Draga Gelt, OAM, of Melbourne on her love of everything Slovenian

When did you arrive in Australia? Why did you leave Slovenia? Why did you migrate to Australia?

I arrived in Australia on 27 May 1968. I left Slovenia to find work. When I completed the Teachers College in Ljubljana, the priorities for teaching positions were given to teachers who joined the Communist Party. I first left for Germany; at the time, Australia was offering many job opportunities and of course a new life. I went, alone. A penfriend welcomed me in Australia and helped me find a job in a mental institution, Childrens’ Cottages Kew, where I worked as a ward assistant for nearly two years.

When did you become involved with the community? Why?

As I lived in a nurses hostel, a part of the Childrens Cottages Kew, I was within walking distance of the Slovenian Religious and Cultural Centre at Kew and thus became involved very soon: I first helped with handwriting and decorating the stage and preparing other signs. This was followed by performing in short plays and soon afterwards I started teaching the Slovenian language at the Slomšek Slovenian school, Kew.
Being a teacher, I felt I had something to offer. I had a need to give my knowledge and skills by writing short stories, performing, and sharing my knowledge of the language, drama and folk dancing. I started a folk dancing group in 1969.
I was a young enthusiastic teacher and involvement with the community and cultural work fulfilled my yearning. It was a great pleasure to work with children and youth, especially the first Slovenian generation born in Australia.

What has been your motivation to stay involved with the community for so many years?

I enjoyed being involved with the Slovenian community: the Slovenian church and the Slovenian Association Melbourne since my arrival; than the Slovenian National Council; the Slovenian school of SAM which I established, and the Victorian Secondary School of Languages where I taught for 10 years.

I love the Slovenian language, history, arts and literature, folklore: crafts, songs and dance.

It was a joy to coordinate cultural programs. For each program, I introduced a special theme. Each time, it came as a lovely surprise when I saw children and adults following the instructions for symbolism with confidence and anticipation of the grand outcome. Together with teacher Magda Pišotek and Marija Penca who joined me we have prepared so many cultural programs over the years, for special occasions and anniversaries and for some Slovenian youth concerts as well.

I always liked symbolism and ideas for programs just came to me: the more we did, the more ideas came to me – the more I gave of myself, the more I received!

What do you see as your main achievement in your extensive community work?

Looking at the achievements:  each program, each Slovenian word learned, each language lesson, each project, each book, each exhibition, each performance was a triumph for all the participants and everyone involved.

The main goal is to preserve the cultural and historical heritage and all the riches of the Slovenian community in Australia; to highlight the successes, achievements, the hard work and national pride; to take pride in the community work and to work together as one for common good; to preserve the Slovenian heritage and to  be a good role model for the younger generation, with enthusiasm, pride, tolerance, drive and patience, and respect of each other and of the Australian culture.

Success brings happiness, deepens the love and respect of people, of the community and of the Slovenian nation. But, success is worth very little if not shared with others!
I have always found it very gratifying to share success and to acknowledge all participants in all and every project.

If we work together, we can achieve many things for the good of the community and the good of the human kind everywhere.

Success is only enjoyable, when shared; if celebrated alone, it is empty, gives no elation and no happiness.

I feel and know that my personal achievement is the love of my family, the love and respect of the people in the work situations and in the Slovenian and Australian community.

There is also the Medal of the Order of Australia, a great honour and acknowledgement of my cultural and educational work for the Slovenian community in Australia. I received it in 1996. It is quite interesting that in 18 years since I received it, I have not been invited as the award recipient to be a guest at any of the Slovenian special functions, as is usually the case for other recipients. No tears shed on that account. I know, only selected few and wealthy people are allowed to be invited. Was it  jealousy of some who think that only the rich are allowed to receive awards? Why did Preseren say in his poem Pevec (the Poet): . . . Stanu se svojega spomni -  remember your place . . .!

What is your view of the Slovenian community in Melbourne and in general in Australia?

The Slovenians are kind, happy people. Of course there are exceptions, there are power and glory hungry individuals who wish to belittle anyone who achieves anything. Jealous? Some yes, very much so.  It is a sad, negative character trait. Sometimes a person can only pray for people like that and their grace! Let it be! It is more interesting to be happy and joyful, and to work and create.

In general, Slovenians are proud of their achievements, especially the first generation migrants. Later generations are less committed to the Slovenian cause.

Nevertheless, it is lovely to see younger generations participating and taking responsibilities in the life of the Slovenian community! Their expectations and their requirements are so different to those of the first migrants; however, the younger do strive for the common good and at least in part work to realise the vision of continuation of the Slovenian community spirit.
I wish that the Slovenian pride, enthusiasm and respect would spill across all  generations here in Australia.

Slovenians still need each other. We are peoples’ people, we live for the community, we strive for unity, friendship, cultural bond and respect of heritage. Let’s hope we never lose that! We are like a note, a tone in an opus, like a link in a chain of unity and strength.

Of course, there could be more unity. Each person can contribute in his or her own capacity to the Slovenian existence here in this beautiful country of Australia.

What would you change if you could? 

If I were given power to change anything, I would like to see people become more loving towards each other, more tolerant and more proud of being Slovenian
It would be nice to see all Slovenians here united and working together to live in a happy and healthy community.

How would you like the Slovenian community to develop in the future?

Yes, the future of Slovenians in Australia is worrying, especially for many of the Slovenian clubs and associations. By being positive, maintaining enthusiasm, with respect and will to keep up, great things, even miracles can happen.

It has been suggested that following the example of the USA a united central Slovenian home, a cultural building should be established that would welcome every Slovenian, if the existing clubs’ premises and leadership with members could no longer survive. 
Such an institution could connect people of all generations again with a common goal to retain the Slovenian identity, weather the changes of time, integration, and assimilation, yet remain uniquely Slovenian, encouraged and strengthen by love, respect and pride of every member of the Slovenian community.

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