Activities of the Estonian Society of Sydney during World War II and purchase of the adjacent blocks of land


Published in “Meie Kodu” 31 May 2017. Researched and compiled by Madis and Tiina Alvre.

Retrospective and occupancy of Sydney Estonian House by the Estonian Society of Sydney

The Estonian Society of Sydney (Sydney Eesti Selts “Eesti Kodu Linda”) moved from rented rooms to Sydney Estonian House on 6 July 1940. The Board of the Estonian Society of Sydney met seven times in the “new Estonain House” prior to the official opening of the house on 17 August 1940.

Estonian House was officially handed over as a “home” for the Estonian Society of Sydney when Mr Arvid A.G. Mielen, the Chairman of The Estonian House Co- operative Society Limited, handed the keys to Sydney Estonian House to the Chairman of the Estonian Society of Sydney, Mr Louis Norrak.

Ticket to the opening of Sydney Estonian House, 1940

Handing over of keys to the Estonian Society of Sydney, 1940

There was no written agreement made between the Estonian Society of Sydney and the Co-operative when the house was handed over to the Estonian Society. Anton Trumm who, after supervising the building of Estonian House, subsequently served as a Co-operative Director for 23 years over a period of 40 years, has stated [translated from Estonian]:

“Mr Trumm clarifies that the handing over of Estonian House to the Estonian Society of Sydney for its use occurred in the form of the symbolic handing over of the keys – a written agreement was not made, at the time a unified spirit still reigned in our community.” (24 October 1976)

“Mr. Särev [Co-operative Secretary] …Regarding the relationship between the Estonian Society of Sydney and the Co-operative in relation to the use of rooms and maintenance of the house, then perhaps a mistake was made that a written agreement was not made. But then everyone was concordant and did not waste time on nit-picking, complaints and arguing over trivialities. Mr Trumm confirms, that the house was handed over to the Estonian Society of Sydney for its use and maintenance with the symbolic handing over of the keys.” (18 September 1977)

“Mr Trumm says, that the Co-operative is over 40 years old The foundation stone of the house was placed on 13.4.40, the house was completed in the autumn of that year, and handed over to the Estonian Society of Sydney for management.” (23 September 1979)

Foundation Stone of Sydney Estonian House, 1940

Ticket to celebration of the laying of the Foundation Stone, 1940

Activities of the Estonian Society of Sydney during World War II

In 1941, the sub-committees working as part of the Estonian Society of Sydney were the following: Ladies’ Auxiliary, Youth Group, Music Group, Chess Club, Scholars’ Group, Functions Committee, Children’s school, Theatre Group, Choir.

The Estonian Society of Sydney organised functions to celebrate the Anniversary of Estonian Independence, Mothers’ Day, Victory Day (Võidupüha), Summer Solstice (Jaanipäev) and Christmas, where Santa Claus distributed to children gifts purchased by the Estonian Society of Sydney.

The Scholars’ Group ordered books for the Library and newspapers and other publications for members to read. On 3 February 1941 it was decided to order new membership cards that depicted Estonian House.

1940’s female choristers

Depiction of Sydney Estonian House, 1941

The hiring of koroona and billiard tables and billiard cues to players, an activity established in previously rented premises that constituted a consistent income stream for the Estonian Society of Sydney, was instated in the new house. Two billiard tables were set up in the room on the upper floor behind the stage; these were finally removed in 1958.

The Estonian Society of Sydney supported Australia’s war effort in a number of ways. For example, on 23 February 1941 a boat excursion, organised jointly by the Estonian Society of Sydney and Repin [cafe] staff, was attended by many airmen in addition to Estonians; net profits were donated to the Australian Air Force.

A second such excursion occurred on 9 March 1941, from which net profits were divided between the Australia Air Force and the Greek War Relief Fund.

