Independent documentary Austonia explores ideas of being Estonian in modern Australia.
"Estonia?" my best friend says, "you made that up. That's not a real country."
My name is Silvi Vann-Wall. My surname is split into two ethnicities: Vann is Estonian. Wall is English/Australian. Accusations and blank stares were common in the schoolyard if I ever chose to talk about my family's history. Estonia, of course, is a real country: it boasts a population of 1.3 million technologically advanced people, and is home to one of the largest song festivals in the world; the Laulupidu. The gorgeous capital, Tallinn, is on the UNESCO World Heritage List, and the popular video-call program Skype was written and developed by three Estonians.
- For many years, the Estonian people were forced to live under the oppressive regime of the Soviet Union. The occupation lasted from 1940 until 1991, with the German army briefly occupying from 1941 until 1944 during World War II. My grandparents and their siblings escaped during this time - as did many other Estonians - and were placed in German displaced persons camps. Some were able to get jobs or continue studying, and so they stayed in Germany for a great portion of their lives, while others were desperate to get away.
- By both hard work and luck, many Estonians were able to board ships that would give them the opportunity to relocate and rebuild. The countries of choice were usually America, Canada, England, New Zealand, and: Australia. Estonians were welcomed to our multicultural land and were able to get jobs - for many that meant on New South Wales farms, or perhaps the Docklands wharfs. Estonians built houses and big families - even saunas began to spring up in backyards. Not once has the Estonian bold spirit been dampened by hardship, no matter how challenging the circumstance.
- Many generations later, the Estonian community in Australia lives on. The majority of Australian states host an Estonian House (or 'Eesti Maja') for community gatherings and traditional activities such as folk dancing, choir, handicraft, and more. Every year a children's Estonian camp, Sõrve, is held in Sydney, and the Estonian ethnic scouts continues to take in new members.
Sadly, the older generations fear that the Estonian culture is under threat in Australia, as fewer members of the younger generations are expressing any interest. There is a struggle for younger generations to understand the importance of their cultural heritage - I, like many others, desired to be purely Australian when growing up, and so I rejected my heritage. Now I realise that cultural identity is never pure and simple for anyone. It is constantly shifting and changing, especially for immigrants and their families. We must embrace this.
I am Australian. But I am also Estonian. This story belongs to me as much as it belongs to anyone struggling to find their place between two or more cultures.
What We Need & What You Get
Austonia aims to be the first full-length documentary about Estonian-Australians.
- As a completely independent project, we need your help to produce this ambitious film.
- We are currently borrowing limited film equipment from universities and conducting interviews in Melbourne only.
- With your help, we can raise money to hire better feature film equipment, and travel insterstate so that stories from Adelaide, Sydney, Brisbane, Perth, etc. are also told.
- This funding will also allow us access to better quality editing suites so that the final product can look as awesome as possible.
- With the money we will also be able to promote the project on SBS radio and produce lovely DVD copies to send to as many TV stations as possible. We want this story to go national!
- Your rewards for helping us will include: a special credit in the final film, a poster of the Austonia viking ship for your bedroom wall, stickers, badges, a DVD copy of the film, exclusive access to audio interviews and our original soundtrack, gift hampers, and even an invitation to the premiere of the film at Estonian House in Melbourne!
Multiculturalism is what drives our beautiful country of Australia. I aim to bring more awareness to people, both young and old, of Estonian stories. Our documentary explores the following questions:
- What does it mean to be Estonian in Australia? In fact, what does it mean to be anyone living in a country where they are the foreigner?
- How important is it to keep ethnic tradition alive in a progressive, modern country? Can the old ways remain forever untouched or is there a need to update them to more forward-thinking practices?
- Is cultural identity static or forever changing? Can an Estonian immigrant from World War II still identify as purely Estonian if they have lived so much of their lives on the other side of the world? What about young Estonians that have only recently resettled - what drives them to keep their culture alive when they have not experienced the hardship of oppressive regimes?
We are bringing the stories of Estonian-Australians to the rest of the world.
Other Ways You Can Help
Money isn't all that we need. We are always looking for more content to make the documentary as rich, informative, and exciting as possible.
- If you identify as Estonian-Australian, we want to hear your story! Tell us about yourself at firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll put you in the documentary.
- Photos, home video footage, and scans of documents relating to Estonian immigration and Estonian cultural activities in Australia are of course also welcome at the above email address.
- And don't forget to spread the word - you can help promote our film and this campaign by visiting our Facebook, Tumblr, or Twitter and giving us a 'like' for updates.
Terviseks! That's "cheers' in Estonian.