Thursday, 16 November 2017

Jonas Zeleniakas (John Green)

An earlier post [click link here] featured Kazys Brazauskas ('Key Braz', 1898-1980) who had served as a volunteer in Lithuania's independence movement after WW1 and settled in Australia from 1927.  A very similar path was followed by Jonas Zeleniakas ('John Green', 1898-1975) who arrived in 1929.  They undoubtedly knew each other, living in Sydney and Port Kembla, and both served on the committee of the pre-WW2 Australian Lithuanian Society.

Jonas Zeleniakas was born in Panemunė, Lithuania, but grew up in England. The family returned to Lithuania before the First World War and settled in Šančiai, a suburb of Kaunas.  He had two sisters and two brothers, Antanas and Karolis. After the declaration of Lithuanian independence and the end of WW1, Jonas was one of the first to volunteer and join the new Lithuanian army (in the Lithuanian language he was a Lietuvos Kariuomenės Kurėjas Savanoris). His brother Antanas also joined the army and rose to officer rank, however he died during the Second World War.

By the mid 1920s Jonas had decided to try his luck elsewhere; he left London aboard the Orvieto on 31 August 1929 bound for Australia.  Almost inmmediately after arriving, in October 1929, he was elected to the founding committee of the Australian Lithuanian Society.  Initially he lived in Sydney, but later settled at Port Kembla where he worked in a steel mill with the intention of saving enough to buy a house and bring a bride out from Lithuania.  Unfortunately the Second World War interrupted those plans and he remained a bachelor for the rest of his life.

In October 1939, after 10 years residence in Australia, Jonas published a notice of his intention to take out Australian citizenship.  He gave his place of residence as Perkins Beach, Port Kembla.
After WW2 his brother Karolis, who had escaped the soviet occupation, came out to Australia with his family. Karolis had been born in 1901 in England, his wife Marija in Kaunas, and their son Algirdas in 1928 in Kaunas.  The Australian press reported in 1949 that both Karolis and Algirdas were commercial photographers who hoped to open a studio in Sydney; however Karolis and his family moved to the USA in the mid 1950s.

When Jonas retired from the steel mill he bought a motor boat; he enjoyed fishing in the Pacific ocean and many Lithuanians would come down from Sydney to go fishing with him. He died at Port Kembla on 8 June 1975 and was buried at the West Dapto Catholic cemetery.  A cemetery record at suggests he also used the name 'John Green' in Australia, and the cemetery headstone (sighted in October 2018) appears to confirm that. 

Much of the above material is from the obituary for Jonas Zeleniakas written by Antanas Baužė and published in Mūsų Pastogė, Nr. 24 of 23rd June 1975.

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Nineteenth and early twentieth century migration

Another recently published book is a great source for understanding the context of early Lithuanian emigration. The Great Departure: Mass Migration from Eastern Europe and the Making of the Free World by Tara Zahra (2016, W.W. Norton and Company) deals with the growth of "American fever" in, and emigration from, two of the largest empires in Europe - the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Russian Empire.

The scale of these migrations was massive: an estimated 55-58 million Europeans moved westward to North and South America in the period 1846-1940, and another 46-51 million left via Manchuria, Siberia, Central Asia and Japan.

By the end of the 1800s emigration had become big business, "littered with opportunities for exploitation and profit". If they made it safely to the Atlantic seaboard, the most common departure points for East Europeans were Hamburg and Bremen, followed by Rotterdam, Antwerp and Liverpool.  As well as the huge risks faced by the individuals involved, Zahra documents broader concerns: depopulation and social unrest in the east and the push for greater regulation and control in the west.  An interesting example is that from 1892 Germany set up delousing and disinfecting stations along its borders with Russia and Austria-Hungary in an attempt to control the risks to public health.  In 1901 the Hamburg America Line (HAPAG) constructed a dedicated migration depot outside the city, the intention "was to completely isolate East European migrants from the German population"; by 1906 there were 1,186 emigrants in residence, divided into 'clean' and 'unclean' sections and subject to daily medical examinations. 

