The Story Continues…

Estonian Archives in Australia

The Story Continues ...

Estonians have been coming to Australia for hundreds of years.

Some like the early sailors in 1696 only stayed a few months, others arrived in the goldrush days either legally or by jumping ship.

A large migration started in the 1920s and soon there were sizeable communities in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland.

The big migration occurred after WWII when about 6000 Estonians arrived.

Since the regaining of independence for Estonia in 1991, more young Estonians have made their home in Australia.

1696 – The First Arrivals

Translation of an extract from the article in Mana no 58, 1988 written by Valdemar Vilder

Three quarters of a century before Captain Cook discovered and mapped the east coast (of Australia) the Dutchman, Captain Willem de Vlamingh, on the instructions the Dutch East Indies Company, explored the west coast of the mysterious Southland. They sighted the coast on Christmas Day 1696. Four days later they anchored on an island, which Vlamingh named Rottnest Island, after the strange creatures that lived there. On the 5th of January they landed on the mainland where they measured and mapped the area. To gather the hitherto unknown flora and fauna they journeyed up to 80 km inland. They saw black swans for the first time on a river that they called Swan River. Until then, they had only heard of black swans in fairy stories. Amongst Vlamingh’s ships roll of international crew were the following names:

  • Barents Jansz, sailor from Tallinn 
  • Martinus Stypen, sergeant from Tallinn
  • Christian Clajus, lance corporal from Tartu and 
  • Carel Hindrick Kriel, soldier from Livonia

Despite the Dutch style spelling of the names, there are enough reasons to think that these seafarers are Estonian.

  • Map of the world, 1727 showing the route of Vlamingh's expedition

    1. Map of the world, 1727 showing the route of Vlamingh's expedition

When visitors come to the Estonian Archives the archivist tells her own version of the landing at Rottnest Island. Until someone can prove her wrong, below is her version of the story and she is sticking to it:

"Estonians have always been a seafaring nation therefore it is not surprising to find Estonian sailors everywhere. However, we were always the workers, never the bosses. So our four hard working Estonian sailors were probably the ones who rowed the boat from the ship to the shore, jumped into the water, pulled the boat up onto the sand so that the officer could step onto dry land.

In doing that Estonians came to Australia before the officers of Vlamingh 's expedition and long before Captain Cook."
Maie Barrow
Maie Barrow

1890s – The Einsaar family

Gustav Einsaar, a ship’s captain arrived in Australia in 1896. He settled in Killingworth in the Hunter Valley, where he bought land and also worked as a coal miner. Proximity to the ports of Newcastle and Sydney enabled him to help newly arrived Estonian sailors to jump ship and settle in Australia. In those days that was quite the usual way of arriving here.

  • Gustav Einsaar as a young child

    2. Gustav Einsaar as a young child

He raised a large family. Despite not having much money, his two older daughters graduated from the University of Sydney as teachers and in turn helped educate their younger brothers. One son Leonard, a policeman, rowed for Australia in the Berlin Olympics in 1936.

His daughter Elizabeth married Arvid Mielen, a violinist and music teacher, who was the honorary vice-consul for Estonia in Sydney before World War II. Arvid Mielen played an important role in the establishment of Estonian House and presided at the opening in 1940.

Kadri and her sister Maarja, Vosu beach, 1983

3. Extract from Einsaar's scrapbook

Kadri and her sister Maarja, Vosu beach, 1983

4. The founding members of "Southland", l to r Jakob Lukats, Gustav Einsaar, Adolf Godberg

Pre World War II – The Liira Family

August Pilt arrived in Australia from Estonia in 1927. This was the beginning of the depression and work was hard to find. In 1931 August and his wife Hermine moved to Thirlmere to try poultry farming. They prospered and encouraged other members of their family to join them to escape the approaching war.

Kadri and her sister Maarja, Vosu beach, 1983

5. The Liira family Muraski, 1939, off to Australia

The Liira family left Estonia on 1st May 1939 and travelled across the world to join their Pilt relatives in Thirlmere, New South Wales. Eduard Liira did not have enough money to buy a farm so he took up a lease on 28 acres in Thirlmere. With the help of relatives, Eduard was able to clear the land, build a poultry shed and take delivery of his first chickens within two months. With hard work, the family prospered and helped later post World War II arrivals.

