«IGOR MAVER The first Slovenians came to Australia in the 1850s and 1860s, working on Austrian warships on their journeys around the world, since ...»
SLOVENIAN MIGRANT LITERATURE IN
AUSTRALIA: AN OVERVIEW WITH A READING
OF THE WORK OF JOŽE ŽOHAR
The first Slovenians came to Australia in the 1850s and 1860s, working
on Austrian warships on their journeys around the world, since Slovenia,
like most of the other Central European countries, was part of the
Habsburg and the later Austro-Hungarian Empire. They did not decide to settle there, despite the alluring sensational news of the goldrush in Victoria. In the period between the two world wars, some 10,000 Slovenians migrated to Australia. They were mostly people from the Primorje (the Slovenian Adriatic Littoral) region, which after the Great War became part of Italy. They wanted to avoid the strong Italianising process in the area, and also find a better life, since the economic situation was extremely difficult because of the Great Depression. The main reasons for the migration of Slovenians to Australia after the Second World War were, however, the changes in the socio-political system of the then socialist Yugoslavia Slovenian territory, as well as the increasingly difficult economic situation in the country which had resulted from rapid industrialisation and de-agrarisation. The number of Slovenian migrants living in Australia today is around 25,000, although with the second generation of migrants included, it may be as high as 30,000. Since the 1970s the massive immigration stream has vanished and even some return migration has occurred. Slovenian migrants have established a number of associations/clubs in all the major cities, they have their churches and newspapers, they broadcast on multicultural radio and, most importantly, they can learn the Slovenian language at the elementary and secondary level.
The literary creativity of Slovenian migrants in Australia started soon after the biggest influx of migration to Australia at the beginning of the 1950s. It was then that the publication of the journal Misli [Thoughts] started (1952), where along with the discussion of religious issues and life among the migrants, the Slovenian Catholic priests first tried their hand at writing literary pieces – Rev. Klavdij Okorn and Rev. Bernard Ambrožič. Later laypersons started publishing their works in the journal, among them Neva Rudolf and Ivan Burnik-Legiša. Rudolf lived in Australia only a couple of years; however, with her collection of poems Južni Križ [The Southern Cross] (1958) and the collection of sketches, Avstralske Črtice [Australian Sketches] (1958), though not published on Australian ground, she was one of the first literary authors among the Slovenians living in Australia. With the publication of the migrant magazine Vestnik [The Bulletin] in that period literary creativity received a new impetus and a new possibility of getting migrant literature published emerged. Ivan Burnik-Legiša, despite his numerous collections of verse, has drawn critical attention only in the last two decades with his collections Jesensko Listje [Autumn Leaves] (1991), Za Pest Drobiža [For a Handful of Coins] (1993), Hrepenenje in Sanje [Yearning and Dreams] (1995), and Klic k Bogu: Pesmi [The Call of God: Poems] (2008). In the poems he recollects his youth at home in Slovenia; it seems he has never come to accept the new Australian environment as his very own, while, clearly estranged, he does not feel at home in Slovenia either.
The first book in the Slovenian language to be published in Australia was the collection of poems by Bert Pribac, Bronasti Tolkač [The Bronze Knocker] (1962). Among his numerous publications, the collections V See the Slovenian-Australian Network, www.glasslovenije.com.au.
Kljunu Golobice [In the Beak of a Dove] (1973) and Prozorni Ljudje [Transparent People] (1991) have to be mentioned, and more recently Kiss Me Koštabona = Poljubi me, Koštabona: Ljubezenske Pesmi in Baladice [Kiss Me Koštabona: Love Poems and Short Ballads] (2003) and Tam daleč pod Južnim križem [Far Away under the Southern Cross] (2010) which indicate that Pribac with his substantial quality literary output ranks along with Jože Žohar and Pavla Gruden among the very best Slovenian migrant poets in Australia (see Maver 1994). In 2000 the second edition of his first collection Bronasti Tolkač with some additional poems was published in Slovenia in Koper, the Northern part of the Istrian peninsula. In these the poet, both a Slovenian Istrian and an Australian, symbolically (and literally) returns to Slovenia, although he remains split between the two countries, neither in this nor in the other homeland fully anchored, yet frozen in the love of both … (Pribac, Bronasti Tolkač, 199; my translation) Pribac can be placed high among Slovenian poets writing in Australia. It is true that his early work is characterised by a somewhat baroque language, coupled with the typical migrant nostalgia and longing for home. However, he quickly outgrew this early apprentice stage to mature into a subtle impressionist poet of his native Slovenian Istria along the Adriatic Sea and his ‘new’ second homeland, Australia. He can for this reason also be called a poet of two homelands, who feels at home here in Slovenia and in Australia; who uses in his verse images taken from both lands and whose poetry transcends the borders of space and time to address generally valid issues. Pribac, who has now permanently moved back to Slovenia, has also written a number of essays on the literary productivity of Slovenian migrants in Australia and was instrumental in bringing to publication various recent translations from Australian verse into Slovenian (see Pribac 2003).
