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September-October 2016

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In Memoriam: Cyril Kovacic (1937–2016)

Cyril Kovacic, initiator of the Mineralogical Society of Victoria, mineral and gem dealer, and publisher, died suddenly at home on 18 February 2016 at the age of seventy-eight.

Cyril was born in Zemun, Belgrade, Serbia, on Christmas Eve 1937 and was only two years old when World War II broke out. With his father, a sailor, away from home, Cyril moved with his mother to Zagreb, Croatia. His mother died when he was four years old, and Cyril's grandmother took him to Bled, Slovenia, where he was raised by his uncle and aunt. The house where he grew up still stands, and Cyril recently visited it and was warmly welcomed by the current owners.

After finishing school in Slovenia, Cyril began studying to become a surveyor when he was introduced to geology, a subject that probably ignited his later passion for minerals, which became a lifelong interest and business.

Cyril became restless in his late teens and decided to leave what was then communist Yugoslavia. He escaped across the border into Austria and was interned in a refugee camp, where he assisted others by working as a German/Slovenian translator. Eventually, with a newly issued Austrian passport, he embarked on a migrant ship to Australia, reaching Fremantle in April 1957 and arriving in Melbourne a few weeks later. Cyril tried his hand at many occupations before commencing a career in mineralogy. In choosing this path, Cyril was at the forefront of the booming interest in lapidary and mineralogy in Australia.

In 1965 Cyril opened his and Victoria's first mineral shop on Greville Street, Prahran, Victoria. Soon afterward, he completed the course to become a Fellow of the Gemmological Association of Australia. In 1967 he met and married Patsy, and a son, Jason, was born a short time later. In 1970 Cyril was able to purchase a house in Glen Iris, a remarkable achievement for someone who had arrived in Australia a bit over a decade earlier with little English, a single, tiny suitcase, and no prospects.

The business grew rapidly during the 1970s and was relocated to Commercial Road, Prahran, Victoria. It was there that Cyril and Patsy welcomed their daughter, Katherine. In 1978, the shop was again relocated, this time to Wattletree Road, Malvern, Victoria. In October 1980, the 875-troy-ounce “Hand of Faith” gold nugget was discovered behind the State School in Kingower, Victoria. Cyril was appointed as the agent to negotiate the sale of the nugget, which he eventually sold for $1 million to the Golden Nugget Casino in Las Vegas, where it remains today.

On 12 January 1976, Cyril convened a meeting at his home in Glen Iris, Victoria, where nineteen people were invited to attend (collectors, dealers, and professional mineralogists) to form the Mineralogical Society of Victoria (MSV). There was a member of the recently formed Mineralogical Society of New South Wales present to advise on the issues that arose when forming the organization. At that meeting, a working group was set up to publicize the first general meeting and election of officers. The MSV had its first general meeting on 16 March 1976 in Malvern, Victoria. Dr. Bill Birch was elected as the inaugural president, with Cyril and Dr. Howard Worner being elected as joint vice presidents. Cyril was elected a Life Member of the MSV on 5 March 1986.

Not content with the mineral and gem business, Cyril and Patsy moved into publishing, launching the Australian Gem and Crafts Magazine, with the first issue being September/November 1973. This title continued until December 1979 and then morphed into the Australian Gem and Treasure Hunter, which was published from January/February 1980 to April 1986, ending with issue number 111. The Australian Mineralogist was conceived and published as an insert in the aforementioned magazines, commencing with the first issue in December 1975/January 1976. These issues were deemed volume 1, numbers 1–51. Twelve months after the closure of Australian Gem and Treasure Hunter, the Australian Mineralogist was published as an independent quarterly magazine, beginning with volume 2. It was published in a B5 size (6.9 × 9.8 inches) and continued until volume 6, number 2, the April/June 1992 issue. A number of single-title books on the subjects of minerals, gold, and gems, which were authored by various people with specialization in their particular field, were published by Cyril's company, Gemcraft Pty. Ltd.

The shop on Wattletree Road was closed in about 2000, the same year Cyril moved to Vermont South, Victoria, where he continued to run his mineral business under the name of CK Minerals. He attended selected gem and mineral exhibitions, particularly in Victoria, and was ably assisted by Peter Hall in these ventures. Cyril also adapted to the electronic age by selling mineral specimens on his CK Minerals website, using the subtitle “Australian purveyors of fine minerals and gold.”

Cyril is survived by his first wife, Sara, and their son, David, as well as by his second wife, Patsy, and their children, Jason and Katherine.

Always willing to chat with anyone with similar interests, Cyril's friendly personality will be sadly missed by his family, friends, and the mineralogical fraternity.

John Bosworth, a founding member of the Mineralogical Society of Victoria, is subscription manager of the Australian Journal of Mineralogy.       

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