The Liiras were sociable, active participants in the local Estonian community. Eduard Liira was a founding member of the Thirlmere Estonian Society and the choir, supported the scout troop and provided their farm for many fundraising parties.

The Liira children grew up in the tight knit Estonian community of Thirlmere participating in the language school, folk dancing, scouts and guides and other social activities.

Like many of the Thirlmere children, Valdur and Helju chose a different life from their parents. They moved to the city and left the farming life behind. Valdur went to the University of Sydney and became a mechanical engineer. He spent most of his working life in the Food industry. Valdur and his wife Laine are active members of the Sydney Estonian community.

Valdur Liira has complied a book “Thirlmere Estonian Community Pioneers” which tells the story of this vibrant Estonian farming community.

Kadri and her sister Maarja, Vosu beach, 1983

6. Helju and Valdur on the farm, circa 1942

Kadri and her sister Maarja, Vosu beach, 1983

7. Folk dancing at Picton, 1954

Post World War II – The Talmet Family

Like so many post-World War II migrants Maie and her mother Dagy Talmet arrived in Australia by boat, docking at Outer Harbour, Adelaide in 1949. Her father, Osvald, had arrived the previous year and was waiting for them on the dock. After a few short weeks in the Woodside camp, the family moved to Adelaide.

  • A family united, Outer Harbour SA, May 1949

    8. A family united, Outer Harbour SA, May 1949

    Maie (with bow) with her parents Dagy (left) and Osvald (right)

The Talmets were part of a small but very active Estonian community in Adelaide. Soon there were choirs, folk dancing, Saturday language school, scouts and guides and sporting activities. Lifelong friendships were made in the summer camps, especially those that brought together guides and scouts from all over Australia.

The community bought a small “Estonian House” and later bought the current one.  For the young Estonians of Maie’s generation, Estonian House was the weekend “home away from home”. Scouts/guides, language school, folk dancing and social functions filled the weekend.

The young people were brought up in the tight knit Estonian community and participated in many of the social and political activities. This gave them experiences that have remained with them for the rest of their lives.

Many have continued to contribute to the Estonian community in different ways, serving on the committees of various organisations, keeping alive the culture by participating in the choirs and folk dancing and teaching their children to value their Estonian heritage.

This commitment to preserving the Estonian culture and heritage is repeated in all the Estonian communities over Australia. Now living in Sydney, Maie is the archivist in the Estonian Archives. With a team of volunteers, she is preserving the history of the Estonians in Australia for future generations.

Kadri and her sister Maarja, Vosu beach, 1983

9. The Adelaide Girl Guides, circa 1957

Kadri and her sister Maarja, Vosu beach, 1983

10. The volunteers of the Estonian Archives in Australia. July 2010

2000s – Kadri’s Story

Kadri was born in Tartu but grew up in Tallinn. She  spent  many happy school holidays with her grandparents in Viljandi or with her family in their summer house in Võsu.

In 2002, while studying sociology at Tallinn University, Kadri worked at a Tourism Expo in London. There she met an Australian Nick Stamos, who was living in the same hotel. Both had to return home and, as is the way today, the romance blossomed through phone calls and emails. It was eight months before they met again. Kadri visited Australia in spring 2002 and Nick braved an Estonian winter to visit Kadri in 2003.

Kadri and her sister Maarja, Vosu beach, 1983

11. Kadri and her sister Maarja, Vosu beach, 1983

Bureaucracy does not help young lovers. The wedding was held in Cronulla in August 2005 but Kadri had to return to Estonia three days later because her visa expired. It took two months to organise the new documents. The supporting documentation, translated, apostilled and certified, to get a spouse resident visa weighed 800gms and had to be processed through the Australian Embassy in Berlin. Six months after her return to Australia Kadri had to leave Nick one more time and go to New Zealand to collect her new resident’s visa.

Despite all the hassle, Kadri is glad to be here. For the first three years she did not meet any local Estonians. One day in a queue at a checkout in a supermarket she heard two people speaking Estonian. That meeting led to a closer contact with the Sydney Estonian community.

Today Kadri is a very active participant in community life. She works for the Honorary Consulate, the newspaper “Meie Kodu” and serves on several committees.

Kadri and her sister Maarja, Vosu beach, 1983

12. Wedding Day, 2005

Kadri and her sister Maarja, Vosu beach, 1983

13. Shrove Tuesday Estonian House, 2010