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