Drawing on a trove of original documents the book delves into the 55-year history of the Dalmacija-Sydney Croatian Club and looks at the contributions it and Australians with ancestral roots in Blato on the island of Korčula have made to Australia and to their ancestral Croatian homeland.
Dušan Kalogjera’s book On the Road of No Return was promoted at the Croatian Heritage Foundation on 14 October. Kalogjera’s impressive bilingual chronicle overcomes the language barrier faced by people with ethnic Croatian roots that live in the English-speaking parts of the world. Kalogjera (80) is a native of the island of Korčula and his book is dedicated to others with roots on the island in Australian, and their friends, for the help they provided to Croatia during the Homeland War and the post-war period. Following his studies at the University of Zagreb, Kalogjera pursued a career as an economist from 1964 and has published several books and hundreds of articles in Croatian and foreign periodicals. He was prompted to write this exceptional monograph by a visit he made to Australia in 1980 where he met with people with roots in the town of Blato on Korčula.
The promo opened with a welcome from CHF deputy director Ivan Tepeš and from Zvonko Milas, acting in his capacity as representative of Prime Minister Andrej Plenković. The latest book by Kalogjera, his fifteenth, was presented by historian Ivan Hrstić of the Ivo Pilar Institute of Social Sciences in Zagreb, the head of our information department and former diplomat assigned to Australia Mirjana Ana Maria Piskulić, and Kalogjera. Tenor Roko Radovan, a young native of Korčula studying in Zagreb, was on hand to provide musical interludes. The event was moderated by Vesna Kukavica, the long-standing editor of the Croatian Emigrant Almanac.
At the event were many Blato natives now resident in Zagreb, Zdravka Bušić, a member of parliament and chair of the parliamentary committee on Croats abroad, joined by fellow members of parliament and members of the parliamentary committee Nevenko Barbarić and Radoje Vidović, Andrea Biggi, a chargé d’affaires at the Australian embassy in Zagreb, Lara Herceg, the head of the department for legal status, culture and education for Croatians abroad at the State Office for Croats Abroad, Branko Bačić, the vice president of the HDZ party and head of its parliamentary club, and Marija Žebec, the secretary of the Pastoral Directorate for Croats Abroad.
The book, in Croatian and English, offers an encyclopaedic history of the Dalmacija-Sydney Croatian Club (www.dalmacijasydney.com.au) across 920 pages, with original documents drawn from a wealth of archival material that speaks to the contribution of this social and culture association, both to the local community in Australia and to the ancestral Croatian homeland. Most of the club’s founders had roots in Blato. Over the past 55 years the association has worked to organise events and establish business networking in the new Australian homeland. The Croatian community in Australia achieved much in the 1970s towards improving the status of ethnic communities under the Liberal government of Malcolm Fraser, which adopted over fifty recommendations made by the jurist Frank Galbally to achieve a more equitable status for people that had settled in Australia. Since the 1980s the legal framework of a democratic multi-ethnic society has seen excellent results from the efforts of Australians of Croatian background in the domains of culture, language and religion. The club was founded in the 1960s as the Yugoslav Australian Friendship Society but, with the changing times, adapted its name in 1980 to the Dalmacija Sydney Croatian Club. The club opened its current premises in 1989, including a bocce playing area that evokes the southern Croatian lifestyle on the Adriatic coast. The club has an active women’s section, a Croatian language teaching classroom, a football (soccer) club, a folklore group and hosts a number of klapa-style vocal ensembles. The club is a traditional host of Blato evenings and similar events, often for humanitarian causes.
The book’s exhaustive foreword was penned by the project advisor and publisher I. Gavranić Sinako. There is also an author’s foreword and a message to readers signed by Croatian Heritage Foundation director Mijo Marić and Zvonko Milas, the state secretary at the head of the State Office for Croats Abroad. The book was translated by Marija Šunjić and Sunčana Letina, and reviewed by Roko Markovina and Goran Kalogjera.
