Global True Lithuania Lithuanian communities and heritage worldwide

Australia and Oceania

Australia, the furthest continent from Lithuania, attracted some 10 000 Lithuanian refugees after the World War 2 (~1950).

This was a community of intellectuals: artists, former teachers, university professors, lawyers. It was the intellectuals who were the most persecuted by the Soviet regime and therefore many chose emigration over a likely death in Soviet-occupied Lithuania.

Lithuanian Houses were constructed or acquired in every main city. They still operate providing activities and Lithuanian food on pre-set hours but their history was not that easy. While Lithuanians hoped to preserve their culture until Lithuania is liberated the Australian officials, still under "White Australia" policy at the 1950s-1960s, hoped that Lithuanians would assimilate as quickly as possible into the British Australian society. Lithuanian Houses and parishes were seen as impediments for assimilation and in some cases, their establishment was prevented or delayed. There are fewer Lithuanian parishes in Australia than America with Lithuanian Houses being the community centers.

Every second New Year week the Lithuanian-Australian community organize Lithuanian days event. The most Lithuanian heritage exists in the major cities: Adelaide, Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney, Brisbane, Geelong.

Australia still attracts Lithuanians as it is a rich country. After 1990 Lithuanian community was also established in New Zealand. Other parts of Oceania lacks Lithuanian communities. However, some of the more remote locations in Australia and Antarctica are named after Lithuanian explorers.

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Adelaide, South Australia

Adelaide city arguably hosts the richest Lithuanian heritage in Australia. It was created by a large Lithuanian community which arrived to South Australia ~1950, fleeing the brutal Soviet occupation of their home country.

Adelaide Lithuanian Catholic Church and Center

Adelaide has the only Lithuanian church in Australia (opened 1959). Lithuanian churches were considered a necessity for deeply religious Lithuanian diaspora communities. However, elsewhere in Australia Lithuanians were precluded from opening them as the official policy was to promote assimilation through immigrants joining English parishes. That said, Adelaide Lithuanians attracted more sympathy from the local bishop Matthew Beovich, himself of an Eastern European background.

Adelaide Lithuanian church is part of a larger Lithuanian Catholic Center. The two-floored brick building has been constructed ~1890 for a Hardwicke College for girls. After Australia accepted Lithuanian refugees ~1948 and they completed the initial mandatory years of labor, many have moved into cities like Adelaide and sought to acquire buildings for community affairs. By then Hardwicke College was in dire straits, thus sold its own building to Lithuanians.

Adelaide Lithuanian church and Lithuanian Catholic Center. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

In addition to the main church hall, the Lithuanian Catholic Center includes a meeting hall, a library, and other institutions common to Lithuanian-Australian clubs. Some of the premises are rented out. The courtyard is adorned by a monument to Lithuania (which includes a traditional "sad Jesus" sculpture known as Rūpintojėlis and Lithuanian coat of arms Vytis; erected 1962), Mission cross (originally constructed in 1959 at a summer camp the Lithuanian church owned in Christies Beach). The building facade includes a cross to commemorate victims of the January 13 massacre (when Russian soldiers murdered Lithuanian civilians in Vilnius) and a bas-relief to Saint Casimir, the patron saint of Lithuania (created 1984). History of the building (including its "Lithuanian period") is described on a freestanding plaque near the lot (such historical plaques are common in Adelaide).

Monuments at the yard and facade of Adelaide Lithuanian church. Left to right: the monument to Lithuania, Mission cross, St. Casimir bas-relief. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Adelaide Lithuanian House and Museum

Adelaide is also the only Australian city to have more than a single Lithuanian center. The second center, known as Adelaide Lithuanian House has been created in 1957 by Lithuanians who preferred secular control over secular ethnic affairs. While nearly all Lithuanians who fled the Soviet occupation were Roman Catholics, they had varying opinions on how much religious and secular affairs should be intermingled.

The Lithuanian House consists of several single-floored buildings. They include a Lithuanian museum (established in 1967 by J. K. Vanagas), open by appointment.

