John Irtel was born in Transylvania from where he absconded in 1947 to escape the ravages of change in Eastern Europe. He lived in Austria as a refugee and tried to immigrate to Britain but failed. In January 1949, he teamed up with a Viennese friend and crossed the snowbound alps on foot, only to be caught in Italy by the carabinieris as an illegal visitor and interned on the Island of Lipari, Italy, before coming to Australia.
Destitute and penniless, he arrived in Bonegilla near Albury in February 1950 from where he was sent to South Australia to begin a new life. There he embarked with determination and enthusiasm upon a course of learning so that he might become a successful citizen of his new country.
Eventually, John joined the Commonwealth Public Service and was transferred from Adelaide to Canberra where he worked in various departments until his early retirement in 1979 due to ill health. He then developed a bush block into a hobby farm on the New South Wales south coast, providing him with great pleasure, renewed hope and a purpose to survive until further health impairment and advancing age brought his former activities to a halt.