was under siege, in 1995. His current role is chief executive of Gandel Philanthropy, a private family foundation that provides grants to Jewish and other causes. He is also on the advisory committee of the Gandel Holocaust Studies Program for Australian Educators.
“People and the society should not forget … breaches of human rights can very quickly escalate from being just simple breaches to serious crimes against humanity,” he said. “We have to be upstanders rather than bystanders.”
Aside from his ‘day job’, Mr Drakulic’s Australia Day honour recognises his volunteer work at organisations including International Social Service Australia, of which he is president and which supports families in cases of parental child abduction across borders.
He’s also on the board of Adult Multicultural Education Services and the committee of management of the Hobsons Bay Community Fund.
“That’s really at the grassroots level here in the local community, which is, for me, very, very fulfilling to be able to give back in the local community as well,” he said.
Mr Drakulic said it was very humbling and inspiring to be recognised on Australia Day.
“Coming to this country as a refugee, I was given a second chance at another life, and both my wife and I, and our daughter now, we look at Australia as our home country … we want to give back,” he said.
“I would really dedicate this to every refugee that comes to this country and makes a new life … but also makes Australia the wonderful country that we live in.”