Inside the Adelaide Lithuanian museum. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

The museum exhibits include:
*Things that Lithuanian refugees took with them when fleeing Lithuania. These include Lithuanian mementos such as interwar military uniforms, folk costumes and even a rod previously owned by the president of Lithuania Antanas Smetona.
*Historical documents of Lithuanian Australians, such as the refugee cards.
*Art (paintings, sculptures) created by Lithuanian Australians. As artists and other intellectuals were among prime targets of Soviet discrimination, many good artists left for Australia, continuing their work there. Much of the art present in Lithuanian House is related to historical moments of Lithuania and incorporates Lithuanian symbols.
*General information about Lithuania and Lithuanians.
*Images from Lithuania and the life of Adelaide Lithuanians.

The art created by Lithuanian Australians in Lithuanian house and museum of Adelaide. Pictured by Augustinas Žemaitis. The author of left painting - Stasys Neliubšys, right painting - Vytas Šerelis.

Adelaide Lithuanian House also has a large meeting hall, bar (open on Sundays), library and other premises, most of them decorated with Lithuanian art and details, such as coats of arms of Lithuanian cities. The yard includes two monuments: a stone memorial to those who died defending Lithuanian freedom as well as a wooden roof-post (a popular form of Lithuanian folk art). The building itself was formerly a methodist church.

Paminklai Monuments in the yard of Lithuanian House in Adelaide. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Lithuanian exhibits at Adelaide Migration Museum

South Australia is the sole Australian state to have been settled only by free migrants rather than convicts. In the 19th century already people of many nationalities were attracted to Adelaide area by a promise for a religious freedom (which the Europe lacked at the time). The number of nationalities continued to increase in the 20th century. Due to a such multicultural history, the Migration museum was established in Adelaide in 1986. The museum includes many exhibits related to Lithuanians of Australia.

The Soviet refugee period is represented in Adelaide migration museum by a Lithuanian folk costume and amber beads once owned by Stasė Pocevičius. Image ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

At the museum's entrance, there are numerous memorial plaques commemorating the largely sad reasons for significant parts of various nations migrating to Australia. Lithuanians, Latvians, and Estonians have a common plaque commemorating the Soviet genocide.

Memorial plaque for the mass murders and expulsions of Lithuanians, Latvians and Estonians hangs between other similar plaques commemorating Serbians and Poles persecuted by the communist and nationalsocialist regimes (as a result, these two nations also have many migrants to Adelaide). ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

The Migration Museum also hosts temporary exhibitions, typically each of them created by a particular ethnicity (and dedicated to its culture). A public book lists all the former exhibitions, four of them organized by Lithuanians (topics: Lithuanian bookplates (1989-1990), Lithuanians alive (1990), Lithuanian festivals in Adelaide 1950-2002 (2002-2003), Lithuanian folk art). Latvians and Estonians also held a similar number of events. In general, the stories of peoples who migrated for political rather than economic reasons tend to be better represented in the museum (likely because "forced migrants" are more keen on celebrating the culture they lost).

Excerpt from the list of temporary exhibitions details the 2002 exhibition on Adelaide Lithuanian festivals. Picture ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

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Canberra

Australia's capital Canberra is a small city (~300 000) and it lacks the massive minority communities of Sydney or Melbourne. However, as a capital, it has its own ways to honor the diasporas that formed Australia, including Lithuanians.

Cockington Green Gardens of Canberra contains miniature copies of landmark buildings from ~30 countries that gave Australia most immigrants. Each country and its migrant community are also briefly explained in the park plaque.

Among the miniatures, there is Trakai Island castle, built at 1:50 scale. It was created by a Lithuanian Mindaugas Mauragis, funded by Canberra Lithuanian scouts, veterans, and other community. Such "enthusiast" funding makes it somewhat unique as many other Cockington Green miniatures had been funded by respective embassies (Lithuania lacks an embassy to Australia, however).

A copy of Trakai castle in Canberra (Cockington Green Gardens). Image ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Glebe park of Canberra has a sculpture for Eglė the Queen of Serpents, a girl from a Lithuanian folktale who has been seduced and married by an underwater King of Serpents against her family wishes. Her family then managed to kill the King of Serpents, but was turned into trees as a result - together with Eglė herself. It is the only statue in this important park at central Canberra. It was gifted by Lithuanians for the bicentenary of Australia (1988). At the bottom of the sculpture on could read an English synopsis of the Eglė legend, while the statue itself (author: Ieva Pocius) looks like a cross between a girl and a canopy-less tree.

