Migration of Slovenians to Australia

After World War II many Slovenians decided that life was not necessarily going to improve in Yugoslavia, so they took a chance to begin a new life somewhere else. They left behind their homes, friends and, more importantly, their families. They travelled to the well-guarded border with only the clothes they wore and perhaps some food and water, cautiously crossing into Italy or Austria. From the refugee camps of Italy and Austria, most migrated on to countries such as Australia that were welcoming immigrants.


Often the friendships and relationships formed among Slovenians in refugee camps in Italy and Austria were maintained in Australia. These bonds became the fledgling support systems many depended on to sustain them in their new lives. They stayed in touch with each other to communicate in their beloved Slovenian language, to reminisce about their homeland, to be towers of strength in despair, and to dream together in the new country.

In the early years, many Slovenian men were sent to work on the well-known Snowy Mountains Scheme, to the Queensland sugar cane fields or to remote areas working on railway line such as the West and South Australian Railway. Slovenian women were most commonly sent to work as domestics.

Draga Gelt and Veronika Ferfolja

More on Migration: Slovenian Migrants Reminiscing 
Role of Church

As with many post-World War II migrants in their early re-settlement, Slovenians often had a difficult time coping with their changed environment. As ‘New Australians’ they often felt lonely and isolated having left family, friends and familiar surroundings, many in traumatic circumstances. Not only was there a vastly different climate and culture to contend with, but for most there were also the difficulties of a new language. There was an urgent need for emotional support and the opportunity to share their experiences.

It was in 1951 that the first Slovenian Franciscan priests arrived in Australia to give support to compatriots. Most Slovenian migrants in the early period were refugees escaping from the communist regime and thus held strong religious convictions. The priests assisted many to search for employment and housing whilst attending to their spiritual and religious needs. Marriage preparations and religious rituals were now carried out in the Slovenian language.

The first stop for many single Slovenian men in Victoria was Padua Hall Hostel in Kew, later called Baraga House, established by Father Basil A.Valentin OFM MBE. Here, immigrant men were able to enjoy traditional home cooked dishes, socialise, play sports, access Slovenian books, magazines and newspapers. Most importantly they were able to share their experiences, reminisce about their homeland and dream of a new life in Australia.

Father Basil dreamed of a Slovenian church. After much persistence and hard work on his part and with the help from the Slovenian community, the Sts. Cyril and Methodius Church was officially opened in 1968.

The Church played an Important Role for Slovenians in Australia

Slovenian Religious and cultural Centres in Australia - Short History
 and book by Draga Gelt and Veronika Ferfolja: Pax et Bonum - Mir in dobro (Chronicle of Slovenian Priests and Franciscan Sisters in Australia) on National University Digital Library of Slovenia in Ljubljana.

 

Herald Sun - Slovenians are proportionally the most likely nationality to own a home in Victoria, Australia

The Need For Clubs

As the community slowly increased, there was a need for additional clubs. Currently there are six Slovenian Associations in Victoria: Slovenian Association Melbourne Inc.; Australian Slovenian Cultural & Sports Association ‘Ivan Cankar’ Geelong Inc.; Slovenian Australian Social & Sports Club ‘Jadran’ Inc., Diggers Rest; Slovenian-Australian Cultural & Sport Association ‘Planica’ Springvale Inc.; Slovenian Twincity Club ‘Snežnik’ Wodonga Inc. and the Slovenian Sport Association Inc., St. Albans. The associations were mainly built by volunteers and funded by members. They are active in promoting Slovenian culture, customs and language. The buildings include dance and function halls, sporting facilities, classrooms, youth halls and Slovenian language libraries.

Proud and enthusiastic individuals are elected to manage the associations on a voluntary basis with the trust and help of members. The establishment of these clubs allowed Slovenians to become proud of their cultural heritage and provided an avenue for freedom of expression.

 

Other Associations

In addition the Slovenian Teachers’ Association, Council of Slovenian Organisations in Victoria – a union of Slovenian associations; the Slovenian National Council of Victoria (which lobbied for the Australian Government’s recognition of newly independent Slovenia) together with numerous Slovenian sporting groups, Slovenian newspapers, weekly radio and fortnightly TV programs, and the Slovenian Welfare agency were also established.

Draga Gelt and Veronika Ferfolja
 
More information on migration:

Marta Skrbis:First Slovenian Migrant in Australia
Marta Skrbis: Prvi Slovenec v Avstraliji (in Slovenian)
Slovenian Migrants Reminiscing
The Bonegilla Migrant Experience: Research
SBS Audio and Language: Slovenian

 

Downloads Available

Irena Birsa: Slovenians in Australia
Slovenian Women

Federation and Slovenians

Community Information Summary: Slovenia-born

Receiving Europe’s Displaced

Prof Zlatko Skrbiš: Long/distance Nationalism Diasporas, Homelands and Identities

Prof Zlatko Skrbiš: The First Europeans - The Case Study in Slovene National Imagining in Diaspora

Cilka Žagar: Fortune Hunters

Draga Gelt and Veronika Ferfolja: First Slovenians came to Australia

 

Some other Available Resources

Ivan Kobal: The Snowy - Cradle of a New Australia
John Adams: Slovene migrants in Australia: The reasons for migration and the nature and distribution of social and cultural activities
Draga Gelt and Veronika Ferfolja: Pax et Bonum - Mir in dobro; The Presence of Slovenian Franciscan priests and nuns in Australia from 1951 to 2001
Vera Remšnik: The role and function of an ethnic organisation - Slovenian Association Melbourne
Glenda Sluga: Bonegilla "A Place of No Hope"
Viktorija Zabukovec: The Second Landing

Draga Gelt and Liliana Eggleston Tomažič: Anthology of Slovenian Artists and Sculptors in Australia

Draga Gelt: Chronicle of Slovenian Schools and Slovenian Language Teachers in Australia

 

Australian Immigration site - some stories: Immigration Bridge Australia

Write a story to the IMMIGRATION PLACE:

 
 

Photo Gallery

Video Gallery

Films by Fr Basil Valentin OFM MBE

 

 

AIM

The aim of this publication is to enlighten readers and the general public of the contribution made by Slovenians to Australia as a then developing country in the post WW11 years.

Alongside all other immigrants at that time, Slovenians worked on major schemes and projects designed to bring Australia into the 20th century. This young country, full of promise of a bright and prosperous future, was offering freedom and opportunity for those newly-arrived from war-torn countries.

As they settled in to their new homeland which provided an ideal, clean environment to bring up young families, the need to remember culture and traditions became important. It was necessary to establish a number of meeting places for cultural and religious activities, due to the growing number of members and the problem of distance. Cultural, religious and sporting clubs accommodated these needs and became the hubs where important cultural traditions would be passed on to future generations of Slovenians.

Given their new environment and opportunity, some became active members of society and were successful in their chosen fields.