In 1945, most of the approximately 700 Estonians living in Sydney and surrounds had congregated around the Estonian Society of Sydney. At the end of World War II, a need was identified to assist refugees who had fled from their homeland, Estonia – the Committee of the Estonian Society of Sydney “Eesti Kodu Linda” formed an “Assistance Sub-committee”, from which was established in 1945 a new organisation, the Estonian Relief Committee.
The first Board of the Estonian Relief Committee comprised primarily members of the Committee of the Estonian Society of Sydney. Weekly, and even twice-weekly meetings were required to manage the overseas correspondence. The Ladies Auxiliary of the Estonian Relief Committee was established in the latter half of 1946, and worked to pack parcels containing cloths, footwear and food, that were dispatched to the Displaced Persons camps in Europe. A welcome reception was held at the “Estonian Society of Sydney’s house” (1) for the first post-World War II Estonian immigrants who arrived in Australia from Sweden in October 1946.
The majority of post-World War II refugees arrived in Australia between 1947-1954. Those who arrived on Landing Permits were assisted by Estonians already in Australia or by the Estonian Relief Committee, who acted as guarantors. The large influx of refugees led to a shortage of accommodation, which was alleviated by provision of temporary accommodation at Sydney Estonian House. Among others who spent their first night in Australia, sleeping on the floor of the main hall in Sydney Estonian House, was the mother of one of the authors of this article, Guldsella Kitsing (Iismaa).
The majority of Landing Permits were issued between 1948-1950. The larger proportion of war refugees arrived in Australia under the auspices of the International Refugee Organisation (IRO), having signed two-year contracts to work where the Commonwealth Government deemed necessary.
During these years, the Estonian community in Sydney increased many-fold. In 1954, there were approximately 6500 Estonians in Australia, of whom 3200 resided in NSW. The Estonian Society of Sydney continued to operate as always, for the benefit of the Estonian community. In accordance with tradition, functions were organised to mark the anniversary of Estonian independence, Mothers’ Day and Victory Day.
The summer solstice (Jaanipäev) was celebrated and a Christmas Party that included a visit from Santa Claus (Jõuluvana) was held for the children. The existing sub-organisations and interest groups of the Estonian Society of Sydney gained new impetus from increased membership, and new and varied additional organisations were established.
Establishment of the newspaper “Meie Kodu” (Our Home)
The newspaper “Meie Kodu” was established on 26 February 1949, but official approval for the newspaper to operate was not received until August 1949. The first paper was published on 19 August 1949 (circulation 300). The Estonian Society of Sydney assumed financial responsibility for the paper on 14 March 1951, and editorial responsibilities on 16 May 1951. In accordance with Government policy, initially, 25% of the content of the paper was required to be in English. Further to a change in this policy, the first entirely Estonian language paper was published on 11 February 1954.