I acknowledge the Traditional Owners on whose land I walk, I work and I live. I pay my respects to Elders past, present and future.

Thursday, 5 May 2016

"The Uprooted Survive"

Herman ILVES 
The displacement of people is a consistent result of war and today media coverage and accessibility means we are bombarded with images of the people being displaced as a result of current conflicts. Their dilemma is one that Government agencies and Australian citizens alike, grapple with, on a daily basis, as we are confronted with images of, and hear accounts of atrocities, perilous journeys, sorrow, loss and separation.
Today the story and travails of the displaced survivors of World War 11 is long forgotten, yet at the close of the war between nine and 12 million non-German displaced people comprising soldiers, forced labourers, political deportees, prisoners of war and fugitives were dispersed throughout Europe. Between the end of war and December 1951 Australia accepted 572 300 immigrants, of them 170 000 were displaced persons.
The anonymity of this passing group is well illustrated by the story of one Estonian displaced person. He was employed to complete in poker work, a picture of “Our Lady of the Moon”. This panel was inserted under the Altar in the new Chapel of Our Lady of Fatima at Cardinal Gilroy College. As well he did similar work on the Stations of the Cross. This Estonian artist’s name was never recorded. It was only in 2009 with the restoration of the Chapel that some astute research by a teacher on staff with considerable expertise in family history research, Cheryl Gossner, that the man and his story was uncovered. 
He was Herman Ilves. He studied medicine before the war but his abiding passion was photography. Captured towards the end of the war he was sent to a prison camp. After the war, with the help of an organization created especially for this purpose, the International Refugee Organization (I.R.O.), he managed to be selected for migration to Australia. He travelled on the ship, the “General Black”, in March 1948. It was the third I.R.O. transport to Australia, and carried the first displaced persons destined for the sugar fields of the Herbert River Valley to cut cane. Australia accepted the displaced persons, not only as a humanitarian gesture but because they would fulfil the scale of labour required for post-war industrial recovery and expansion which could not be met by the Australian populace alone. The labour shortage was critical, particularly in occupations that Australian labour found uninviting like cane cutting.  The displaced person had to agree to remain for two years from the date of their arrival in whatever occupation and locality was determined for them by the Commonwealth Employment Service.
On rainy days in the barracks he would do craft work. His particular skill was decorated wood craft. This skill was noticed and it was then that he was released from his two year cane cutting contract to work for S. Messina and Son in the Chapel. When his two year contract expired he worked locally in a photographic studio for a couple of years and then moved to Sydney and later to Canada where he died in 2000.
Lithuanian cane cutting gang and cook, Balanzategui farm
Incidentally, Juozas (Gedas) Zemaitis and Milos (Mike) Milanovic also had travelled on the “General Black” with Herman Ilves and they, unlike him, did make the Herbert River Valley home. Australia was rarely the first choice of destination of the displaced persons. The U.S.A., Canada and South America were the most common first choices. A common dream too, was that when they made good money and their country was free they would return home. The sad reality is that few if any ever could or did. 

POST TITLE: Borin, V.L. The Uprooted Survive: a Tale of Two Continents. London: Allen & Unwin, 1959.
PHOTOGRAPH OF HERMAN ILVIN: Korp Fraternitas Estica http://www.cfe.ee/album-esticum?show=1937
PHOTOGRAPH OF LITHUANIAN CANE CUTTING GANG: Vidonja Balanzategui, B. Gentlemen of the Flashing Blade, Townsville: Department of History and Politics James Cook University, 1990.
Vidonja Balanzategui, B. The Herbert River Story, Ingham: Hinchinbrook Shire Council, 2011.
Immigrant Ships Transcribers Guild USAT General Black, http://immigrantships.net/v5/1900v5/generalblack19480427.html

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