Together with Jože Žohar, Danijela Hliš and Jože Čuješ, Bert Pribac was a co-founder of SALUK (1983), the Slovenian-Australia Literary and Cultural Circle, which was founded as a natural outgrowth of the literary magazine Svobodni Razgovori (see Suša 1996 and 1999). This magazine, established in 1982 by the energetic editor Pavla Gruden, was a natural Slovenian literary response to Naš List, a literary journal of Yugoslav migrant writers in Australia and New Zealand. SALUK gathered most literary Slovenians in Australia, but its foremost merit was that it brought its exponents during the 1980s into close contact with their Slovenian counterparts, resulting in numerous publications of Slovenian migrant authors in Slovenia and several organised reading tours. There were three major literary anthologies published during that time by SIM, the Slovenian Emigrant Association from Ljubljana, which featured fictional and verse works by the authors gathered in SALUK: Zbornik Avstralskih Slovencev (1985; An Anthology of Australian Slovenians), Zbornik Avstralskih Slovencev (1988; An Anthology of Australian Slovenians), and Lipa Šumi med Evkalipti (1990; The Lime-tree Rustles among the Eucalypts).
Pavla Gruden, along with her important work as editor, published a number of poems both in English and Slovenian. Her poetic strength can especially be seen in her collection of haiku verse Snubljenje Duha (1994;
Courting the Mind). She reveals herself as a subtle poet of this originally Japanese epigrammatic verse, which helps her to depict her migrant experience in Australia (see Jurak 1997). Australia is no longer conceived as a foreign land but rather as a terra felix, which may offer migrants refuge, showing them the way out of the controversies of the modern
Softly the Southern Cross Shows the way to the shipwrecked – The Earth is all turned upside down. (Gruden, Snubljenje Duha, 53;
my translation) Her contemplative stance and carpe diem approach speak in favour of a harmony between Nature and Man. Pavla Gruden’s recent book of verse published in Slovenia is titled Ljubezen pod Džakarando [Love under the Jacaranda Tree] (2002).
The group of migrant poets include the interesting but little published poet Peter Košak – Iskanje [Search] (1982), Ko Misel Sreča Misel [When a Thought Meets Another Thought] (2006), Marjan Štravs – Pesmi iz Pradavnine [Poems from Ancient Times] (1993), Ivan Žigon, Danica Petrič, Ivan Lapuh, Ciril Setničar, Caroline Tomašič, Ivan Kobal, Draga Gelt, Marcela Bole, Rev. Tone Gorjup, and others. Jože Žohar deserves special attention, for he belongs among the best of Slovenian poets in Australia. His collection of verse Aurora Australis (1990) was the first book by a Slovenian migrant from Australia to be published in Slovenia, and its thematic and stylistic experimentation and innovations received a very positive critical response (Maver 1992). In 1995 he published his second collection in Slovenia, Veku Bukev [To the Crying of Beeches], and in 2004 his third collection Obiranje Limon [Lemonpicking] was published. For a detailed analysis of Žohar’s work, see the second part of this paper.
