Saturday, 30 August 2014

A new breed


I loved Lithuania long before I ever set foot on her shores.  It is the land of my grandparents, the place where they were born, grew as a child and left as young adults.  The country that was always their home, their mother tongue, their history.  A land that they never returned to, to live, but was always dear to them.  

I have just returned from a visit to Lithuania where I spend a month travelling around the country, catching up with old friends and meeting new relatives.  I grew up in Australia and was always a little sad that our family was so small.  I was still better off than most as my paternal grandfather has his siblings here, but it still added up to a small group that could all sit around one large dinner table.  This year I met my parents cousins for the first time, and am amazed at how my family has suddenly expanded.  I wish my parents had this extended family growing up, they missed out on so many family gatherings, gossip and squabbles. For me, finding family overseas has given me deeper roots to the country that has played such a big part in my life.   I returned home clutching a precious photograph of my maternal great grandparents, which I never had seen, and a photograph of my grandparents wedding, we have one photo but had never seen this one.  I now have images of my grandfather as a young man and images of him mourning the loss of his father at his funeral.   My new found family took us to visit the graves of my maternal great grandparents and extended family, I had no one to visit in cemeteries in Adelaide. 

My roots grow deep and strong in Lithuania, but new sprouts are growing and expanding in Australia.  While Lithuanian blood may flow through my veins, I realise that growing up in a different country makes me not Lithuanian.  I speak an accented, grammatically poor, old fashioned version of the language, I am unaware of the slang, local jokes, have no idea of music, films and tv from years ago.  Nor do I have the experience of growing up in an occupied country under a regime that was enforced upon you. I am a new breed, a 'litho', an Australian born of Lithuanian decent. I will always belong in two places. 

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Balt artist at Woodside - Rukstele


The painting which hangs in the foyer of the Adelaide
Lithuanian House
TOP - A SYMBOLIC Oil painting by Antanas Rukstele foremost Lithuanian artist, now at Woodside Migration Centre, depicting the effort by thousands of Lithuanians to escape when the Russians invaded their country. A woman is shown clutching a handful ofher native soil before embarking. LEFT Rukstele with his wife, Helene, and their three children Beatrice (10), Saulius(8), and Raminta (12).
Antanas Rukstele, one of Lithuania's best known artists, is now a displaced person at Woodside migration centre.After years of wandering almost penniless with his wife and three children, tall, thin faced, 42-year-old Rukstele hopes Australia is "journey'send."In Lithuania before the Russian invasion he was a popular portrait painter and landscape artist. His minimum price fora portrait was £27/10/, and special portraits brought £50. When the Russians came Rukstele, who was a strong anti-Communist, gathered his family and fled. To have remained would have been certain death.

They walked out of their home without even a suitcase.Their only possessions were the clothes they were wearing. Ultimately they got to Germany, where Rukstele was drafted to labouring work. After the war he was discovered by UNRRA and set up in a studio, where he painted portraits of scores of American servicemen. "My waiting room was crowded like a dentist's parlour", he said.  Rukstele said he would be happy to work for two years as a labourer in Australia. Then he would like to take up painting again. He intends to study our art and believes both our artists and he can benefit from an interchange of ideas. Tomorrow, he will hold an exhibition of about 30 of his pictures in the camp to mark the official opening of Woodside as a migration centre. Arrangements are being made for Hans Heysen to see his work.