The book is divided into sixteen sections on heritage, the history of Croatian emigration, people who have moved abroad from Blata on the island of Korčula, the new Australian homeland, Croatian social clubs in which people with roots in Blato are active, the Dalmacija-Sydney Croatian Club, diaspora stories, what other have written on the subject of Australians with roots in Blato, a lexicographic overview of prominent people in Croatia and around the world with roots in Blato, the traditions and customs of Blato, the cuisine of Blato, an onomastic section on the Blato region, the local vernacular of Blato, the poetry of the common man in Blato, and a collection of the humour of Blato that testifies to the indominable spirit of people that left Korčula to live abroad in the face of the challenges posed by migration.
The book also presents a valuable collection of 69 biographies of prominent people from Blato, offering a window to the wealth of contributions made by the islander micro-community to global science, art, economics, sports, and religion. These include thirteen prominent physicians, a number of jurists of international repute, a pair of bishops, the nun Marija Petković, academician Pavle Dešpalj, and Dinko Fia, an arranger of ethnic music drawing on the gems of Croatian traditional culture.
Every year the town of Blato is visited by several hundred people who draw their ancestry from Blato or moved away to live abroad, most from Australia. They have also set up an association that gathers the Blato diaspora in Sydney. The association is led by its president Vjeko Tulić, secretary Ivan Gavranić Sinako, and members Petar Marinović, Veljko Bosnić, Franko Bačić Baćac, Ante Bosnić Koste, Nikola Šeparović, Dragomir Žaknić and Nikola Miko Tulić. They and many others have provided material support for the publication of Kalogjera’s fascinating book.
It was 96 years ago, in 1925, that some seventy families boarded the ship Zaton at the port of Prigradica in Korčula, having left Blato to move abroad. The cultural memory of the island and the town have been permanently imprinted with this image. Blato was once a leader in southern Croatia in the production of wine and olive oil, but in the 1920s suffered an exodus; according to some estimates every fifth person moved away.
People had left the place for decades, relocating to various corners of the world in search of a better standard of living, however, that year is remembered not only by the overall number of people that moved away, but also by the fact that whole families decided to leave. The book notes three major waves of emigration out of Croatia and into the New World: the first in the wake of World War I, the second in the period between the great wars, and the third in the period following the Second World War.
In the late nineteenth century only one fifth of the island was under agricultural cultivation. As peasant farmers had massively shifted away from other crops in favour of more lucrative grape growing and winemaking, southern Croatia—including Blato—suffered a devastating blow with the introduction of the “wine clause” [a clause in a trade agreement struck between the now defunct Austro-Hungarian monarchy (which controlled Croatia at the time) and Italy: the deal opened the monarchy’s markets to Italian winemakers—who had already recovered from their Phylloxera infestation—under favourable terms; they were able to undercut the prices local producers had achieved, which had devastating consequences on an economy overly dependent on this crop], falling olive oil production, and a lack of meaningful industrial development.
In stark contrast the overseas countries—the United States of America in particular—were seeing rapid industrialisation, attracting cheap labour from Europe.
The Austro-Hungarian monarchy took a decidedly back-seat approach to the issue; with the Dalmatia region mired in a political and economic backwater, southern Croatia saw a mass exodus towards Australia and North America, and to a lesser extent South America.
In short, the devastating Phylloxera infestation in 1912 and the First World War are seen as the two critical factors when considering this period and in our comprehension of what led people to abandon Blato on the island of Korčula for a life abroad. All those who departed in those fateful years, 1924 and 1925, said their goodbyes to friends and family at the small port of Prigradica, the very place from where they had exported wine and olive oil in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. It was from this place that so many Blato natives moved abroad for a better life. For some we know nothing of where their voyage took them, but the majority were successful in integrating into their new homelands.
Kalogjera’s impressive saga, translated into English, reconstructs a diaspora network that has its hubs in southern Croatia and Australia—distant lands connected by many human bonds.
By: Diana Šimurina-Šoufek
Photography: Snježana Radoš