Monday, 15 October 2012

Max Fatchen writes about Lithuanians

Max at his Angle Vale home using his beloved "Ivan the Imperial" typewriter. 

Today we mourn the death of one of South Australians most iconic writers.  

Max Fatchen, born 92 years ago at Angle Vale has entertained readers, both young and old with his stories in the Advertiser newspaper and his books.  He said of writing "Writing is living, dreaming, creating new worlds, inventing characters and bringing them to life for other people to enjoy and read.  My pen is always hand.  I watch and listen and my mind brings me rhymes and rhythms and my typewriter beats them out".

He wrote of everyday people and their extraordinary life.  In 1967, he met several Lithuanian's and wrote their story in the Advertiser.  Here is the article.

Lithuanians keep up artistic tradition

When the long icy winters hung over Lithuania, recalls Mrs Ieva Pocius, of Myrtle Bank, her mother put cotton wool and charcoal between the inner and outer windows of her home to absorb the moisture and keep the windows clear in the knife-edged cold.

This drought stricken summer Mrs Pocius, with many other Adelaide housewives, will be keeping out the dust.

She is more than a housewife.  I found her in her studio, if that’s the right name for the place where a sculptress works skilfully with metal, fashioning it into abstract shapes with a welding outfit.

She said: “Its easier than using a washing machine.  You have a feeling of power, melting metal down, controlling it”.

She paused to talk about the fulfilment of life in Australia and it was then she recalled the frost patterns on the window of that far off Lithuanian home, the tall dark trees of the forest where her father a forester and the way Lithuanians whittled with wood in the winter nights and made wood carvings one of the country’s notable arts.

Mrs Pocius has kept up the artistic tradition and it was here that she developed her talent at the South Australian School of Art.  She is now an accomplished sculptress, and a lecturer as well.

She is also an example of the way Lithuanians who came to Australia after World War II have adapted themselves yet retained something of their own culture to share with other Australians.

Lithuanians are looking back this month, for next Saturday a social at Lithuanian house, Norwood with its museum and hall and its reminders of this small Baltic country will recall the arrival 20 years ago of the first Lithuanian migrants after World War II.

Lithuanian are aware of the Communist domination of their country and their memories on this score are sad ones.  Yet they are determined and progressive people and they have fitted well into contemporary Australian life.

They’re shy about their success stories.  The fact that most of them have been successful is showing in the imposing list of engineers, architects, chemists, lawyers, doctors (including three in one family) and musicians among the 1,800 people of the Lithuanian community in South Australia.

It was 2am when Mr A Sliuzas first saw Australia in 1947.

Behind him were the refugee camps of Europe and ahead of him was a hope.  Later he wandered around Perth, amazed at the contrast with ruined Europe and surprised at the buildings and obvious signs of progress around him.

He came to Adelaide in 1948.  He worked on a waterworks project, later became a hospital orderly at night so that he could study engineering during the day.

Then he found it too much so he became a builder instead. He built service stations, bridges and even schools.  Now he has a property he is developing at Forest Range. As a naturalised Australian he also has a powerful feeling for his new country. 

When Mr Pranas Matiukas came to South Australia 19 years ago, he didn’t have many possessions but he brought his two violins. He had graduated from Kaunas Conservatory in Lithuania but intended making law his living.  The war ended all that. 

He found the sunlit vineyards of Renmark stimulating after the bitter European winter.  He picked grapes in the day time. At night he played the violin at social evenings while his employers wife played the piano, but it was several years before he could play professionally. 

His wife and daughter Emily (She’s 20 now and a kindergarten teacher) joined him from Europe.   He said “I worked as a hospital orderly, did some painting jobs. But I looked after my hands”.

He uses them now to good effect as a violinist with the South Australian Symphony Orchestra.   He said “Australian Symphony Orchestra compare very favourably with similar city orchestras in Europe. But I wish Adelaide had a permanent opera”.

He recalled that before World War II, the Lithuanian city of Kaunas with 150 000 people had a permanent opera company which performed for 10 months of the year. “And we had a ballet too”.

Mr Matiukas and his family still talk Lithuanian at their Everard Park home, because it is good for their daughter to have a second language and Lithuanian is meaningful to her. 

Life in Australia has meant readjustments.

Mr V Raginis, 57, President of the Lithuanian community smiles  when he contrasts his former job with his present one.  Now he’s a first class machinist. In Lithuania he was a senior inspector of taxation.  

He began by sweeping factory floors in Australia.  He was amused at the lecture by a well meaning major at Bonegilla migrant camp in Victoria soon after his arrival.  The major had said “ You must forget everything and start a new life.  Don’t look back”.  “Its hard” reflects Mr Raginis to chop the past. About 95% of Lithuanian's here are naturalised but the past is very real to us”.  But he keeps it in perspective. 

Sixteen year old Maria Neverauskas of St Mary’s and 14 year old Giedre Straukas of Highgate can tread the lively and graceful measures of Lithuanian national dancers but they are Australian born and contemporary in outlook. They enjoy the customs of Lithuania especially at Christmas.  “I think” said Maria “that these customs enrich your life.  After all Australia is forming its culture, and Lithuania has a very old culture.  One has something for the other”.

The Advertiser Nov 18th, 1967

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