Saturday, 10 August 2019

Ona Baužienė (Anna Bauze)

In 1983 Anna Bauze was awarded a BEM (British Empire Medal) for her services to the Australian Lithuanian community. She had arrived in Australia as a young woman in 1930 and was an important and popular member of the Lithuanian community until her death in 2003. Here is a brief outline of this remarkable woman's story.

Ona was born in Essen, Germany in 1904. Her father Juozas Vyšniauskas was employed at the Krupps Steel Works and her mother Antanina Ravinaitė Vyšniauskienė worked on rural estates. Their settled life in Germany was turned upside down in 1905 when they were forced to leave during the Russo-Japanese War; the Tsarist government demanded that all young Lithuanian men return to Russia and the German authorities said they should either leave or be deported. Like many others, the Vyšniauskas family decided to move to Scotland and Ona grew up in the industrial town of Motherwell.

By 1922, with Lithuania having secured her independence, the family decided it was time to return home. Ona had completed high school and was training for a teaching vocation in Scotland, but had also been raised within the strong Lithuanian community in Scotland and so was able to adjust to the transition remarkably well. She was soon working as a clerk at the Vilkaviškis courthouse. In 1927 she married a young army officer, Antanas Bauže. However by that time the family was becoming disillusioned with the political situation in Lithuania - a military coup d'etat in 1926 had installed an authoritarian government. Ona's parents left Lithuania for Brazil in 1929 and Ona and Antanas Bauže left for Australia in 1930.

Attitudes to non-British migrants in Australia at that time were sharpened by the effects of the Great Depression. For example, Adelaide's daily paper 'The Advertiser' reported on 18 August 1930 that 202 foreign migrants (including Lithuanians) had entered the state of South Australia during the first 7 months of the year and that the state's Premier had been asked to make a strong protest to the Federal government about ongoing migration. Fortunately those Lithuanians who had arrived after living in Britain or other English-speaking countries appear to have been reasonably well accepted.

Ona and Antanas Bauže settled in Sydney and were soon raising a family and operating a grocery store in Paddington. Ona's memoir (published in 2002) is a useful source of information on Sydney's Lithuanians of the 1930s, including the Scots Lithuanians Frank and Maggie Augustas (Augustaitis) at Redfern; Bella and Joe Miller (Plaušinis) at Waterloo; and the Kairaitis, Peters and Patrick families at Blacktown.

The Sydney Lithuanian Women's Social Services Association around 1960; Anna Bauze is standing in the top row, centre.

Ona Bauze played a unique role, contributing to both the early (pre-WW2) Sydney Lithuanian community and the growth of the much larger community which developed with post-WW2 migration. She took an interest in welfare issues, for example by assisting new arrivals with accommodation and employment. One of her significant achievements involved planning and fundraising for the building of the Lithuanian Retirement Village at Engadine, Sydney, which was officially opened in 1984.  Read more about that project by clicking here.

Click here for a 2003 In Memoriam tribute to Anna Bauze.

'A Lithuanian in Australia: Memories of My Life' by Anna Bauze; Sydney, 2002;
Metraštis; Sydney, 1961 (for the image above);
Sydney Lithuanian  Information Centre website (see links).

Friday, 26 July 2019

Ellen Skierys

One of the earliest Australian Lithuanian women we have any details about was Ellen Petraitis/Peterson Skierys. My thanks to her niece Rosemary Petraitis/Peterson Mitchell for the following biographical outline.

Ellen was born around 1892 in Manchester, England, to a Lithuanian family. Her elder sister Mary had been born in Lithuania only a year earlier, so we can assume the family were very recent immigrants. Her parents Alexandra and Izidorius Petraitis - later known as John Peterson - went on to have another 10 or 11 children in Manchester, but only 7 of their offspring survived to adulthood.

Izidorius Petraitis/John Peterson was a successful tailor who operated his own business in central Manchester until the depression years of the 1930s forced him to close. Not only was the business profitable for Izidorius but it also provided a solid start in life for most of his children who were employed there at one time or another. It also appears he travelled back to Lithuania, at least in the late 1890s, on business matters: earlier posts here and here have recorded the stories of Australian Lithuanians Jonas Vedrinaitis and Ksaveras Skierys and how they seem to have been recruited by Petraitis as apprentices.
Ksaveras (also known as Alexander) Skierys lived with the Petraitis family in Manchester for some time, as well as working further afield, including Scotland and Ireland. However in 1911 he departed for Australia, settling in Sydney where he found work as a tailor.  Ellen, who had fallen in love with him in Manchester, decided to follow him. So, at the age of 21 she boarded the 'Irishman' in Liverpool on 20 March 1913 for the two month voyage to Sydney.  There she worked for a tailoring firm in Surrey Hills until she and Ksaveras/Alexander married in 1916.

Ellen and Ksaveras Skierys had three children: Alexander, Nelly and William (Bill). They were active members of the Lithuanian community in Sydney and Nelly, at least, continued the family tradition of entering the tailoring trade, initially indentured to her father.

Ellen and Alexander Skierys, with Nellie (born 1919) and Alexander (born 1917)

Forty years after leaving Manchester Ellen travelled back to revisit England and spend time with her relatives; she returned to Sydney in 1955 with her younger sister Nellie (Angela) who stayed for 18 months.

Ellen died in 1975, Ksaveras in 1961. They are buried at the Woronora cemetery (Sydney) together with two of their children, Nellie and Bill.