Reopening of Rejuvenated Latvian Museum

On Saturday 11 December, the History Trust of South Australia’s Community History Officers, Amanda James and Pauline Cockrill attended the reopening of Adelaide’s Latvian Museum, which has been closed to the public for around 5 years.

Visitors view examples of national costume and ceramics, representing Latvia’s cultural heritage, displayed in new cabinets.

Located at 36 Rose Terrace in Wayville, the museum was officially reopened by His Excellency Marģers Krams, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Latvia to the Commonwealth of Australia, along with Ilze Radzins, President of the Latvian Association of SA.

Housed in a 19th century stone-fronted villa, the museum aims to reflect the heritage of the post WW2 immigrants who brought their culture and art to South Australia from Latvia.  Prior to COVID and some necessary building renovations, the History Trust had been closely involved in the rejuvenation of the museum, with both funding and expert advice. In 2017-19 Community History Officer, Pauline Cockrill worked with the museum volunteers to clean, catalogue and review the displays in preparation for Latvia’s centenary celebrations taking place 2017-2021. In 2018, Latvia celebrated a hundred years since it became an independent state.

The Latvian Museum has had close connections with the History Trust for many years, being part of its Community Museums Program, (now the Museums and Collections (MaC) Program), the development and funding program for community museums and historical groups that manage collections.  We should like to acknowledge the many years of sterling work undertaken by previous volunteer curator Mara Kolomitsev who sadly passed way in 2020.

Fascinating memorabilia relating to Aldona Laurs (nee Muizniece) born in Riga in 1911. She was a Red Cross nurse during WW2 and afterwards worked at the DP Camp Insula, near Berchtesgaden in Germany. She migrated to Adelaide in 1948.

We look forward to the Latvian Museum joining MaC and being able to assist them in incorporating into the museum displays, the many oral histories of the Latvian community being ably gathered by Marija Perijma.

Saturday’s event was a memorable occasion for the local Latvian community, and many of the hardworking volunteers involved in the museum’s rejuvenation were in attendance.  After an opportunity to view the museum’s displays, attendees were invited to the Latvian Association’s meeting rooms next door for refreshments including traditional Latvian  specialties: Piragi (bacon filled buns) and Klingeris (a sweet bread served at birthdays and other celebrations).

L-R: Ilze Radzina, Marija Perejma, Pauline Cockrill, His Excellency Mr Margers Krams and Mrs Sandra Krama

Gifts were exchanged between the Ambassador and the Latvian Association, and the museum also received a fascinating donation to the collection from a local member of the Latvian community in the form of a pair of binoculars belonging to his father. They had been requisitioned from a Russian soldier during the reoccupation of Latvia by the Soviet Union in 1944 following the withdrawal of Nazi German troops.

HE Ambassador of Latvia, Margers Krams looks on as the President of the Latvian Association, Ilse Radzins is presented with some WW2 memorabilia for the museum.
Slices of celebratory Latvian cake (Klingeris) are passed around at the reception afterwards

Ethical Storytelling Workshop

Around ten participants gathered in the Hetzel Theatre at the State Library’s Institute building on Monday 18 February eager to learn about Ethical Storytelling. It was Oral History Australia (SA/NT branch)’s first workshop for the year, and the beginning of a very special year for the organisation, being its 40th anniversary.  Catherine and I from the were amongst the attendees of the workshop which was led by freelance Adelaide-based writer May-Kuan Lim.

Many of us were working or had worked on projects that involved interviewing people and telling their stories, sometimes poignant, sensitive stories – to relay in a publication, website or exhibition. How can we ensure we do this ethically?

With the help of a power point presentation as well as some sample published passages to provoke small group discussion before reporting back to the main group, May-Kuan guided us through the duty of the writer and oral historian.  We considered what made a good story as well as the ideals in relation to the subject before outlining the process for fact finding, and what one should bear in mind when searching for the story.

May-Kuan recommended that we should always have in our minds when telling a story ‘Would I want myself/my children portrayed in this way?’  Her main take away message was that it should always be ‘people before projects’.

May-Kuan graduated in Computer science from the University of Melbourne. She was working as a broadcast engineer in a small regional TV studio in Sarawak, Malaysia in the late 1990s when she realised she would rather be writing stories than broadcasting them.  Since 2010 she has been teaching part time at Port Adelaide TAFE. Many of her students were former refugees and she was drawn to their stories particularly in light of the then current boat arrival debate. She started interviewing and writing refugee stories to try to understand why people fled and what life was like for them now.  Her book ‘Australia: Island of Refuge’ was released serially online from 1 March. Her presentation also drew on her experience helping her father write his life story, Fish in the Well: A memoir of faith and aspiration in which he recalls his early years around the Malaysian tin-mining town of Ipoh, and his search for a way out of poverty.

You can contact May-Kuan Lim via her website The Curious Scribbler or her Facebook page

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