Thursday, 7 April 2016

The Australian Dictionary of Biography

The Australian Dictionary of Biography is an ongoing project of the National Centre of Biography at the Australian National University, Canberra. Eighteen volumes of biographies, covering over 12,000 'significant and representative' individuals, have been published over the last 50 years, resulting in 'Australia's pre-eminent dictionary of national biography'. It can be accessed online (click here).

The Dictionary has articles on around 20 people who had some link with Lithuania; some were visitors, others had ancestors from there, and a smaller number were born there. The latter include a few post-WW2 arrivals:

  • Olegas TRUCHANAS (1923-1972), wilderness photographer and conservationist; and
  • Henrikas (Henry) SALKAUSKAS (1925-1979), artist;

as well as earlier arrivals:

  • Mark RUBIN (1867-1919), pearl dealer and pastoralist, born in Salantai;
  • Isack MORRIS (1881-1951), rabbi, born in Zagare;
  • Jacob Simon (Jack) BLOCH (1898-1961), shoemaker, born in Plunge; and
  • Zalmenas (Zell) RABIN (1932-1966), journalist and newspaper editor, born in Kaunas.

All these men have interesting stories. Here are a few examples:

Jacob (Jack) BLOCH was the son of Lozer and Chaja BLOCHAS; he was named Yaacov Shimon BLOCHAS and in Lithuanian was known as Simonas Jankelis BLOCHAS. Lozer was a painter and cobbler and his son followed suite, becoming a cobbler at an early age. As well as shoemaking, Jacob had studied dance in Lithuania. After arriving in Sydney in 1930, he went on to establish a small business making dance shoes to order. The timing seems excellent, as the 1930s saw a stream of ballet troupes visiting Australia, and orders for Jacob's shoes continued to increase. Many international ballet stars visiting Australia bought and wore his shoes.

The entry on Jacob Bloch in The Dictionary of Biography, written by Valerie Lawson, notes that while his business continued to grow through the 1950s, he was not ambitious and  'more craftsman than businessman'. Nevertheless the Bloch company continued to expand after Jacob's death and is now a large and successful commercial enterprise, with 15 stores in Australia as well as stores in London and Paris. According to Valerie Lawson the company supplies the Australian Ballet with over 5,000 pointe shoes each year.

Zalmenas (Zell) RABIN was the son of Aleksandras and Zeny RABINAVICIUS. Aleksandras was a pharmacist in Kaunas but the family fled Europe just before WW2 broke out, arriving in Sydney in 1939 when Zell was 6 years old. He was active in student journalism and politics in the early 1950s and in 1954 found a job with the Sun newspaper in Sydney.

Zell's career advanced quickly, and by 1956 he was operating out of the Sun's New York bureau. He worked closely with Rupert Murdoch from 1960, and became editor of the Daily Mirror in Sydney in 1963. The entry in The Dictionary of Biography, written by Robert Milliken, notes that the Daily Mirror flourished under Zell's 'dynamic leadership'. Rabin's brilliant career ended prematurely; he died in 1966 at the age of 34.

President John F. Kennedy meets with Publisher of News Ltd. of Australia,
Rupert Murdoch (right), and New York reporter for the Daily Mirror, Zell Rabin.
Oval Office, White House, Washington, D.C, 1 December 1961
(Public domain, source:

No comments:

Post a Comment