First Balts to Canberra

February 28, 2017

Ann Tündern-Smith gave well attended talks on the topic of First Balts to Canberra to the biennial conference of the Australasian Section of the Association for the Advancement of Baltic Studies in Melbourne on 15 October 2016 and to the Canberra & District Historical Society (CDHS) on 14 February 2017. She has been asked to contribute an article on the topic to the CDHS publication, Canberra Historical Journal.

The first Balts to Canberra were sixty women who arrived in several parties, by train, during December 1947. They were in the first group of World War II refugees, all from the Baltic States, who had opened the Bonegilla Migrant Reception and Training Centre on 8 December 1947, having arrived in Australia on the USAT General Stuart Heintzelman on 28 November that year.

They mostly were sent to jobs as cleaners or waitresses in the hostels which the Australian Government was building to accommodate young, single arrivals coming to the capital city to work for it as public servants. At least two of the Estonian women with relevant previous experience were sent to the Canberra Hospital as “trainee nurses”. Thirteen women, having passed a typing test in Germany and with good English language skills, became typists in Australian Government departments.

Ann Tündern-Smith