While much of the book deals with those departing the Austro-Hungarian empire for the American dream, there is also much useful information regarding the experience of Russia's subjects:

  • Prohibitions on emigration from the Russian empire dated back to the era of Peter the Great; 
  • However, Russian imperial authorities began to encourage Jewish emigration in the 1890s, and by 1910 the officially sanctioned Jewish Colonization Association had established 400 offices throughout the empire. In general, emigration remained illegal for non-Jewish Russian citizens;
  • Nevertheless, 2.7 million Russian subjects left between 1880 and 1910; most of these were Jews, Polish-speakers or German-speakers;
  •  In 1910 a passport enabling travel abroad cost 17.25 roubles, around a month's wages for an agricultural worker. An alternative was a free 'emigrant' passport which did not permit return and in effect resulted in statelessness. Many simply risked being caught and crossed Russia's western frontier illegally, often with the help of a smuggler or agent. 


Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Anzacs from Ukraine: Part 2

We know that some emigrants from Lithuania also made their way to Australia via the Far East before the First World War in parallel with those from Ukraine described by Elena Govor in her 2017 book Falling Stars: an earlier blog post linked here lists examples including the Anzacs Bronislaw Kretovitch from Vilnius and Sigismund Romaszkiewich from Krekenava. To these we could add the Anzac Stanislaus Urniarz (Stasys Urniežius) from Vilnius who arrived in 1904 from Port Arthur, China. However the majority of Lithuanian Anzacs appear to have arrived from Europe or the USA.

Another case study from Falling Stars is that of Reuben Laman Rosenfield who was born in Raseiniai, Lithuania, in 1872 and grew up in Simferopol, Crimea, before emigrating to Australia in 1888 with his Jewish family via Port Said in Egypt.  Reuben Rosenfield (he later changed his name to Rosefield) studied medicine at the University of Melbourne and served as a major in the Australian Medical Corps during WW1, first in Egypt and then Britain.

Heliopolis, Egypt c1916. Interior of Medical Ward F at No. 1 Australian General Hospital (1AGH), located in the former Heliopolis Palace Hotel (copyright expired - public domain; source: AWM, H16957)

The story of Edward Charles Phillule (Piliulis) also has parallels with some of those in Falling Stars; see an earlier post here.  He arrived in Brisbane in July 1914 on the St Albans from Japan together with 20 or so other 'Russians' and by the next year had settled near the Immigration Depot, in South Brisbane - which Falling Stars notes included a sizeable 'Russian-Ukrainian-Jewish' community. E.C. Phillule is likely to have participated in some of that community life: he and his wife Lydia lived for at least a few years on the corner of Hope and Melbourne Streets in South Brisbane (directly opposite today's Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre).
Yungaba Immigration Depot at Kangaroo Point, Brisbane, 1907 (copyright expired - public domain; source: John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland).

Phillule gave his occupation as shopkeeper, but he can also be found in newspaper advertisements of the time as a landlord. An interesting conjunction is that Elena Govor notes that 'A Russian family from Odessa with the English surname Douglas opened a 'Russian' fruit and grocery shop on the corner of Melbourne and Hope Streets and supplemented their income with boarders' (p37); while there seem to have been several stores on that corner at the time, it may be that the Phillules were associated with the Douglas business. The Telegraph of 31 May 1916 records that E.C. Phillule was one of several shopkeepers fined in the City Summons Court for having kept their businesses open after hours.   

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Anzacs from Ukraine: Part 1

A new book appeared earlier this year which I think would be of value to anyone interested in late nineteenth/early twentieth century migration from the former Russian empire to Australia. Dr Elena Govor's Falling Stars: the story of Anzacs from Ukraine is an exploration of these migrants viewed through the prism of the First World War.

