The establishment of the Estonian Society of Sydney (Sydney Eesti Selts “Eesti Kodu Linda”) and creation of its own home.

Published in “Meie Kodu” 19 April 2017. Researched and compiled by Madis and Tiina Alvre.

How did the Estonian Society of Sydney come into being?

The Estonian society “Eesti Kodu” [Estonian Home] was established on 17 April 1925, at the instigation of Mr Jakob Lukats. Two years later, some members of “Eesti Kodu”, wanting greater emphasis on cultural activities, decided to form a parallel society, “Linda”, which was established on 19 June 1927.

Less than three months passed, before the two societies decided to merge, forming the Estonian Society of Sydney (Sydney Eesti Selts “Eesti Kodu Linda”) on 9 October 1927.

The first Board of the Estonian Society of Sydney, 1927

The new society established a club restaurant for its members, and among sub‐organisations were a Learned Society, which oversaw a library and reading room, a Cultural‐Scholarly Book Club, a children’s school, which included Estonian language lessons, mixed choirs, orchestras, a Folk Dance Group, a Ballet Group, a Theatrical Performance Group, a Social Activities Committee, a Ladies’ Auxiliary, a Youth Group, a Sports and Games Group, a Returned Services League, a Bachelors’‐Men’s Club and a Chess Club.

Estonian Society of Sydney picnic at the Royal National Park, 1927

The Estonian Society of Sydney’s Mixed Choir, 1934

The Estonian Society of Sydney’s first Folk Dance Group, 1934

Children’s School, 1938

How did the Estonian Society of Sydney create a home for itself?

The Estonian Society initially conducted its activities in rented rooms in and near the Sydney CBD. In 1935, the Estonian Society had 145 members. In consideration of the strength of the Estonian Society as an organisation, the number of Estonians and its strong financial position, thoughts turned to creation of a home for the Estonian Society, where a secure foundation would exist for the perpetuation of cultural activities.

Discussion around purchasing a house for the Estonian Society commenced in 1937, and in February 1938, the Estonian Society convened a General Meeting, where it was decided to proceed with the purchase of real estate. A six member House Purchase Commission, comprising Messrs Jürgens, Jürgenson, Selg, Kalpus, Sildever and Norrak, was formed from among members of the Estonian Society, and they determined, that land should be purchased close to the city, rather than in the CBD.

As the Estonian Society was not a registered legal entity and was therefore unable to own real estate in its own name, the House Purchase Commission decided that a Co‐operative Society should be formed as the legal entity by which the Estonian Society could undertake construction of the house.

It was recorded on 13 March 1938, that Mr Richard Kalpus attended the auction of 141 Campbell Street and of his own volition paid a deposit of £25 (purchase price £715). He offered the block of land to the Estonian Society, stating that if the Estonian Society does not want it, he would keep it for himself!

A meeting of the House Purchase Commission held on the same day was attended by 30‐40 people, and a week later, on 20 March 1938, a General Meeting of the Estonian Society attended by over 200 people was held: purchase of the land was endorsed and Mr Kaplus was reimbursed expended monies from the Estonian Society’s finances.

An Extraordinary General Meeting of the Estonian Society was held on 2 April 1938, where the Co‐operative was established, the Co‐operative’s Constitution was endorsed and 37 founding members pledged purchase of shares to the value of £425. Ten Trustees were chosen, to whom were entrusted the Estonian Society’s shares to the value of £200.

The Co‐operative, “The Estonian House Co‐operative Society Limited”, was registered on 8 April 1938, and held its first meeting in rooms rented by the Estonian Society (84A Goulburn Street, Sydney) on 13 April 1938.

Discussions around plans for the house continued for over a year. By 18 October 1939, the Estonian Society had approved a plan and authorised the Co‐operative to lodge the plan with the local Council. Construction of Estonian House commenced on 7 March 1940 and Mr Anton Trumm consented to act in the capacity of supervisor of the building project.

