Vale Reet Simmul
Born 18/05/1940 Tallinn, Estonia
Died 3/12/2021 Young, NSW, Australia
Reet was born in Tallinn in a free Estonia. Within months the situation changed when first Soviet and then German troops swept across Estonia. In September 1944 Reet’s mother with two small children, Reet, and her brother Ants, fled the advancing Soviet troops. She had a sister in Austria and the family set out to travel there. After the war Reet’s family was in a displaced persons camp and chose to migrate to Australia because it was as far as possible from war-torn Europe.
Life in Australia started in the migrant camp in Bathurst from where the family moved to their new home in Bankstown. Reet was a good student and went from Fort Street High School to the University of Sydney where she studied Science. Reet graduated in microbiology and biochemistry and started work in the Institute of Clinical Pathology and Medical Research.
Reet married Uino Simmul in 1962 and had two children. Erik and Linda. When her youngest child started school Reet resumed her career at Philips-Dunbar working on animal vaccines.
In 1979 Reet gained her teaching qualification and started teaching biology in the Department of Technical and Further Education. Reet was always up for a challenge and soon she was teaching classes in communication. She enjoyed teaching mature students from many different countries and felt that they taught her as much as she taught them.
In 1994 she started yet another phase of her life. She became the honorary assistant archivist in the Estonian Archives in Australia. This work became a major part of her life, and she remained a valued member of the archive for 26 years. The Estonian Archives in Australia is a major ethnic community-based archive that is well known and respected in Australia as well as overseas.
As well as working on the regular exhibitions in Estonian House, Sydney, Reet co-curated two major exhibitions, “Estonians in Australia 300 years “in 2000 in Sydney and “Happily Australian but Estonian too” in 2003 in the Migration Museum in Adelaide. The Migration Museum had strict guidelines for exhibitions and this exhibition required six panels, six display cases and a video that could run on a loop all day. Despite never having done it before, Reet volunteered to create the video. She selected the material, cut and pasted from other videos and photos, added the captions and the music. “Our Story” told the story of the expatriate Estonians in Australia, where we are from, why we left our homeland, how we came to Australia and how we are preserving our cultural heritage. This was before the advent of programs that make this kind of work much easier. Reet really liked a challenge
Why I work at the Archive
“The volunteers have formed a close friendship group on Wednesday and each one of us has a different experience and skill to bring to the Archive. The friendships we have made with archivists from Estonia and the summer schools and conferences enrich our lives.”
Reet Simmul, 2020
Read Reet’s article on why she worked at the Archive
Volunteers in the Archive can choose the areas they want to work in. Reet liked people so it was not surprising that she chose to sort, arrange and catalogue personal papers and to film oral history interviews. The catalogue for the personal papers was the first of the Archive’s catalogues that could be accessed online. Reet was very proud when the collection of oral histories was inscribed into the UNESCO Australian Memory of the World Register.
The Baltic Heritage Network was formed in 2006 to bring together expatriate archivists and professionals from the Baltic memory institutions. With conferences every three years and summer schools in the intervening years Reet travelled to Estonia regularly and soon built up a large circle of friends and colleagues. The summer schools taught archival skills but also allowed time to visit the local historical places, to have fun and make friends. Evenings were spent sitting in the summer twilight singing and talking until the mosquitos drove everyone inside.
In her later years Reet’s health did not allow her to travel overseas but she kept up her weekly attendance at the Archive. Even after her stroke at the beginning of 2021 Reet hoped to recover sufficiently to return to the Archive. That was not to be.
Reet moved to Young to be near her daughter, where she died on a sunny summer’s day.
Reet will be remembered by her family, friends and her colleagues in the Estonian Archives in Australia.