The Slovak Republic is in central Europe. It is bordered by Poland, Ukraine, Hungary, Austria and the Czech Republic.
History of Immigration and Settlement
The first known Slovak to arrive in Australia was Brother Jakub Longa, a Jesuit. He was sent to Australia in 1888 to help found an Aboriginal mission at Daly Waters in the Northern Territory, which was then under South Australian jurisdiction. After the failure of this plan in 1899 he spent two years with the Jesuit communities of Sevenhill and Norwood. Brother Longa left Australia in 1901.
The first significant wave of Slovaks arrived in the aftermath of the Second World War. They had either fled Slovakia prior to the Soviet Red Army’s entry into the country in 1945, or after communists came to power in 1948. They found refuge in Displaced Persons camps in Italy, West Germany and Austria.
Between 1949 and 1951 over 10,000 Slovaks and Czechs arrived in Australia. Of these, 1,500 settled in South Australia. They initially stayed at the Woodside, Mallala and Smithfield Migrant Hostels.
In exchange for their passage from Europe the Slovaks who came to South Australia as Displaced Persons (DPs) were bound to a two-year employment contract with the Australian government. Some of the men were employed by the South Australian Railways. They worked throughout the state. Those who worked in Adelaide lived in tents on North Terrace or at Islington. Other men worked for the Engineering and Water Supply Department and were scattered throughout the state, laying pipelines on Eyre and Yorke Peninsulas. Some DPs worked for the Metropolitan Tramways Trust, in urban factories such as General Motors Holden, or undertook seasonal work in the Riverland. Women were generally employed as domestics in hospitals.
After their contracts had expired most Slovaks settled in Adelaide, though small numbers of them chose to live in Mount Gambier, Murray Bridge and Whyalla.
As some professional qualifications gained in Europe were not recognised in Australia, several Slovak South Australians studied at the University of Adelaide to repeat degrees they had obtained in Europe. In particular, medical practitioners underwent retraining.
A further influx of Slovaks arrived in South Australia from the provinces of Backa and Banat in northern Yugoslavia from the late 1950s when the communist regime of that country relaxed its travel restrictions.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s there were Slovak communities in the opal mining regions of Coober Pedy and Andamooka. A small number of Slovak South Australians still reside in these areas.
In the late 1960s Alexander Dubcek’s Czechoslovakian government again relaxed travel restrictions to the West. Many Slovaks left the country with no intention of returning. Some of these people made their way to Australia.
A major influx of Slovaks arrived in South Australia in the early 1970s. They emigrated in response to the August 1968 intervention of Soviet and Eastern European troops against the reforms of Dubcek’s liberal government. Of the 12,000 Slovaks and Czechs who arrived in Australia at this time, 1,000 settled in South Australia. Slovaks who had arrived in South Australia as DPs after the Second World War helped them adjust to their new society.
Slovakia became an independent nation in January 1993 following the fall of Czechoslovakia’s communist government in 1989. These changes prompted the latest wave of Slovak immigrants to South Australia.
Today Slovak South Australians work in a variety of occupations. Most of them live in Adelaide.
The first meeting of Slovak South Australians took place in 1950. A group of Slovak Catholics met to celebrate Easter Mass at the Daughters of Charity Chapel in Hutt Street. From December of that year Father Stefan Sencik SJ visited Slovak Catholic South Australians three or four times a year. Father Sencik was based in Sydney. He was responsible for the spiritual care of Slovak Catholics all over Australia.
The Slovak Catholic congregation of Adelaide was both a spiritual and secular organisation. It brought people together to worship and socialise.
These initial gatherings led to the foundation of the Slovak Club of South Australia, which evolved in the early 1950s. Slovak South Australians met informally at Adelaide hotels and clubs. They occasionally used the Slovenian and Ukrainian clubrooms for social and cultural activities. As the number of Slovak Australians increased, a second priest arrived in Australia. In 1956 Father Tibor Strnisko, from the Salesian order of priests, became responsible for the spiritual welfare of Slovak Catholic South Australians. He visited the South Australian communities several times a year from his Melbourne base.
