Sunday, 5 June 2016

Lithuanians in Queensland

The previous post about Harry ALEXIS/ALEKSIUNAS who had lived in the Atherton area of far north Queensland for over 30 years until his death in 1950 prompted me to revisit what we have discovered so far about early Lithuanian settlers in Queensland.

Much of what we know about individuals was published in two blog posts last year, imaginatively titled Queensland #1 (7 September 2015) and Queensland #2 (14 September 2015). The following are some more general observations:

Census records

The Australian Census of 1933 - the first one to specify "Lithuania" as a place of birth - recorded 15 people in Queensland who had given that as their place of birth (12 males and 3 females), while the 1947 Census recorded 21 people (13 males and 8 females);

  • by 1954, with the influx of post-WW2 migrants, the number of people in Queensland giving Lithuania as their place of birth had jumped to 405, although males continued to predominate approximately 3:1.
These census records provide us with a minimum number for the Lithuanian-born, as some people who had been born before independence in 1918 would likely have recorded their birthplaces as Russia or Germany.

Geographical dispersal

Many Lithuanian-born migrants appear to have settled in regional Queensland, not in the capital city of Brisbane. Metraštis (the Lithuanian Yearbook, 1961) reported EC Phillule's advice that by 1938 there were only two Lithuanians living in Brisbane, although there had been more previously.

  • Other localities where settlers put down roots included Rockhampton, Mackay, Proserpine, Charters Towers, Ipswich, Chinchilla, and Mt Isa;
  • in contrast, Lithuanian-born migrants to most other Australian states appear to have preferred settling in the capital cities.

Migration patterns

Usually the Lithuanians arrived as single men. Some remained single, others married Australian-born women, for example Edward Charles PHILLULE/PILIULIS married Lydia Annie Klatt in 1915 and William KALIN/KALINAUSKAS married Clarisse McFeeters in 1924.

However there were also some examples of family and chain migration:

  • Josephine RUCKMAN, a Pole from Kaunas with Lithuanian citizenship, arrived in 1923 with her two sons and daughter;
  • Sigismund ROMASZKIEWICZ, a Pole from Krekenava, arrived in 1910 with his wife and children;
  • David BECKER - also known as Alex GRAY - a Jew from Kaunas with Lithuanian citizenship, had arrived in Australia from Palestine in 1927 and was later joined by his wife Hannah (born in Kaunas) and children (born in Sebastopol and Jerusalem).    

Arrivals on the SS Haitan

In the early part of World War 2 (1940) a group of 32 Lithuanians with British citizenship arrived in Brisbane as part of a larger group of evacuees following a journey from the Baltic States across Siberia to Vladivostok, Hong Kong and finally Australia. Theirs is an epic story which has been researched by one of their descendants, Eve Puodžiunaitė Wicks.

The evacuees remained in Brisbane for the duration of the war, but largely dispersed once hostilities had ceased. The Courier Mail of 18 February 1941 included this story:
Social and Dance: Lithuanian national dances were a feature of the programme at a social and dance held in the Danish Hall, South Brisbane, last night by the British-Lithuanian evacuees. Lithuanian songs were given by a mixed choir, and others who contributed items were Mrs Balcunas, Mrs K Puodziunas, Misses Lena Ruskey, M Massey, F Kdesnikas [sic], A Grey, and F Kolesnikas. 

Brisbane's Sunday Mail included the following on 26 November 1944:
Party for Evacuees: Nearly 600 guests ... were entertained yesterday at the New Settlers' League's Christmas party for migrants and evacuees, at the Railway Institute. The oldest guest was Mr G P Page, who is 78. He formerly lived in the Baltic States. ... Other guests were from Great Britain, Poland, Latvia, Esthonia [sic], Lithuania, Roumania, China, Malaya and Darwin. Each child received sweets from the Christmas tree. 

Reverse migration

Alice Blanch CHEHOVSKI was born in Brisbane in 1921 to a Polish father and Russian mother. Her father died soon after and her mother took Alice back to Europe: she lived in Lithuania from approximately 1924 to 1981, studied art in Moscow, and returned to Australia in 1981. She was an active artist in Australia, with several of her paintings (including works completed in Lithuania) collected by the National Gallery of Australia. Alice died in Victoria in 2015.

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