Baltic Immigrants

Baltic immigrants, from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, were few before 1947, with only ten known by name. After the Second World War, 1,092 Balts migrated to Tasmania. Most arrived under a two-year-contract which obliged them to work in a job prescribed by the government. Balts worked on hydro-electric developments, at zinc works and tin mines, and in newsprint, carbide and cement factories, and were used to overcome labour shortages in other menial positions.

On completion of their contracts, approximately 25 percent left Tasmania, to rejoin family, or seek adventure, marriage or employment commensurate with their skills. The remaining Balts integrated well into the Tasmanian community. They entered most professions, set up businesses, and went to the University of Tasmania, with 33 Lithuanians graduating by 1999. Each nationality formed its own association, as well as sporting clubs, folk dancing groups, choirs and language schools. The first Baltic umbrella committee was formed in 1953. A more formalised body, the HELLP (Help the Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian Peoples) Association, started in 1974.

Balts also shared their culture. Lithuanian Jonas Krutulis conducted an Australian choir in Launceston which sang Lithuanian songs. At Railton in the 1950s Australian girls danced in the Lithuanian folk group. In 1983, Mrs Aldona Nunez' Lithuanian folk dancing group included members from seven different nationalities.

Balts published three periodicals in Tasmania: Baltic News (19751990), Lithuanian Papers (1987) and Auseklis; as well as books and brochures. The Lithuanian Studies Society was formed at the University of Tasmania in 1987 and has so successfully promoted research into all aspects of Lithuania that the university is considered the Australian centre of Lithuanian studies. Among the best-known Baltic immigrants were photographers Olegas Truchanas (Lithuanian) and Peter Dombrovskis (Latvian). Several Balts have been awarded Commonwealth Honours.

Further reading: R Tarvydas, From amber coast to apple isle, Hobart, 1997; K Gross & D Rozentals, Letters from the outside, Hobart, 2004; A Taskunas (ed), Lithuania in 1991, Hobart, 1992.

Algimantas P Taskunas