Monday, 1 June 2015

The Australian Lithuanian Society

Establishment

The Australian Lithuanian Society (Australijos Lietuvių Draugija) was established in Sydney in 1929. The Lithuanian chronicle Metraštis No 1 records that the founders were:

  • J Jasiūnas, a former teacher, who returned to Lithuania in 1930;
  • Vladas Dapkus, a former railwayman who left Australia for Argentina, and then Lithuania, in 1930;
  • Jonas Viedrinaitis (John Wedrien) - see the post of 5 March 2015 for his story; and 
  • Ksaveras (Alexander) Skierys - see the post of 12 March 2015 for his story.

Here is my rough translation of the minutes of the first meeting:

On 27 October 1929, we the undersigned having met in the apartment of J Viedrinaitis (Wedrien), East Street, Arncliffe, Sydney, and with him chairing the meeting, decided to establish a Lithuanian society with the object of bringing all of Australia's Lithuanians together.  On a majority vote the following were elected to the society's committee: J Viedrinaitis - president; V Dapkus - secretary; I Geryba - vicepresident; and K Skierys - treasurer.  Audit committee - P Kazlauskas, J Zeleniakas, and M Marcinkevicius. Membership fees: joining fee - 2 shillings and monthly membership fee - 1 shilling.  The committee was tasked with preparing regulations and setting the forward agenda.  Once that has happened, the committee will call an extraordinary general meeting.
[signed: Wedrien, Dapkus, Skierys, Jasiūnas]


The general meeting was held together with a celebration of Lithuania's Independence Day on 20 February 1930.  Participants accepted the draft objectives and regulations prepared by the committee; the principal aim would be to:

Join all those who hold themselves to be Lithuanian in one society with the object of improving coordination among ourselves, the development of national consciousness and education.

Achievements

Much of the Society's activity revolved around the annual celebration of Lithuanian national holidays (e.g. Independence Day in February) and other social events.  Christmas picnics by Sydney beaches were popular and seem to have been held most years from 1929.  The Society's coordination function seemed successful, at least in Sydney where practically all Lithuanians became members.  There was less success outside of Sydney, however; although the Society included members living in Dapto and other NSW centres, no other branches were established.  It was a small localised organisation, with perhaps 100 members, and its leaders and supportive membership base gave it continuity.

The main constraints appeared to be financial (the Society was established just as the Great Depression was starting) and a lack of community resources.  Nevertheless, a library was established around 1933, soon followed by a choir.  Soon, however, the Second World War forced a temporary halt to the social activities of the Society, with the last function held at the end of 1941.  The Society continued its work in a more subdued fashion, for example by raising 30 pounds from its members in 1945 to help displaced Lithuanians in Europe and by lobbying the Australian government in 1946 to allow displaced Lithuanians to migrate to Australia.


Metamorphosis

By the time the Society recommenced its broader activities in 1947, its operating environment had changed dramatically.  The first post-war Lithuanian migrants (displaced persons) had arrived in 1947 and were keen to join.  Over the next few years their numbers continued to grow; a branch of the Society was established in Melbourne in 1948, followed by Adelaide, Bathurst, Beechworth, Bonegilla, Brisbane, Canberra, Greta, Melbourne and Woomera.  By 1950 the Society had been reorganised, reoriented and transformed into the Australian Lithuanian Community, which continues to this day.

One of the enduring legacies of the Society in its later years was the establishment, in 1949, of an Australian Lithuanian community weekly newspaper, Mūsų Pastogė (Our Haven) which also continues to this day.

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