Eglė the Queen of Serpents statue in Canberra Glebe Park. Image ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

The HQ of Canberra Lithuanians is now located in Downer Business Park, 2 Bradfield Street (Room 33). As the community is small, there is no separate Lithuanian House.

One street in Lyneham district is called after a Lithuanian painter Henry (Henrikas) Šalkauskas (1925-1979). Salkauskas's palette with many blacks and grays is claimed to be chosen because of his father fate (Salkauskas's father was among hundreds of thousands of Lithuanians murdered by the Soviets. He died in Vorkuta concentration camp early during the Soviet occupation of Lithuania but Henry Salkauskas was informed about that only in 1958).

A painting by H. Salkauskas (left) and a street plaque for Salkauskas Crescent in Canberra. Google Street View.

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Melbourne, Victoria

Melbourne (Victoria) has the Australia's most lively Lithuanian community.

It is centered on Lithuanian House (a.k.a. Lithuanian Club) in North Melbourne (44 Errol St.). Its modest high street facade hides a massive atmospheric old-style interior. These premises were acquired by Lithuanians ~1960 (after the refugees who fled the Soviet occupation had settled down).

The entrance of the Melbourne Lithuanian House / Club, adorned by Columns of Gediminas symbol. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

The largest room is the Lithuanian theater of ~300 seats. Famous for good sound quality it hosts not only Lithuanian performances and events. It is regularly rented out for gigs by non-Lithuanian Australian musicians during the Melbourne Fringe festival.

Melbourne Lithuanian theater as it is seen from the balcony. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

The club also houses a Lithuanian restaurant (open on Sundays), a ballroom, many Lithuanian-inspired decorations as well as memorabilia of Lithuanian-Australian community events. Lithuanian-Australian organizations of Melbourne have their HQs in the Lithuanian Club. Another part of the building is rented out to another (non-Lithuanian) restaurant.

A Lithuanian-inspired art inside the Melbourne Lithuanian Club. The paintings on right and left are both based on the Lithuanian tricolor flag (yellow-green-red). The middle Picture shows a memorial for Lithuanians murdered and exiled by Soviet Lithuanian regime - which was the reason that gave birth to Melbourne Lithuanian refugee community. Images by ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Before the era of Lithuanian Club, the premises were used by Methodists.

Lithuanians lack their own church in Melbourne (Australia's sole Lithuanian church stands in Adelaide) as Australia once limited ethnic parishes promoting assimilation. Lithuanian mass thus is held in a nearby non-Lithuanian church.

The long corridors of Melbourne Lithuanian Club include Lithuanian ethnic symbols and art, such as the traditional wooden cross (Lithuanian cross-making is UNESCO World Heritage). Image by ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Melbourne immigration museum has some Lithuanian exhibits. The nearby Sandbridge bridge over the Yarra river is adorned by plaques detailing the origin of Australia's immigrant communities, among them Lithuanians.

As the plaques list communities by countries of origin rather than by ethnic groups, Lithuania's Jews (Litvaks) are also mentioned on the same plaque. A large share of the descendants of pre-war Jewish migrants from Lithuania live in St. Kilda district. However, they have assimilated into a wider Melbourne's Jewish community.

SBS Radio aimed at Australia's ethnic minorities has a Lithuanian-language radio show. The Melbourne outdoor advertisements of SBS Radio uses Lithuanian language among many others.

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Brisbane, Queensland

Brisbane (the capital city of Queensland, Australia, pop. 2 million) has a small Lithuanian house (49 Gladstone Rd, Highgate hill). It is a vernacular architecture building known as "Queenslander", raised above ground to help it withstand the challenges of nature (flooding, termites, uneven ground). However unlike in traditional Queenslanders, the ground floor is now converted into rooms.

Brisbane Lithuanian house (club) from its backside. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

There are few Lithuanian signs in the exterior (one sign says "Lithuanian community"). The interior holds Lithuanian memorabilia and meeting hall. The hall hosts less-than-weekly Lithuanian meetings and may be rented out at other times.

