Sunday, 20 June 2021

Celebrating Lithuanian Independence Day, 1950

 A long road to Freedom was the headline detailing the celebration of the 32nd Lithuanian Independence Day in the small town of Bridgetown, south of Perth in 1950.  Lithuanians as well as other new migrants were employed in a range of jobs in the surrounding area, undertaking their compulsory two-year contract.  

Newly married couple, Birutė and Jurgis residing in Bridgetown felt that a commemoration of some sort was in order. There were a few Lithuanians families at that time in Bridgetown, but more were needed for a worthy celebration.   Lithuanians from neighbouring towns of Nannup, Shannon River, Deanmill, Yornup, Manjimup, Jarrahwood and Pembertown were invited to attend.  The anniversary was held in the convent Hall at Bridgetown, the sister prepared the food and a table was draped in a newly made yellow, green and red flag.  Small flags from left over material were placed on the tables.  Birutė kept the flag and it was used on many Adelaide events until it disappeared. 

Jurgis quickly gathered a choir that sang several songs and both national anthems.   Around fifty Lithuanians gathered, attending mass in the morning at St Brigid’s church before lunch.  Zenonas Samuolis living in Nannup, delivered the main address detailing the history of Lithuania’s struggle for independence.  Father Kelliher welcomed those gathered and said that as he had come from another country, he could sympathise of the loss homeland. Amongst those invited were Father Duffy from Manjimup, F. Leeman and G. A Lydiate, Manager of Deanmill and Jardee Timber Mills, Doctor N.S Williams, Officer in change of the Commonwealth Employment Officer W.L. Owens And H.O Moore, Chairman of Bridgetown Road Board. 

Jurgis (George) Jonavicius spoke at the event, We chose Australia as our new homeland, came here because we knew that we will have freedom, democracy and prosperity. We are happy ones because we found a new homeland which accepted us as newcomers as their own fellow – Australians and is giving us freedom, democracy and independence.  

Photo from Waymarking website

Thursday, 13 May 2021

Sir Jack, the table tennis champion

Vic Sirjatavicius

His greatest year in table tennis was 1953, when he became the first player in Australia to beat Michael Sabados, who had held 78 national titles and 13 world titles.

 He was known as Sir Jack due to his unpronounceable name to Australians. He later went by the surname of Sirvic.  Born Vytautas on 2 July 1930 in Kaunas to Aleksandras and Barbora Frostas. He was a civil engineering student in Lithuania and in Australia became an Insurance company representative.   He arrived in Australia with his parents, brothers Jurgis and Liudvikas and sister Regina.

 He is remembered for his spectacular leaps around the table and whirlwind hitting.  During his early years he had temperamental outbursts and shows of emotions.  His formula for success was fitness and long hours of practice.  He used to practice 5-6 hours at a time, four times a week.  He played basketball until an on court accident broke his leg.  Unable to return to basketball he focused on table tennis. Vic first played in 1944 as a young refugee in Augsburg Displaced Persons camp.  As a junior player he won many tournaments, eventually playing A grade for Augsburg.  He was never coached but had the example of world class players to follow as Lithuanian was no.3 table tennis nation in 1936. 

He was selected for Victorian interstate team and held no.2 Victorian state ranking.  He also played in a team, Lithuania who in 1950 was 3rd place in the A grade and with Krivickas was runner up for the Victorian doubles.  In 1952 he won the Footscray Championships and in 1953 was winner of City of Melbourne championships. 


Friday, 16 April 2021

I was always with you

Upon arrival in Australia, Česlovas Dubinskas, was sent to Woomera to work.  He ended up working there for ten years.  In 1992, he published a book entitled, I was with you all time. Written in Lithuania, these are some extracts from his time in Woomera. 

50 Lithuanians flew to Woomera. The plane landed on site, near Philips Pond camp because the airfield in Kulemilka was not completed, only ground levelling works was still ongoing.

There was already a building where the project administration, an engineering department and a drawing room were located. I was assigned to live in a large military tent where Jonas Meškauskas, Kostas Tymukas and Algis Žilinskas were already located. The first night was very hot – about +30 C, so it was not pleasant to sleep.