The Foundation Stone of Estonian House was laid on 13 April 1940. On a slab of red granite originating from Finland was inscribed:

This foundation stone was laid by the Estonian consul Arvid A.G. Mielen Esq. 13th April 1940 “STRENGTH IN UNITY”. Four months later the building was complete and Estonian House was officially opened with a gala ceremony and ball.

Invitation to the official opening of Sydney Estonian House, 1940

Opening of Estonian House and handing over of the house from the Co‐operative to the Estonian Society on 17 August 1940

The Estonian Society sent out invitations to attend the official opening ceremony and ball. The Chairman of the Co‐operative and Vice‐Consul of the Republic of Estonia in Australia, Mr Arvid A.G. Mielen, on presenting the keys to Sydney Estonian House to the Chairman of the Estonian Society of Sydney, Mr Louis Norrak, in his speech said, in part [translated from Estonian]:

“…On behalf of the Estonian House Co‐operative I am honoured with the task of handing over the keys of Estonian House which is now open as a home for the Estonian Society of Sydney (Sydney Eesti Selts “Eesti Kodu Linda”)…

The builders of the house are certain in the belief that the Estonian Society, in finding shelter under this roof, will find itself a true home. Mister Chairman, I ask you to accept these keys as a symbol of the handing over of the house, together with the wishes of the builder of the house, that the Estonian Society of Sydney (Sydney Eesti Selts “Eesti Kodu Linda”) will prosper and grow…”

Opening of Estonian House and handing over from the Co‐operative to the Estonian Society, 1940

Handing over of keys to the Estonian Society, 1940

Attendees at the official opening of Sydney Estonian House, 1940

Sydney Estonian House, 1940‐1956

Sydney Estonian House was the first house built by Estonians outside of Estonia, which was a massive achievement for a small community of people. The Estonian Society of Sydney held its first Annual General Meeting under its own roof on 14 September 1940.

The Estonian Society fitted out the building to create a beautiful home, where henceforth the Estonian community’s cultural, educational, academic and social activities have taken place. The Estonian Society has also been responsible for all manner of maintenance works and outgoings.

The relationship between the Estonian Society and the Co‐operative

Less than four years after the Estonian Society assumed occupancy of its new home, the Co‐operative attempted to severely impede the activities of the Estonian Society, culminating in the Estonian Society being served notice in February 1944 to quit the premises unless the Estonian Society agreed to new conditions imposed by the Cooperative.

Members of the Co‐operative lodged a vote of no confidence in the Board of the Co‐operative, an Extraordinary General Meeting was held on 22 April 1944 and a new Co‐operative Board was elected, whose members were all members of the Estonian Society as well as of the Co‐operative.

The former Co‐operative Board maintained that the Board of the Co‐operative should comprise individuals who are not members of the Estonian Society. The matter was referred to the Registrar of Co‐operative Societies for arbitration.

The Minutes of the Annual General Meeting of the Co‐operative held on 28 October 1944 record:

“His Judgement took place in the beginning of August, in which he finds that the Members of the Club [Estonian Society of Sydney] may hold office of the Directors of the Society [Co‐operative].

The facts upon which the Registrar bases his reasons for the judgement appear to be as follows:

  1. The Co‐op was brought into existence by the Club.
  2. The Club in its meeting and from its members elected the first Directors and organisers.
  3. The Co‐op. was created, for the sole purpose, to be a juridical body, to enable the Club to build its own Club House.
  4. The Club placed its moneys into Shares bought in name of its members, in order to create the necessary Building Fund.
  5. In forming the Co‐op., the majority of its members had but one sole interest: “to build our own Club House”
  6. The majority of the members of the Co‐op. are members of the Club.

In view of these and other principles of the Co‐operative Societyes, the Registrar is of the opinion that not only a Director may be a member of the Club, but he should be a member of the Club! Also, a Director who acts contrary to the interests of the Club, in the same time also acts contrary to his duties as a Director!”

Thereafter followed many years of harmonious co‐operation between the Estonian Society and the Co‐operative.