The men with origins in Ukraine who served in the Australian Army 1914-18 were a diverse group - they included ethnic Ukrainians, Jews, Russians and others - whose individuality as well as collective identitiy is brought out through a narrative with numerous biographical sketches. Many of these stories could easily have had Lithuanian parallels.  

Falling Stars examines the stories of 136 Ukrainian-born Anzacs. Although some arrived here in the late nineteenth century, most arrived in the few years immediately preceding World War One: this 'reflects the general pattern of emigration from the Russian Empire to Australia'.

The most common route for emigrants coming from Ukraine was via Siberia and the Russian Far East: 'nearly half of the natives of Ukraine arriving in Australia 1910-1915 took this route'. They tended to travel via Harbin, a Russian city in northeastern China, and then Japan 'from where Japanese steamships plied the Australian route, calling at Darwin, Cairns, Townsville, Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne'. Most immigrants disembarked at Brisbane.

I was particularly interested in some of the background material in the book, such as the reasons for the growth of emigration through the Far East and the role played by the city of Harbin. Another fascinating story was the development of a 'Russian-born' immigrant precinct around the old Immigration Depot in South Brisbane.

Some of the biographical stories in this book are inspiring or even amazing (such as that of Alexander Sast who was captured by the Turks at Gallipoli, but then escaped from a POW camp in Bulgaria and made his own way across Russia to join the British forces at Archangelsk). Many are melancholic or sad, as some veterans were later affected by war trauma or others became victims of twists of fate (such as Alexander Sank, a veteran of the Western front who decided to return to his family in Harbin only to be arrested some decades later and sent to the gulags).


Friday, 3 March 2017

Earlier arrivals and post-WW2 migrants

When the USAT General Stuart Heintzelman docked at Fremantle in November 1947 with the first transport of displaced Balts to Australia those on board had little or no knowledge of what lay ahead for them. Contacts with earlier arrivals, in particular from their own countries, undoubtedly often helped ease the transition; here are a few glimpses into the experiences of the post WW2 Lithuanian migrants.

Even before the first arrivals had reached Australia some preliminary contacts had been established by mail.  Australijos Lietuviu Metrastis (Sydney, 1961, p16), the Australian Lithuanian community's chronicle, records that the Australian Lithuanian Society - established in Sydney in 1929 - had begun receiving enquiries from displaced people in Europe in 1946: at least 11 in 1946, 31 in 1947, 177 in 1948.  The letters generally sought information on immigration requirements and skills recognition, occasionally contact details for long-lost relatives or friends who had migrated much earlier.

Metrastis also notes that from 1947 the Australian Lithuanian Society made a practice of meeting all Sydney-bound migrants ships with Lithuanians on board.  Elsewhere, initial contacts were left to individuals to arrange.  Kazys Mieldazys ('First steps in Australia', Metrastis, pp24-28) records a  few of these first contacts:

We disembarked at the port of Fremantle in Western Australia, on the 28th November 1947.  Our temporary accommodation was at two army camps as our final destination was Melbourne.  We were visited by some early Lithuanian migrants.  One came from 300 miles away.

On the 2nd of December we left Fremantle on the Kanimbla. .... [At Port Melbourne] we were visited on the ship by Mr Paliokas, originally from the Klaipeda region.  Also we were met by Mr and Mrs Jakovlevas (who had arrived 20 years ago from Kaunas) who later sent some parcels to us at Bonegilla and also let us use their apartment [in Melbourne] for singing and musical rehearsals and helped the Lithuanians in many ways.