Brisbane Lithuanian house (club) with the tricolor sign Lithuanian community visble. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

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Sydney, New South Wales

Sydney is the only city of Australia that once had its own Lithaunian district. After Lithuania was occupied by Soviets and Lithuanian migrants came to Australia (~1950) many families have settled in Horton street of Bankstown suburb which was nicknamed "Litho street" at the time.

Bankstown still has a Lithuanian club "Dainava", now located on a ground floor of a residential high rise. The gazetted English name is "Meredith Club" as the club is located on Meredith Street 16-20. The premises include many rooms, a Lithuanian school, library, ballroom, publishing house for Lithuanian newspaper "Mūsų pastogė". There is also a Lithuanian restaurant (however it has ceased operating on weekdays and is now open Sunday-only).

Entrance of the Sydney Lithuanian House 'Dainava' / 'Meredith Club' with Vytis symbols on glass panels. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

These days very few Lithuanians live in Bankstown. The largest ethnicities in the suburb are Arabs and Vietnamese. However, Lithuanians from other districts still come to "Dainava" and Lithuanian mass at a nearby church.

The interior of "Dainava" is modern, with some Lithuanian elements such as Vytis signs on windows, maps of Lithuania, images of "poverty school" (illegal Lithuanian school at the time Russian Imperial regime had banned Lithuanian language) and Lithuanian presidents.

Interior of Sydney Lithuanian club 'Dainava' with a modern Vytis. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Unlike the Lithuanian houses of Adelaide and Melbourne "Dainava" has been established in 2006, much after the original settlement of Lithuanians. It has replaced a previous historic Lithuanian house in another part of Bankstown which had been sold. Therefore Sydney Lithuanian home has less of "Old Lituanity" atmosphere than the other Lithuanian-Australian clubs.

The 'Christianing act' of the first 1959 Syndey area (Bankstown) Lithuanian house is presented in the modern Lithuanian house together with some Lithuanian crafts. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Memorial plaques of immigration at Circular Quay (Sydney downtown) claim that between years 1947 and 1951 a total of 36806 Baltic States people migrated to Australia, making 7,9% of Australia's immigrant intake in those years.

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Antarctica

Antarctica is an uninhabited continent that was the last one to be explored. It is, therefore, common that many Antarctic locations are named after various explorers that have mapped them. Even though Lithuania has never participated in the Antarctic exploration and never operated scientific bases there, such projects were undertaken by countries that had many ethnic Lithuanians among their citizens. One of them was the US. One Antarctica coast is named after a US navy officer Fredas Bakutis - the Bakutis coast.

Bakutis Coast in Antarctica. Google Maps.

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Perth and West Australia

A 1150-meters-tall mountain near Tom Price town is named Mount Truchanas after Olegas Truchanas, a Šiauliai-born Lithuanian photographer. Olegas Truchanas is considered an important person in the Australian envirointmentalist movement as his images of pristine nature have attracted a wide attention to how the humans affect the nature.

The Lithuanian community of the area was never large and it has largely assimilated, leaving little material heritage.

After Australia has accepted Lithuanian refugees from the Soviet Union, some 600 of them settled in Perth, West Australia, further from other Lithuanian communities. Unlike elsewhere in Australia, the Perth diocese offered Lithuanians a church (St. Francis Xaver, Windsor street, Eastern Perth). Initially, Irish priests held the mass, who were later replaced by Lithuanians. Beginning with the Vatican II, a Lithuanian mass was held (until 1999), the wedding and funerary rites were also performed in Lithuanian.

However, Lituanity faced an uphill struggle in Perth as the community was both small and isolated. It was mostly the senescent people who were supporting the Lituanity, while the children were not interested in it. The language was not passed to the new generation and the Lithuanian festivals are no longer celebrated. There were attempts to establish a Lithuanian school in 1969, however it folded in 1972 as it failed to attract enough children to receive funding. Since 1975, a Lithuanian newspaper Žinutė (the Message) was published, but the publishing ceased in 1999. The Lithuanian radio transmissions became English at 1995.

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