Slovenian Community at the Piers Festival 2014 in Melbourne

By Draga Gelt

Slovenian Historical Exhibition at the annual event of Multicultural Arts Victoria
The HASA webpage was the reason behind the invitation to participate in the Multicultural Arts Victoria Piers Festival 2014, A Celebration of Migration, especially the stories of migration and photographs, and the historical presentation of Slovenian Association Melbourne. HASA web pages present stories of individual Slovenians, belonging to various Slovenian clubs and organisations in Victoria and New South Wales, documented with photographs. Slovenian Association Melbourne was an example of how the Slovenians grouped, formed a club, were socially, culturally and sporting active since before 1954.

The Festival was attended by many people.  The organizer, Andrea Makris, reported the number was 10,200.

The Slovenian exhibition - history of immigration and individual stories of Slovenian migrants - attracted a lot of interest, particularly from Australians and other ethnic groups.  Slovenians were mainly interested in photographs, the DVD presentation of various camps in Italy and Germany, departures and arrivals of different ships, the life at Bonegilla camp and work placements.  Visitors were also very interested in the Slovenian craft, in particular the Marija Brne's bobbin lace and Anica Kodila's embroidery. Questions and explanations were many.

Alicia and Portia Bevc in the Slovenian national costume from Gorenjska were a huge attraction. Thank you both, including your parents Donna and Paul Bevc. Visitors continuously approached them, took photos and asked them what country they represented. With pride, they explained that they were Slovenian, handed out many contact cards for HASA and the Slovenian Association Melbourne and invited visitors to the Slovenian exhibition.
Yes, our exhibition was extremely popular and well visited. Let me mention special guests of the day: the visitors to our exhibition. All only had praise and compliments, commending the organizers of the exhibition.  Allow me to repeat some of the phrases used by most:  interesting, professional, excellent presentation, of very high standard, informative. 

We were honoured by the presence of our new Honorary Consul for Slovenia Derry Maddison and his wife. 
Andrea Makris, the organizer - events coordinator of The Piers Festival 2014 was also extremely impressed by our presentation.
Dr. Helen Light, AM - Multicultural Communities Collections, only had praise and compliments for our work and dedication. She stressed the importance of preserving historical and cultural materials for future generations.
Fr David Šrumpf, OFM, Slovenian Religious and Cultural Centre, Kew, our newly arrived priest from Slovenia too was very impressed and emphasized the importance of preserving our heritage, history and culture for future generations.

Most compliments came from our neighbours, the Italian participants.  Dr Paolo Baracchi, Italian Historical Society, kept returning to view the whole presentation, complimented us on our work and asked if he could visit our archive at the club, the Slovenian Association Melbourne. He presented our president, Frances Urbas-Johnson, with a book for our library depicting the Italian community.

Many commented on the importance and significance of maintaining and documenting the activities, contributions and the presence of the Slovenian community. Digital preservation, documentation of historical, cultural and social activities in the English language is the key and the aim of HASA webpages for future generations, strongly stressed also by Fr David Šrumpf OFM. HASA web pages have many visitors, in spite of the fact that some organisations opted not to participate.  It is of highest priority that each page is factually accurate, picturesque and interesting. Perhaps we will have fewer organisations participating, but the HASA web pages are unique in their mission.

There was an Italian gentleman, kneeling in front of our PowerPoint presentation, with a camera in his hand, waiting for a particular ship to reappear. It was the one that ferried him to Australia.  Another Slovenian/Italian gentleman became very emotional and requested that we forward, via email, a photo of a ship leaving Trieste on the date his father sailed off to Australia.

Many Slovenians remembered their own experiences of departing Trieste and sailing to Australia. Slavko and Jočka Ličen, Ivanka and Franc Tomažič docked at the Princes Pier.  Ivanka pointed to the ship on the screen that brought her to Australia; overcome with emotions, she suddenly remembered the date she sailed off from Trieste. 

There was a Chinese national that knew the history of Yugoslavia, as he studied it in China.  He was also very interested in everything about Slovenia.  Even his young daughter was asking many intense questions.

There were people that knew Slovenia from their travels and read our stories on the posters that related to our arrivals to Australia with great interest.

It was great listening to all the positive comments and compliments, especially compliments from official guests such as Dr. Helen Light from the Museum of Australian -- Victorian Historical Collections, Dr. Paolo Baracchi from the  Italian Historical Society, the Piers Festival 2014 coordinator Andrea Makris.  She thanked the Slovenian exhibition organizers for their participation, skilled organization, promptness and professionalism.

There were no official invitations sent out to anybody. Everyone, including the organizer, were of the opinion that our national pride and interest should be enough to attract individuals.  After all, the participation of the Slovenian Association Melbourne and HASA at this exhibition was the first time that any Slovenian organization and our community were represented at the Piers Festival.

On behalf of the co-ordinating committee for the Slovenian Historical Exhibition: Draga Gelt OAM, Dragica Gomizel, Lili Eggleston Tomažič, Anica Kodila and Anica Markič a heartfelt thanks to all the visitors, sponsors, to everyone else that made this exhibition possible and to all that considered this event a significant day for Slovenians in Australia.

This article was first published on the HASA web site:

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