Geographic Origins

The Republic of Belarus is in Eastern Europe. It is bordered by Lithuania, Latvia, the Russian Federated Republics, Ukraine and Poland.

History of Immigration and Settlement

The first significant wave of Belarusians arrived in South Australia as Displaced Persons (DPs) when Belarus anti-communist fighters, members of Belarusian Youth Union, military Belarusian (anti-Russian) units, pro-German Belarusian government organizations and others were in conflict with the Soviet Red Army. According to information from members of the Belarusian Historical Society in Australia, around 50,307 Belarusians, many travelling under Polish nationality, awaited resettlement in camps run by the International Refugee Organisation in Germany before arriving in Australia. Some of these people had been forced to work in German industries during the war.

In 1947 and 1948 only single Belarusians were permitted to enter Australia. By 1949 Belarusian families were admitted. Initially Belarusian arrivals were sent to Migrant Reception Centres in Bathurst, New South Wales and Bonegilla, Victoria. After 1948, arrivals passed through Woodside Migrant Hostel in South Australia and Greta Camp near Maitland, New South Wales. Approximately 100 Belarusian families settled in South Australia.

Like other DPs, Belarusian arrivals had to fulfil a two-year unskilled employment contract with the Australian government in return for their passage to Australia; men worked as labourers and women worked as domestics. Single men and women were more often employed in rural areas. Some Belarusian men worked in the vicinity of Tailem Bend, converting narrow gauge railway tracks to a standard, wider gauge. Others worked for BHP or in South Australia’s Riverland. In the metropolitan area, Belarusians worked in a wide range of industries with a number employed at the Chrysler and General Motors Holden factories. Belarusian women were often employed as domestics in hospitals throughout South Australia.

Some tertiary qualifications gained in Europe were not recognised in Australia and consequently several Belarusian DPs repeated study in South Australia. A prime example were medical practitioners who had to repeat university courses before being allowed to practice.

Today, Belarusian South Australians work in a variety of occupations. They have mainly settled throughout the metropolitan area of Adelaide.

Community Activities

The first gatherings of Belarusian South Australians took place at Woodside Migrant Hostel in the late 1940s. Reverend Michael Szczurko, a Belarusian Orthodox priest, conducted religious services for DPs awaiting employment placements.

In January 1950, Reverend Michael Szczurko met with Dr W. Milencewicz, Messrs P. Trysmakov, N. Ditman and A. Kodniak at a railway camp near Keswick Army Barracks. They met to organise a Belarusian Orthodox parish in Adelaide. The men started to seek out Belarusian South Australians and notify them that a parish was being formed. They met Father Peter Hrusheckyj, a Ukrainian priest, who gave them a good deal of assistance. By the end of that year, the Belarusian Autocephalic Orthodox Parish of Saints Peter and Paul was celebrating Holy Liturgy at a church in Thebarton.

Belarusians celebrated the anniversary of Belarus’s 1918 declaration of independence for the first time in Adelaide on 25 March, 1951.

By 1952, approximately 50 people belonged to the Parish of Saints Peter and Paul. In this year the congregation moved to a Methodist church hall in Alberton, established a choir, and contributed a Belarusian display to an international exhibition held in Adelaide.

In the following year the parish established a Sunday school to teach children about the Orthodox faith, the Belarusian language and Belarusian history, geography and culture.

In 1955, the parish moved to a Methodist hall in Woodville. The Parish of Saints Peter and Paul had grown to include nearly 60 people. During this year Belarusian cultural life in South Australia began to gain strength. The community met in private homes to participate in singing, dancing, poetry recitals and plays and began to raise funds to buy permanent premises.

In 1958, Belarusian South Australians purchased a block of land for their planned church. The site at Hindmarsh Place, Hindmarsh, was blessed by Archbishop Sergios, Reverend Szczurko and a number of other Orthodox priests on 20 December, 1960. Reverend Szczurko received donations for the building fund from South Australians of virtually every cultural background. The community held fundraising dances at the Hindmarsh Community Hall. The Belarusian Autocephalic Church of Saints Peter and Paul was consecrated on 29 December 1963.

In traditional Byzantine style, the Church of Saints Peter and Paul is a cross-shaped, white-washed building with the only ornaments being five cupolas or onion-shaped domes, on its roof. In contrast, the interior is richly decorated with icons; devotional pictures of Jesus, the Virgin Mary and numerous saints. The plain exterior represents the daily world. The interior symbolises the ideal spiritual universe. In 1999 the Belarusian Autocephalic Orthodox Church in South Australia moved to a new location on Torrens Road in Kilkenny.

The main religious festivals of the year for Belarusian Orthodox Christians are Easter, Christmas and Saints Peter and Paul’s Feast Day.

Beginning at midnight on Easter Sunday morning, Divine Liturgy is held at the Church of Saints Peter and Paul. The congregation walks in procession around the church. After the service the priest blesses baskets of food that members of the parish have brought with them. The baskets are packed with coloured eggs, sausages, ham, cottage cheese, butter and paska; a type of Easter bread. The congregation then returns home to break their fast, usually at 3am on Easter Sunday.

