Alex (Sándor) Pongrass (Pongrácz)
|First name||Alex (Sándor)|
|Last name||Pongrass (Pongrácz)|
|Country of Origin||Hungary|
|Date of Birth||11/10/2023|
|Year of Arrival in Australia||1950|
|Submitted by||Attila Urmenyhazi|
Alex Pongrass AM, businessman, captain of industry (engineering, boat building, furniture manufacture), joint-founder of the National Soccer League (NSL), soccer administrator, benefactor (1923-2000).
Alex was born into an impoverished family on 10 November 1923 in Nyiregyháza, North-east Hungary. He was the middle boy among the three sibling brothers in the family. Although endowed with scholastic aptitude, his parents could not afford his schooling past age 14. Well motivated, he then started on a textile apprenticeship but soon expanded his education by studying bookkeeping at evening technical college. Aged 16, at the outbreak of WW2 he left home and quit his apprenticeship to work in his uncle’s newspaper distribution business never to see his parents again who perished in Auschwitz death camps. His brother George luckily survived the monstrous forced labour camps of Dachau. In 1944, when Hungary was under Nazi Germany’s occupation, staking his own life he joined the Jewish underground, managed to obtain false identity papers to pose as liaison officer with the SS guards command in order to bring Hungarian Jews to the legendary Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who, by issuing protective Swedish passports saved about 4500 of them from death march deportation and/or execution.
After the war, apt and versatile Alex established connections to profit from commercial ventures, supplying food to a famishing Vienna. In 1947 Alex met his wife-to-be Klára and realizing that no prosperous future was possible to them in their homeland turning fast into a ruthless communist state, they fled across the border to Austria in March 1949. Under the care of the United Nations Refugee Agency (IRO) they became refugees a.k.a. “Displaced Persons” and had to languish in an Austrian IRO camp for a year. Like thousands of similar refugee countrymen, the penniless but hope motivated couple who could not speak any English, landed in Australia after almost a month long journey by ship.
In Sydney, Alex started to earn 7 pounds per week doing nondescript manual work, however, astute as he was, he saw great potential to prosper once his initial mandatory two year work contract with the government expired. A big change came about when his elder brother, engineer George arrived in Australia. Combining their individual skills the two brothers joined forces: Alex as businessman-trader, George as engineer-inventor to establish in a short time engineering works to design and market significant industrial innovations. In 1951 they formed a company to be specialised in research and development of pneumatically operated clamping machines. They bought their block of land at Rosebery where they built a manufacturing base. Inventing and producing the first Australian pneumatically operated tube bending machine, the revolutionary solution brought them a spectacular success. From then on Pongrass Engineering never looked back.
The company changed its name to Pongrass Brothers Pty Ltd, and in 1960 added a fibreglass division which was involved in the manufacture of 28ft luxury boats and then 12-17ft aluminum fishing and “runabout” pleasure craft. In 1972 the company sold 1000 boats, making it the largest NSW company in the field. The enterprising brothers systematically expanded to buy up companies in industries utilizing their novel technology such as in metal furniture and plumbing supply. Their Rosebery based company continually expanded in a big way until the mid-1970’s to become public listed and had plants in Auckland, Brisbane and Melbourne employing over 600 people. In the “mineral boom” period of Australia (1969-1974), Alex was involved in investing in mining exploration companies like Kratos Uranium and Stellar Mining for the potential they offered whilst also found time to seriously engage in real estate business.
(see part 2)