Monday, 30 July 2012

Their celebration was just like home

This article was written by Max Fatchen for the Mail on 30 Oct 1954. 

In the George Murray Hall of Adelaide University last Saturday night, a unique meeting was held. It was the first gathering in Australia of men and women from Lithuania who had belonged to the Scout movement which was associated with the social activities of Lithuanian Universities.     It was also the first meeting ever of Lithuanians graduates in this country.    This is the story of some of the people who went along.
They were happy days in 1938 when pretty Stasė Korsakaitė was doing her dental course at Vytautas, the Great University in Kaunas, Lithuania.  There she met engineer Antanas Pacevičius, an assist ant to one of the professors, and they fell in love.  For keen-looking Jonas Kalvaitis there had been good days, too, with plenty of work when he did his law course there. There had been an occasional duel, but no one ever got hurt.  It wasn't only the academic side that was so interesting at this Lithuanian University.  There were the colourful student’s organisations, like the Scouts. This was one of the first universities in Europe which the Soviet movement penetrated. The students in the Scout groups wore peaked caps and bright sashes, and the girls called themselves Scouts as well. Then came the war and their university careers clashed.  Jonas Kalvaitis who had become a public prosecutor and a magistrate, turned instead into a fugitive from the Russians.  The Pacevičius family had to escape from the Russians too.  But they did not forget their university nor the good times.  It stayed in their minds and in the minds of other graduates through labour camps, train bombings, and frantic escapes.  Then they came to Australia and started to build a new life.  Stasė and Antanas Pacevičius built theirs slowly but they built it, until they had their own home, a car and three happy children.  But they didn't forget their university days or the happy times with the Scouts and other student organisations. 'I wish.' said Mrs. Pacevičius, 'we could meet again and talk and sing our student songs.'  Last Saturday night they did just that in the first meeting of Lithuanian graduates ever held in Australia.  It was also the thirtieth anniversary of the Scout movement in their university.  It was symbolic chat the meeting was held in a university building in their new country — the George Murray Hall of Adelaide University, and what pleased the Lithuanians was that they were able to use it without charge, like any other university body.  The University warden Mr. Frank Borland, told them in a little speech of welcome.  'We are glad to have people from a sister university meeting here among us.' And it was symbolic, too that among the audience of 120 were not only graduates of Lithuanian universities, - but also undergraduates of Lithuanian descent now going to Adelaide University.   So students of yesterday talked to architects and doctors of tomorrow.  Mrs. Pacevičius said: 'We wanted to hand on some of our traditions to them, and tell them what we did in our university days.' Round the wall of the hall were 14 emblems of Lithuanian student organisations and Scout groups.  Representatives of various groups each made a short speech.  In the chair was Mrs. Pacevičius with the navy, red and white sash of the Girl Scouts draped over one shoulder.  Behind her was the emblem of her Lithuanian University, painstakingly copied from her diploma of dentistry.  There was Lithuanian food.  There were songs, like the student song the men had loved to sing.  Translated, it goes, in part: — 'We love girls with beautiful eyes.  If we see them our heart gets so weak.' There was tradition even in the invitation card.  It said '7 p.m. - academically' — which was a Lithuanian joke, because academic people are always late.  In other words the meeting started at 7.15 p.m. The master of ceremonies at this kind of student social in Lithuania always called 'silence' in Latin, and banged the table with a sword.  So Mr Pacevičius borrowed a fencing toil from Adelaide friends and rapped the table when he wanted quiet.  All those sitting at the committee table wore traditional white gloves. One woman even had a rakish student's cap. One of the speeches was made by Mr. A Plokštis, a former solicitor in Lithuania. He now works in an Adelaide factory.  He said, in effect: 'Everything has changed so much now, we have been through very much.

But now I have a different life.  It doesn't matter that I am working in a factory.  I am free and my family has a new chance for education and life.  Jonas Kalvaitis, too. spoke of his university days. Perhaps his unspoken thought was of the death sentence the Russians had given him in his absence in 1946.  He works in the metal department of a city firm.  But on Saturday night he was back in the past again.  And tall young Stasys Cibiras spoke.  He escaped twice from the Russians, and has a bullet scar on his arm; he is chairman of the Lithuanian Students Society of Australia. There are 53 attending Australian universities, and 25 of them are in Adelaide.  This same Cibiras is swotting for his final law examinations.  He is in the University Air Squadron, training for the administrative side as a pilot officer.

He spoke for new Australian students such as George Naujalis (Architecture) and attractive table tennis star Aldona Snarskytė  (Medicine).     Dr. J. Mikužis spoke. Once he was a lecturer in medicine at a university in Lithuania.  He has done a three year course in medicine at Adelaide University. And now he is in private practice again in an Adelaide suburb.   As Saturday night went on the antidotes came more freely, the songs sounded happier.  There was so much to remember that midnight came all too quickly. The Lithuanians departed—happy to have talked of old times, happy to know that another university should interest itself in them, happy that some of their people are getting a new chance as students.   Mrs. Pacevičius looked at the spires and outlines of Adelaide University against the night sky and said softly:  'For a while it seemed as if we were home again.''

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