Memorial plaque laid to remember a Cobar character

Local residents Joan Maiden and Jill Weaving have been working for some time to get recognition for one of Cobar’s character icons, Jan Kowalski (more commonly known as John the Balt). A memorial plaque was last week laid in the garden of the old Shire Council Chambers building (now the Family Day Care office) where John painted the ornate ceilings.
One of the painted ceilings

A memorial plaque was laid last week to honour a Cobar ‘character icon’ Jan Kowalski, or John the Balt as he was more commonly known.

The plaque was laid in the garden of the old Council Chambers building in Linsley Street, which now houses the Far West Family Day Care offices.

The gesture was part of a community initiative, led by local resident Jill Weaving, to recognise and remember the contributions past ‘character icons’ have made to our town.

In October 2021, Jill formed a community committee to help raise funds to restore the graves of two well-known Cobar icons, Kate McKenzie and John the Balt, as neither had any family to speak of.

Kate was buried at the Cobar cemetery and her grave was restored and a new headstone was laid in March last year.

As John the Balt was buried in an unmarked grave in Orange where he died in 1982, it was decided that a plaque would be laid for John in Cobar to remember his contribution.

John the Balt is reported to have arrived in Cobar around 1949 as a displaced person following WWII.

He was one of hundreds of Baltic men in the western area at the time working on the railway line at the New Occidental Mine.

John was also a gifted artist and his work included landscapes, murals (as can be seen on the wall in the old quilt shop in Marshall Street) and the ornate ceilings of two rooms in the old Council Chambers building (hence the choice of location for his memorial plaque).

“Johnny was a sad person who was both loved and pitied and never hurt anyone but himself,” local historian John Collins wrote.

It’s reported John the Balt suffered from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after his terrible treatment as a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp during WWII.

As a result, he became a drunk which landed him in jail on many occasions, and where it’s reported he did more of his paintings.