Thursday, 5 June 2014

We are in Australia now. A letter from Australia, 1947

National Archives of AustraliaHMAS Kanimbla arrives at Melbourne with the first group of displaced persons (Dec 1947) from where they will join the train bound for Bonegilla Migrant Camp. They had travelled from Europe to Fremantle on the GENERAL HEINTZELMAN and transhipped to the KANIMBLA.

This translation is from a two part article, of which this in number 2. It was cut out from the newspaper with no other parts.  Written by Juozas Šilainis, who arrived on the General Heintzelman.  The first ship bringing post WWII migrants to Australia in December 1947.  This letter was published in ‘Žodis’ a DP camp newspaper in Detmold, Germany, Jan 8 1948.

An ordinary job can earn you £5-6. Food is cheap, housing in expensive.  We work five days per week, eight hours per day.

We will in Fremantle until December 2nd, then will sail east to Melbourne.  From there by train 200 kilometres to Bonegilla where we will be for about a month.  Here we will rest, learn English, become familiar with the region and work customs until we are allocated work. 

On the journey to Australia we are looked after by a Lithuanian working for the IRO, Vladas Žibas.  He gives us 200 cigarettes a week, soap and other toiletries.

In Diepholz we elected a committee for the journey.  Under the committees direction we remembered All Saints day and on November 23rd in the Indian Ocean.  We held a religious hour where the English class choir performed, followed by a Baltic music and song concert.  A delicious meal was had at the end.  The Lithuanian scouts were active on board the ship.  When we reached the equator they organised an impressive camp fire evening.  The sailors watching laughed along even though the words could not be understood. The ships newsletter was translated to Lithuanian and printed on the rotatarium ‘Pabaltijo Vikinga’ (Baltic Viking).

We feared sea sickness, and some suffered as soon as they set foot on the ship.  In the middle of the ocean one Lithuanian had an appendix operation but all left the ship healthy.

The Australian cities, people, and living conditions for the newly arrived Europeans were so interesting and surprising that in the short time we have been here we have not been able to evaluate everything.   Leaving Germany we thought we would find a primitive society, but instead modern colourful cities, cheap living, social equality, freedom, cheap transportation, fabulous films and theatre.  While in Perth, not far from Fremantle, are beaches, gardens, no poverty to be seen.

In the town and suburbs you don’t see many people on foot or on bikes, they have cars.  If you walk out into the street and hail a car, someone will stop and ask where you would like to go.  Australians know that a pedestrian usually means you are a new immigrant who would have no money.  They ask many questions which with limited English is hard to answer.  Many however speak, German, Russian or French.

Australians are practical and thrifty, and encourage the new migrants to be the same.  They say don’t send letters by air as it is too expensive, but suggest by sea as it is cheaper but will take longer.  

Not many Australians smoke cigarettes, but deftly roll tobacco in paper to smoke.  They are known as ‘bankrutkes’ as tobacco is cheap and cigarettes expensive.

To earn money quickly you can work as crop or sugar cutting or sheep shearing.
There are a few Lithuanians families already living around Perth and Fremantle, the children growing up in Australia speak Lithuanian.  They live well, have their own cars, houses and say that if you are not afraid of work, don’t drink away your income then very quickly you can buy whatever you want.  They also started with nothing.

On 1 December 1947, we gave the local Lithuanians gave a singing concert to an excited audience.  We sang a dozen songs they have not heard and brought tears to their eyes. Australians were also at the concert and asked for a translation of the songs.

We temporarily belonged to the immigration minister who concerned with our welfare, organised the Salvation Army Red Shield War Services to donate items of clothing, food, shoes and other small items.  They also allowed us to send letters to Europe.

Juozas Silainis

Fremantle 1947.XII.1

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