As regards Slovenian migrant poetry written in English and sometimes bilingually, the poetry and prose of Danijela Hliš comes first to mind. She represents the first-generation of migrants who write in English, with, for example, Michelle Leber and the deceased Irena BirsaŠkofic, as members of the second generation of Australians born to Slovenian parents. These writers are no longer preoccupied with such typical migrant themes as nostalgia for home or the problems of migrants trying to establish themselves in a linguistically and culturally different environment, for they take as themes existential issues, urban impressions and the like, though tainted with the typical Slovenian melancholy. Bilingualism fits into the framework of the Australian policy of multiculturalism and has thus changed the conditions of literary creativity, especially since the 1980s (Maver 1999, 305–17). Hliš writes her sketches and poems mostly in the two languages. With her perfect command of English as a literary medium of expression, she is the first author of Slovenian origin who has managed to enter Australian multicultural anthologies and even a secondary school reader for Australian schools, with her bilingual verse collection Whisper/Šepetanje (1991) and the collection in English Hideaway Serenade (1996). Poems in
the latter book show her migrant experience as essentially ambivalent:
she describes the Slovenia she had left behind not only nostalgically but also bitterly, and, on the other hand, she seems to have accepted Australia as the new homeland with which she emotionally identifies not only in the poems but also in the short stories, essays and sketches.
Apart from poetry a great number of short prose or documentary writings have appeared in Australia and Slovenia: Rev. Bernard Ambrožič, Marijan Peršič – Per Aspera ad Astra (2001), Draga Gelt, Stanka Gregorič, Danica Petrič, Ivanka Sluga-Škof, Pavla Gruden, Danijela Hliš, Ivan Žigon, Lojze Košorok, Aleksandra Ceferin, and many others. From among the longer prose works, the book by Ivan Kobal written in English as Men Who Built the Snowy (1982) appeared first, published later in the Slovenian language as Možje s Snowyja (1993). This essentially memoiristic work is based on the author’s personal experience working on the construction of the Snowy Mountains hydro-electric system in the during 1954–58 in which many migrants participated, including Slovenians. The book is a documentary testimony of this project, which according to Kobal, brought migrants of various nationalities together to work in a harmonious union to build the new Australia.
Cilka Žagar is probably the best-known migrant fiction author, for two of her published novels were received very favourably: Barbara (1995) and Magdalena med Črnimi Opali [Magdalena among Black Opals] (2000). She published the book Goodbye Riverbank (2000) in Australia, describing various life stories of Australian Aborigines who she knows well from her work and life among the opal seekers at Lightning Ridge; she also wrote about Aborigines in the book Growing Up Walgett (1990). Žagar’s novel Barbara, written originally in English and then translated into Slovenian, presents a chronicle of the Slovenian migrant community in Australia, from the construction of the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme to the current problems of the community.
Through the eyes of the protagonist Barbara and her family in the fictitious town of Linden, one receives an insight into the sad and even cruel but also happy moments in the lives of Slovenian migrants living under the Southern Cross. Her novel Magdalena med Črnimi Opali is about a split personality, the double ego of a single migrant (MagdaLena) and develops into a saga of a migrant family. While Magda takes care of the family, Lena looks back and tries to find ways to return to the past, when she was loved and she herself loved and still nourished the hope of a better future. Magdalena, two aspects of a personality, dualistically set asunder between the search for the material and the spiritual aspect of life, constantly seeks a perfect love that would provide safety and spiritual meaning as opposed to material things.
Ivanka Sluga-Škof, author of many articles, published in 1999 a memoir on her childhood in Slovenia and her life and cultural work among the Slovenians in Australia. Among the younger generation of writers Katarina Mahnič should be mentioned. She has for some years now been editing the journal Misli and has already received important recognition of her writing published in Slovenia. She now lives in Slovenia again, where she also acts as a translator of Australian literature into the Slovenian language. In 2000 a book was published by Ivan Lapuh – Potok Treh Izvirov [The Brook of Three Sources] (2000), containing mostly sketches, some poems and a few aphorisms. Two more books should be mentioned in the context of Slovenian migrant literature, although they are written in English. The Second Landing (1993) by Victoria Zabukovec, who is not of Slovenian origin, is an historical, memoiristic and part-documentary book based on the experiences of her Slovenian husband. Janko Majnik in his memoir Diary of a Submariner (1996) describes his experience of the Second World War as a Yugoslav submariner, when, not wanting to be captured by the Germans he, together with the crew, defected to the allies and via Egypt eventually migrated to Australia (Maver 1999, 75–84).