In Woomera, when I arrived, the first impression was terrible because the heat in January was terrible and hard to bare, especially when during the physical work on railroad, sewer, plumbing, etc. There often were sandstorms, penetrating the mouth, eyes, nose. Cars had to stop because drivers could not see the road. When a storm struck us working outdoors, we had to hide under the floors of future buildings. Wooden houses were built on raised poles, so there was a space to hide under the floor.  Sand was blown into our rooms and administration premises.  After the storm finished, it was necessary to clean, dust the sheets, clothes, and everything else.

I became a friend with the pastor of the Anglican Church because I would donate flowers to the Church.  Jonas and I planted flower beds near the administration building and our apartments. Our assistants cared for the flower beds when they have time, and we ourselves worked on them on Sundays. The flowers grew beautifully because we used sludge from the sewers, which was a very good fertilizer when it dried. We gave flowers to the Anglican chaplain to decorate the church. Farmers from Woomera and the surrounding areas visited our gardens and marvelled that plants in the desert grew so well.

Life in Woomera was going normally. I had to meet people of different nationalities on a regular basis; many English and Australians worked there also, in addition to migrants.  The whole social life took place in our club, mostly sipping beer.  Fellow workers still lived in the Philips Pond camp. There was also Captain Bennett's camp, where several Lithuanians worked laying cables.

Many migrants bought trucks and entered into contracts to collect stones to deliver them to the quarry.  There they were ground into gravel (rubble), which was used for the construction of buildings, roads, squares, and airfields.

It was a great pleasure to work and live in Woomera, and I got to used to it after ten years, so it seemed to be my permanent place to live.  Our patron managing director realized that that living/life style is detrimental to my and Jonas’ health because the desert remains a desert. He arranged for us to be relocated to Adelaide, into a department of planning roads and aerodromes.

Transcribed by Edita Meskauskaitė.

Thursday, 4 March 2021

Two Year Contracts Part IV (Final)


Railton, Goliath Cement Company

Teodoras Šurkevičius
Henrikas Šurkevičius worked as labourer for 18 months then as a professor of technology.
Also here worked, Vacys Morkunas Juozas Kriaučiunsas, Vladas Kozakas, Ceslovas Vistokas
Vytautas Kuncaitis, Mindaugas Petras Šumskas

Rossarden, Tasmania

Rossarden is an old mining town in north-east Tasmania, located 19 km from Avoca.  The town came into being primarily because of the tin mining operations of Aberfoyle Tin Mining Company, which created a demand for employees.

Here worked Antanas Bartkevičius, Bronius Margevičius, Stasys Virbickas, Jonas Mališauskas.


Electrona Carbide factory, 40 km from Hobart. Physical work unloading large rocks of limestone, smashing them with sledgehammers and loading them onto wagons.

Her worked Adomas Stasytis, V. Stasytienė, Jonas Motiejunas, Grigaliunas

The Australian Newsprint Mills

Logs were extracted from areas around Fitzgerald and Karanja, the workforce camps provided comfortable but basic accommodation.  Bushmen used crosscut saw and axe to fell timber and tractors, dragged logs to sidings, where steam haulers winched logs on to rail trucks. Spur lines joined the main railway to Boyer. In 1947 the township of Maydena was built as a base for logging in the Florentine Valley. Thriving communities developed at New Norfolk and Maydena, with company-built amenities including halls, football grounds and swimming pools. The workforce included many single men, often migrants.

Vladas Mikelaitis

Bell Bay Aluminium smelter

The Bell Bay smelter commenced production in 1955 as a joint venture between the Commonwealth and Tasmanian governments. The smelter was the first built in the Southern Hemisphere primarily to overcome difficulties importing aluminium during wartime. Bell Bay was chosen as the location because of the available hydroelectric power and deep-water facilities. Rio Tinto Aluminium purchased the smelter in 1960, when production was about 12,000 tonnes per year.

Boyer Mill

Australian Newsprint Mill company mill.  About 50 Balts worked here from 1948 – 1951, they lived in single men’s camps on the site in huts.

Stepas Augustavičius, Ona Taparauskas (Cook)

British Titan Products (Tioxide) Burnie

Lithuanians worked on the construction of a new factory to make paint pigment from titanium oxide.  The workmen’s camp was located on site, two roomed cottages that had been built specially for the migrants.  There was a communal shower and laundry and a large dining room where meals were served.