The significant number of Slovaks who arrived in South Australia in the late 1960s and early 1970s reinvigorated the existing community. After nearly a decade of organisation and fundraising, the Slovak Club of South Australia was registered as an official body in 1980. In the same year the club opened Slovensky Dom, Slovak House, in Walter Street, Thebarton.
In 1980 Father Alfonz Silhar SDB arrived in Adelaide to preside over Slovak Catholic South Australians. Father Silhar celebrated Mass at the Salesian Fathers’ chapel in Brooklyn Park. He also taught at Salesian College. The latest Slovak priest has now retired to Gawler and Mass is celebrated from there once every three months.
The main religious festivals for Slovak Catholic South Australians are the Saints Days of Saints Cyril and Methodius and Our Lady of Seven Sorrows. For further information see Appendix 1, Religious Belief and Practice: Christianity.
Saints Cyril and Methodius’s Feast Day is on 5 July. It is celebrated in South Australia on the nearest Sunday. A special Mass commemorates the work of the two brothers. The service is followed by cultural performances and a communal meal at Slovak House.
15 September is the Feast Day of Our Lady of Seven Sorrows, the Patroness of Slovakia. The Blessed Virgin’s Seven Sorrows were:
1. The prophecy of Simeon which foresaw when the Virgin presented Jesus in the Temple, that a sword of sorrow would pierce her heart
2. The flight into Egypt to escape Herod’s slaughter of the innocents
3. Jesus’s three-day disappearance when he was lecturing the Rabbis in the Temple
4. The painful progress to Calvary
5. The Crucifixion
6. The removal of the body from the cross
7. Jesus’s entombment.
Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows is often depicted mourning at the foot of the cross. On the nearest Sunday to her feast day Slovak Catholic South Australians attend a special Mass and social gathering.
Although membership of the Slovak Club of South Australia has dwindled over the past few years, a group of members have now taken over the management of the club and some traditional events have now been revived. Events such as Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Children’s Day and Saint Nicholas Day are celebrated. Before Easter and Christmas, there is traditional ginger bread making and decorating, while Advent wreath making and decorating is another popular event. People of non-Slovak background have joined the club and are participating in many of these celebrations.
A Slovak School was started in August 2018. At present 15 children of third generation Slovak migrants attend the school with many parents of non-Slovak background showing an interest in enrolling their children. The school caters for three age groups of children and operates fortnightly from the Slovak clubrooms.
‘Slovaks in South Australia’ was staged at the Migration Museum from 4 June 2000 to 31 August 2000. The exhibition highlighted the history and cultural achievements of the Slovak community as well as through the stories of individuals. Included in the exhibition was folk art, traditional costumes, ceramics, hand painted gingerbread, Easter eggs, corm dolls, embroidery, a traditional Slovak Christmas tree and examples of work by Slovak-South Australian glass artists.
A Slovak radio program is broadcast on 5EBI FM once a week for one hour.
14 March is Slovak Independence Day. It commemorates the day in 1939 when Slovakia came into being as an independent state, and is marked by speeches, folkloric performances and an evening meal.
Organisations and Media
- Slovensky Stit, a monthly newsletter (published overseas).
- Slovak Club of S.A. Inc.
- 5EBI-FM Radio Program
The 1981 census recorded 1,381 Czechoslovakian South Australians.
The 1986 census recorded 1,671. Of these, 211 said that they were of Slovak descent.
According to the 1991 census there were 1,724 Czechoslovakian-born South Australians. 2,130 people said that their mothers were born in Czechoslovakia, and 2,738 that their fathers were.
According to the 1996 census there were 322 Slovak Republic-born South Australians representing 14.7 per cent of the national distribution. The 1996 census also revealed a second generation of 460.
The 2001 census recorded 305 Slovakian-born South Australians, while 625 people said that they were of Slovakian descent.
The 2006 census recorded 316 Slovakian-born South Australians, while 719 people said that they were of Slovakian descent.
The 2011 census recorded 320 Slovakian-born South Australians, while 782 people said that they were of Slovakian descent.
The 2016 census recorded 319 Slovakian-bon South Australians, while 781 people said that they were of Slovakian descent.
Jupp, J (ed), The Australian People: An Encyclopedia of the Nation, Its People and Their Origins, 2nd Ed., (Cambridge University Press, 2001)