Vanda Boras Podravac’s A Diary from the Croatian Diaspora

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With this book Australian and ethnic Croatian Vanda Boras Podravac has significantly enriched the autobiographical emigrant narrative of our people in the post-World War II period.

The Croatian Heritage Foundation played host at its Zagreb headquarters on the 13th of September to a presentation of Vanda Boras Podravac’s Dnevnik iz tuđine / A Diary from the Croatian Diaspora. Joining the author to discuss the book were CHF director Mijo Marić, Croatian Writers’ Association president Đuro Vidmarović, the book’s editor Vesna Kukavica and the author. The book promotion was moderated by Ljerka Galic, head of our emigrant heritage department.

Among the many guests who turned out for this book promo event were state secretary Zvonko Milas, on hand representing the country’s prime minister, Andrej Plenković, the chair of the CHF Board of Directors Milan Kovač, Maja Novoselec, the head of the department for the performing arts and culture events at the City of Zagreb municipal office for culture, representing Zagreb mayor Milan Bandić, Domagoj Novosel, the head of the sector for demographic development at the demography, family, youth and social policy ministry, Koraljka Sopta, a senior expert advisor with the books and publishing service of the culture ministry, representatives of the Institute for Migration and Ethnic Studies, and Drago Ljubić, Vinko Grubišić, Ivan Butković and Drago Šaravanja—prominent emigrants who struggled alongside Ms Boras Podravac to achieve Croatian independence.

The promo was opened by CHF director Mijo Marić, who offered his sincere thanks to the author as a prominent activist in groups working for the affirmation of the ethnic rights of Australian immigrants. He lauded her excellent book, the heart-rending content of which offers a vision of a better tomorrow in the face of not at all simple make-or-break challenges. Prime Minister Plenković’s personal representative, state secretary Zvonko Milas, echoed director Marić’s praise of the book and the flattering assessment of its content, noting that the volume is without a doubt a welcome contribution to publishing activity in the diaspora. Event moderator Galic read a letter to Ms Boras Podravac and the event participants from President Kolinda Grabar Kitarović, and an excerpt from the Croatian version of the book, printed in Zagreb in 2010.

As we learned from the promoters, Vanda Boras Podravac’s book is the authentic testimony of a Croatian emigrant woman seen through the prism of one Croatian family, a touching story of suffering and of adapting to life in new and distant worlds and continents, and a story of societal, cultural, educational and humanitarian campaigns, initiated and seen through to achievement, that have borne as their fruit the present day status of the Croatian diaspora community in Australia. The book’s editor Vesna Kukavica offered her passionate and competent overlook of the challenges of editing the Croatian and English language versions; published individually by the Croatian Heritage Foundation with an eight-year hiatus between the original Croatian and the English translation. Vanda Boras Podravac’s Dnevnik iz tuđine / A Diary from the Croatian Diaspora now joins the ranks of other great Croatian emigrant autobiographies, including Dušan Bezić’s Šoltanin na tankon ledu (A Native of Šolta on Thin Ice), Mate Meštrović’s Uspomene (Memories), Jakša Kušan’s Moja bitka za Novu Hrvatsku (My Struggle for the New Croatia Magazine), Nedjeljko Luetić Tijan’s Život Pavla Tijana (The Life of Pavao Tijan), Drago Šaravanja’s Idemo kući (We’re Going Home), Fabijan Lovoković’s U pomoć Hrvatskoj – nakon 46 godina put u domovinu početkom rata 1991 (To Croatia’s Aid – Travelling to the Homeland After 46 Years at the Eve of War in 1991) or Korčula native and Australian resident Šimun Sardećić’s One Eye Crying (Jednim okom plačući). It is also true that there have been few women that have offered a testimony of their life, work and writing about that time and generation in the Croatian diaspora. Besides Ms Boras Podravac, only Ivona Dončević and poet Malkica Dugeč jump to mind immediately.

Vanda Boras Podravac was born in Otočac and grew up in the town of Senj before moving abroad in 1954. She lived in Argentina up to 1961 and relocated a second time to Australia, now as part of a four-member family. They settled first in Sydney, where Ms Boras Podravac found employment with well-known publisher Reader’s Digest. The family moved a third time to Canberra in 1969, where they live to this day. In Canberra she was employed in the national bureaucracy up to her retirement in 1989. She received a degree from the University of Canberra in sociology and administration, and was active throughout her career as an activist in the local Croatian community—during the 1970s the community won some milestone victories working with the Liberal government of Malcolm Fraser in the affirmation of ethnic rights. In the early 1980s the status of ethnic Croatians in Australia continued its upward trajectory, a process Ms Boras Podravac was personally involved in as, among other things, the vice chair of the council of ethnic communities. In recognition of her work she was awarded The Medal of The Order of Australia (OAM) along with Dr Konstantin Bosnić, Dr Tomislav Gavranić, Frank Hesman, Nedjeljko Marunčić, Vinko Romanik, Ljerka Drapač, Michael Furjanić and Milan Karamarko.

The diary, as dictated by its form, chronologically follows the lives of the Boras and Podravac families, and that of the writer. The book is divided into eleven chapters representing eleven stages in her life: Life in the Homeland, The Harsh Reality of the Displaced, Final Destination Argentina, A Second Emigration, Rebooting Life in the New Australian Homeland, Work and Responsibility in the Croatian Community, How the Croatian Community Functioned in Australian Society, The Largest Protest Ever Held in Australia, Dr Franjo Tuđman Opens the Croatian Embassy in Australia, Australian Awards to Meritorious Croatians, The End of an Arduous Road. The promoters and those who have read the book in the homeland and abroad all agree that Australian and ethnic Croatian Vanda Boras Podravac has, with this book, significantly enriched the autobiographical emigrant narrative of our people in the post-World War II period.

Clearly moved by the presentation Ms Boras Podravac thanked all the speakers and her colleagues and associates involved in the making of this book, her editor in particular, and related her decision to translate the book into English, saying that it aimed to show everybody who Croatians are and what they are like, what their aspirations are and how they achieve their goals. Soon, when Vanda returns home to her children in Australia, her books will be promoted in Indonesia, India, Pakistan and elsewhere. It is her wish to see people there also learn about us as people, where we are from and what we have to offer others. She has given much in her long and fruitful life, both in deeds and in words, and, unlike many before her, seen her dream of a free homeland come to fruition.

By: Diana Šimurina-Šoufek; Photography: Snježana Radoš

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