Raimondas Kristovkis

Electrolytic Zinc Company of Australia, Risdon

The Electrolytic Zinc Works were established by the Electrolytic Zinc Company at Risdon beside the Derwent in 1916. Eighteen Lithuanians off the Wooster Victory worked here, residing in a new camp. The camp became known as the Balt Camp. Work included digging trenches, erecting fences, work in the quarry.

Here worked, Stasys Valaitis, Olegas Truchanas, Jonas Deckys, Ben Berzanskas.

Electrolytic Zinc Company of Australia, Rosebery

The company was allocated seven Lithuanians off the first ship carrying migrants to Australia.  The camp consisted of six or seven tin sheds.  The men were engaged in mineral explorations, cutting tracks, cutting roads.

Here worked; Karolis Maslauskas, Juozas Jablonskis, Salkunas, Viktoras Kuciauskas, Leons Mikelans
Alex Gabas, Juris Princis, Juozas Stucas, Antanas Maražas.

 Hydro-Electric Commission, Tungatinah, Wayatinah

Lithuanians here helped build dams, power stations, canals and erectednew villages.  Workers were housed in camps at Butlers Gorge damsite, Tarraleah and later at Bronte Park.

Here worked Jolanta Kulakauskas and the Miežitis family.

Post Master General’s Department

Guilford Junction, 50km from Burnie and Hampshire.  Men lived in tents, with no mains electricity.

Here worked Pranas Laurinaitis, Bronius Stankevičius

Royal Derwent Hospital (Lachlan Park Hospital)

Mental Hospital at New Norfolk, 25lm north west of Hobart.  Nurse Aids, Birutė & Irena Kirlytė.

Friday, 19 February 2021

Two year contracts part III

 Western Australia

Bunbury, Western Australia
Main Road Board

Ten Lithuanians and two friendly Estonians.  Living near the Bunbury forest in tents.  Repairing roads, the work is not hard. Fortnight wage is around 14 pounds.

Everything they do themselves, cooking and cleaning.  Vytautas is the cook who also has a radio.  The evenings are spend listening to the radio, news from Europe.  They receive newspapers from Germany in Lithuanian which they read and pass around.  They were thinking of constructing a basketball court.

Bunbury and Manjumup Pemberton Brick Yards 20 Balts
Martynas Janulis
J. Jonaitis
Simas Povilaitis

Myalup, Forestry Department, via Harvey WA


Blakeville, Victoria

It was known as the Balt Camp, a work camp for displaced persons from the Baltic States working for the Forest Commission.

The Balt Camp was in Bullarto, north of Blackwood. All that remains today are a stone chimney and concrete foundations of the huts.  

The Balt Camp was built by the Forestry Commission to give employment for young displaced persons from Northern Europe in 1946.  The male workers were given the weekend off and either walked to Bullarto to catch the train or just walked through the forest to Daylesford. 

Rushworth Migrant Camp

Lithuanians organised a national dancing group that performed for Independence Day 1950. The ensemble consisted of Bladzeviciene, Brazeliene, Gudeikiene, Gyliene, Jarenkeviciene, Karpalaviciute, Zdanaviciute, Burokaite, Starinskaite, Sutas, Kisielius, Matiulionis, Musinskas, Igaunis, Starinskas.

On Feb 22 1950 they performed at the Shepparton Sports Festival.  They performed again on the 4 March for a camp concert and on 7th March at the Women’s camp at Shepparton.  The group was invited to perform in Morupna, Vagambia, Rushworth. They did not have a Lithuanian musician so borrowed a Latvian. National costumes were borrowed from Lithuanians in other cities. 


Three camps, 2.5 km, west, north, and east hostel. In the west and north camps, lived mainly unqualified workers and the east had various professions. 

Most had their own room, some were two to a room. Each room has an electric radiator which they could leave on as much as they wanted as electricity was cheap.  They had a food hall.  The best accommodation was in the eastern camp. Here they had brick walls and a room each, which were cleaned daily.  Two weeks cost £3 – 15.  

The work was in a coal factory, brick factory and electricity.  One could earn £15 – 25 a fortnight, the best wage was earnt in the coal mine and building as here overtime was available.  The Brick factory had a lot of dust and soot, one could earn £16.  It was hard to earn a good wage, carpentry earned the best at £30 fortnight.  

There was not much to do in the town.  Yallourn good place to live for a short time to save money, living was cheap and there was no where to spend money. 