On Christmas Eve the parishioners of Saints Peter and Paul gather to sing kaladki, Christmas carols, and celebrate the Divine Liturgy. After the service the congregation eats a meatless supper together. One of the dishes eaten is kutia, a boiled cake made from wheat, barley, honey and poppyseeds.

Saints Peter and Paul’s Feast Day is on 12 July and celebrated on the nearest Sunday to that date. On this day Belarusian Orthodox Christians pray for Belarus and Australia. A social gathering is held after the church service.

A need to maintain close ties with fellow Belarusian’s saw the formation of various associations. The Belarusian Association in South Australia was formed in 1977 by John (Yanka) Rollson, who served as the association’s first president. The association, which was incorporated in 1981, took over a number of secular responsibilities from the Parish of Saints Peter and Paul relating to the public profile of Belarusian South Australians.

The two highlights of the association’s year are the anniversaries of Belarus’s declaration of independence and of the Sluck uprising.

On 25 March 1918, following the collapse of the Russian Empire and the end of the First World War, the First Belarusian Congress in Minsk proclaimed the Independent Belarusian Democratic Republic. Although Belarus was forcibly incorporated into the USSR the following year, 25 March stood as a symbol of Belarus’s rightful status. This anniversary has an added meaning now that Belarus is independent of the Soviet Union.

On 25 March Belarusian South Australians celebrate a special Liturgy and Thanksgiving at the Church of Saints Peter and Paul. They raise the Belarus and Australian flags in the community’s hall after the service, and read out greetings from other Belarusian organisations around Australia and overseas. Prominent members of the community make speeches on historical themes. The choir, folkloric society, soloists and other performers present a concert. The evening is concluded with a communal meal of traditional foods such as pirashki, mincemeat, cabbage, potato and onion wrapped in yeast dough; halubtsi, cabbage rolls; borshch, beef stock, beetroot and cabbage soup; and bulba salada, potato salad.

The Sluck uprising is commemorated on 27 November. On this day in 1920, Belarusians began to revolt against the Bolshevik occupation of their country. The insurrection started in the city of Sluck and spread to include most of Belarus. Belarusian South Australians observe a minute of silence in honour of the men and women who died trying to free their country.

Exhibitions of arts and crafts formed an early bridge for Belarusians to Australian society. In May 1988 one such exhibition ‘Belarusian National Artefacts’ opened at the Migration Museum in Adelaide. It featured examples of Belarusian textiles, costumes and folk arts.

In May 1986, shrubs and a monument set on a granite boulder, was donated to the people of South Australia by the Belarusian Society to commemorate the state’s sesquicentenary. The monument stands on the Port Road median strip at its intersection with Coglin Street and illustrates the interest in, and involvement of, Belarusian South Australians to the community life of their adopted homeland.

In recent times Belarusian South Australians have joined with Croatian and Ukrainian South Australians to form the Croatian, Ukrainian and Belarusian Aged Care Association of South Australia whose headquarters are at Ridleyton.

The Belarusian Association in South Australia maintains close ties with other Belarusian associations throughout the world. It plays an active role in campaigning on behalf of Belarus. In particular it has been involved in the ‘Children of Chernobyl’ charity fund. This fund was established to assist children affected by radiation contamination as a result of the Chernobyl disaster of 26 April 26 1986. Although the Chernobyl nuclear power plant was in Ukraine, Belarus received about 70 per cent of the radiation contamination caused by the disaster.

The Federal Council of Belarusian Organisations was founded in the late 1970s. In the past it has petitioned federal members of parliament and government departments to take action on behalf of Belarus. The Council also coordinates Belarusian Australian biennial conventions which are hosted by the various Australian states.

Organisations and Media

  • Belarusian Association in South Australia Inc.
  • Belarusian Autocephalic Orthodox Church in S.A. Inc.
  • Belarusian Historical Society in South Australia Inc.
  • Croatian, Ukrainian and Belarusian Aged Care Association of S.A. Inc.
  • Federal Council of Belarusian Organisations

The Belarusian Historical society can be accessed on the internet at: www.picknowl.com.au/homepages/viktor/index.html

Statistics

The 1986 census recorded that there were 210 Belarusian-born South Australians.

The 1991 census recorded 45 Belarusian-born South Australians. 112 people said that their mothers were born in Belarus, and 120 that their fathers were.

There was no separate recording of people of Belarusian birth in the 1996 census.

The 2001 census recorded 84 Belarusian-born South Australians, while 165 said that they were of Belarusian descent.

The 2006 census recorded 86 Belarusian-born South Australians, while 185 said that they were of Belarusian descent.

The 2011 census recorded 92 Belarusian-born South Australians, while 174 people said that they were of Belarusian descent.

The 2016 census recorded 83 Belarusian-born South Australians, while 242 people said that they were of Belarusian descent.

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References: 

Jupp, J (ed.), The Australian People: An Encyclopedia of the Nation, Its People and Their Origins, Second Edition, (Cambridge University Press, 2001)