.... A large surprise came from the President of the Australian Lithuanian Society, Antanas Bauze.  He had already greeted us by letter at Fremantle.  [At Bonegilla, late December 1947]  he visited us with Mrs Bauze and Mr Kuodis.  A meeting of all the Lithuanians was called, at which Mr Bauze greeted the newcomers, provided some details about life in Australia, and invited all to become members of the Australian Lithuanian Society.  The invitation was warmly embraced and Mr Bauze left with a list of about 400 new members.   
NAA: A12111, 1/1947/3/5. HMAS Kanimbla arrives at Melbourne with the first group of displaced persons (Dec 1947) from where they will join the train bound for Bonegilla Migrant Camp. They had travelled from Europe to Fremantle on the GENERAL HEINTZELMAN and transhipped to the KANIMBLA


Sunday, 19 February 2017

The First Balts to Canberra

'First Balts to Canberra' was the title of a talk given by Ann Tundern-Smith to the Canberra and District Historical Society on 14 February 2017.  The talk focussed on the first large group of non-British European migrants to reach Canberra in 1947.  It represented a valuable contribution to scholarship on Australian migration and the results will hopefully be published sometime during this 70th anniversary year. 

Who were the 'Balts'?  Well, that was a colloquial title given to the Lithuanian, Latvian and Estonian refugees in Australia immediately after the Second World War. The Minister for Immigration at the time, Arthur Calwell, had decided that the first shipment of post-war non British immigrants should be made up solely of young and single Baltic refugees as they were held in high regard by most countries selecting displaced persons for immigration. In fact, the warm reception given to the first shipload of Baltic refugees resulted in the term "Balt' being used for most non-British and non-Mediteranean European immigrants for many years, long after other nationalities had been included in Australia's intake (Egon F. Kunz, Displaced Persons; Calwell's New Australians, Australian National University Press, 1988, p42).

The first transport of Baltic displaced persons to Australia was carried by the USAT General Stuart Heintzelman, a former WW2 troop ship chartered by the International Refugee Organisation to help resettle the millions of displaced persons stranded in Europe after the end of the war.  The ship carried over 800 Baltic displaced persons (including 112 women), arriving at Fremantle on 28 November 1947.  Most passengers were then transported to the Bonegilla migrant centre in northern Victoria, and from there to various jobs to begin working off their 2 year labour commitment to the Australian government.

853 Balt Migrants Happy To Be Here (1947, December 25). Catholic Weekly (Sydney, NSW : 1942 - 1954), p. 1. Retrieved February 19, 2017, from
 [NB: Ann Tundern-Smith has advised that the newspaper headline was incorrect, the number was closer to 840, and that the young woman in the photo was Konstancija Brundzaitė (later Jurskis)] 

Ann Tundern-Smith is the daughter of one of the Estonian refugees who arrived aboard the first transport in 1947 and also the editor of Canberra History News  She has invested much effort in tracing the various stories of displaced people who came to Australia from 1947 to 1951 (see her website here ).  Ann's talk included a short historical introduction touching on how these Baltic people had become refugees, the history of migration policy in Australia in the 1940s, and then looked at 60 women who made up the first group of Balts to be sent to Canberra, in December 1947.

Canberra, in 1947, had a population of only a little over 15,000 but was growing fast with a new emphasis on nation building.  However the post-war labour shortage was felt as much here as in most parts of the country.  It was perhaps not surprising that given an additional source of employees the new Commonwealth Employment Service (established in 1946) should quickly select the best available for the national capital. The young Baltic women who had just arrived at Bonegilla were not given much time to acclimatise and half of them soon found themselves offered jobs as domestics, cleaners, waitresses, typists and trainee nurses in Canberra.
BALT MIGRANTS IN CANBERRA (1947, December 18). The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 - 1954), p. 20. Retrieved February 19, 2017, from

Ann Tundern-Smith's presentation analysed this first group of Baltic migrant workers (including by age, nationality, intended occupation prior to reaching Australia, occupation once they were employed in Canberra, and final place of residence after having worked in Canberra) as well as providing a few interesting biographical stories about the women involved. The discussion following Ann's talk brought out other aspects of the migration story, for example that by 1947 other western countries were also actively competing for Baltic refugees and that the target of 150 women set by the Aiustralian government for the first transport could not be met.  Nevertheless by 1952 Australia had resettled over 170,000 displaced persons, including 35,000 Balts.