Monday, 25 January 2021

Two Year Contracts part II


Tully Queensland

Many of the DP workers arrived on the third and fourth transports to Queensland to cut sugar cane.  Resident in private houses with sperate rooms.

1948 900 Balts engaged in cane cutting. Allocations were: Hambledon110. Mulgrave 40, Goondi 32,

Mourilyan 20, South Johnstone 43, Tully 90. Macknade 61, Victoria 48.

Queensland Forest

Forests belong to the Forest Department; camp is about 24 miles from Gympie.  There are three Lithuanians here.  We live in tents, food storage is a cupboard, no kitchen meals you cook yourself.  Favourite past time is a river where we swim.  24 workers, which will increase to 150.  Earn about L6.19.8 per week.  One can save up to L20 per month.  The forests are cut and what is left is burnt. New trees will be planted suitable for building material.

Vladas Koncius

Derrier Creek Camp, Queensland

Workers are all new migrants, 64 workers in tents of whom eight are Lithuanian. A small township is 8 miles away, nothing else but forest.

Barakula Sleeper Mill, via Chinchilla, Qld

Antanas Birskys
Stepa Barzdevicicus
Alfonsas Penkaitis, Juozas Stuksis, kazys Simkunas, Jonas Savickas

Sunday, 10 January 2021

Dr Juozas Briedis

Dr Juozas Briedis was an agronomist who worked in Alytus, Seiniai, Ukmerge and Biržai before WWII.  He specialised in the economics of animal husbandry, deciding the most suitable type of breeds of stock for varying conditions.  He always had an interest in music and singing, such that he studied singing from 1937 – 8 at Kaunas Music School and later at the University of Bonn.  He led many choirs and vocal ensembles in Lithuania, Germany and the USA. 

On arrival in Australia, Juozas was sent to work as a labourer on the Metropolitan Water Sewerage and Drainage Board project, building the Warragamba Dam, which provides water supply to Sydney. 

When his two-year contract with the government
was almost complete, Juozas sought work in his profession.  He sent letters seeking employment to CSIRO and Sydney University.  The University would have employed him, but they could not offer remuneration equal to that of a camp steward of £12 per week. 

The construction of the dam was a large-scale operation that meant the establishment of its own town, houses with modern facilities.  Unmarried workers got a bed in a dormitory at a cost of 4 shillings per day.  New arrivals got to stay in tents until a house become available.  There was a communal refectory, but one could choose to make your own food.  There was post, some shops, and a cinema that showed films three times per week.  

The surrounding area is a eucalyptus forest three miles long, ending at Wallacia where there is a hotel, shops and restaurant.  The closest train station is Penrith, 16 miles away, from there to Sydney is another 30 miles.  Come the weekend the town empties of men who make their way to Sydney for the weekend.

Work varied, from constructing barracks, excavating soil, digging tunnels, blowing rocks and concreting.  The work week was 40 hours, some areas worked in three shifts.  A worker could earn £8-10 in a week depending on the work.  

Of the first Balts who arrived on 16 June 1948, four were Lithuanians.  The town kept growing and reached 3,000 workers, mostly migrants from Europe.  The dam has been renamed DiPi Dam, based on Displaced Persons.

With Juozas’ love of music and singing he organised a Lithuanian Men’s choir of seven men from the camp.  In 1949 he conducted the Regents Park Lithuanian Men’s Choir.  In September 1950 in Penrith, Juozas sang at a United Nations International concert in the Dungowan Theatre.  The choir organised a concert in Sydney of Lithuanian folk songs which they sang in national costumes.  It was broadcasted over radio.

He became involved in the Lithuanian community in Sydney.  He was Chairman of the Board of Lithuanian Catholic Centre and wrote for Mūsų Pastogė.   In 1951 he was Vice President of Krašto Valdyba.

In 1952 he moved to Chicago where he again became involved in the Lithuanian community there.  On leaving Australia he asked that people donate money to the church rather than the community hold a tea for him.   In 1960 he was Lithuanian School Choir leader in Lemont Illinois and participated in USA and Canada Song Festivals.  He owned his own paint business in Lemont.

He died on 2 February 1991 in Chicago.

Photo 30 Nov 1978 Dirva

Celebrating Lithuanian Independence Day, 1950

 A long road to Freedom was the headline detailing the celebration of the 32nd Lithuanian Independence Day in the small town of Bridgetown,...