During the war years, it was necessary to obtain permits to hold functions. Party-dance Evenings were held on Saturday evenings in the main hall and Coffee Evenings were held in the Dining Room. Both functions enjoyed music played by a live orchestra and raffles were held, with prizes including barley water, wine, chocolate and sweets. Income from many such evenings and other events was donated to the following organisations: The Lord Mayor’s Patriotic and War Fund of N.S.W., War Victims Fund, Air Force House Association (N.S.W.), Australian Comforts Fund N.S.W. Division and The Red Cross Society.

In 1941, Sydney Council requested that a portion of Sydney Estonian House be made available to National Emergency Services for use as Flinders Ward Air Raid Precautions Headquarters. The Estonian Society of Sydney provided a portion of the Reading Room free of charge for this purpose. This space now serves as the storage room for the Estonian Society of Sydney’s Handicraft and Ethnographic Association.

The Reading Room, photographed from the Library prior to the erection of a dividing wall, 1941

Scholars’ Group, photographed in the Library (1941)

The Library, 1940

Despite the restrictions of the war years, the Estonian Society of Sydney managed to direct significant funds towards purchase of shares in the Co-operative.

Purchase of the block of land and building of Estonian House completed in 1940 cost a total of £ 5400. Of this amount, £ 1500 comprised a bank loan, which was repaid within five years.

The Mail Hall, 1940

The Dining Room on the lower ground floor, 1940

Mr Louis Norrak, Chairman of the Estonian Society of Sydney, stepped down from his position of Chairman on 26 March 1941, in order to serve in the Second Australian Imperial Forces. An additional three members of the Estonian Society of Sydney joined the Australian Armed Forces.

The text of the letter Mr Norrak wrote on his departure from the Board of the Estonian Society of Sydney:

“My good colleagues,

In writing these lines I do so with a heavy heart. We have grown together, sharing common joys and worries and bearing difficulties for 12 years.

These have not been easy years. And some of you are silver-haired, but your spirits are young because in them glows love for your homeland, love for your national centre.

Still the feeling and knowledge that now we have erected this beautiful national temple, no power can forcibly take this from us, not so long as there are Estonians in Sydney who have the courage to fly the blue-black-white flag and honour our mother tongue, this gives me the courage and strength to step into the ranks of those who are out fighting for the freedom, rights and truths that give our lives meaning, substance and purpose.

Struggling with life’s difficulties and everyday worries, we here, perhaps don’t value sufficiently highly the virtually limitless freedoms that our current homeland offers us.

For the land of our birth, regrettably, there is very little we can do at the moment. Because of this I have decided after lengthy deliberation, to join those who are prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice for the sake of a better future for all of humanity and as a result of whose victory we can hope that from the ruins of the first free Estonia a new and more sustainable Estonia will emerge.

I ask you all herewith to accept my warmest thanks and to pass these on to all those whom I may perhaps not see in the near term.

May your endeavours for the good of our beautiful home enjoy luck and success and may you be supported in the knowledge that so long as you work according to your conscience, then will your endeavours be lauded here also, as representatives of Great Britain have stated publicly, that in order to be good citizens of your new homeland, first and foremost you must be good Estonians.

With heartfelt greetings
Your
L. A. Norrak”

The Estonian Society of Sydney supported its members who served in the armed forces, sending them parcels at Christmas.

Purchase of adjacent blocks of land

As early as 1945, discussions were held regarding purchase of the adjacent blocks, 24-26 Goodchap Street and 143 Campbell Street, for extension of Sydney Estonian House. The blocks were purchased in the name of the Co- operative with funds of the Estonian Society of Sydney in 1946.

For the purchase price, the Estonian Society of Sydney was allocated shares in the Co-operative to the value of £ 1000, which were held for the Estonian Society of Sydney by its designated Trustees. Extension of the house commenced in 1957. Until then, the houses on these blocks of land were used by the Estonian Society of Sydney for its activities, including, for example, meetings of the Cubs and Scouts in the 1950s.

Photographed in Goodchap Street, Estonian House (far left) and 24-26 Goodchap Street (duplex, adjacent to the right)

1950’s Cubs Meeting, 24 Goodchap Street, prior to extension of Estonian House