Wendish Heritage Society Australia 1986–2011by Robert Wuchatsch
This article was written for Alfons Frencl to publish in Serbska Protyka 2011 and was therefore written with German readers in mind.
The Wendish Heritage Society Australia celebrates its 25th Anniversary in 2011. Based in Melbourne, the Society was founded in 1986 as the Victorian Branch of the Australian Sorb Committee. In 1990 the name was changed to the Australia-Lusatia Society in Victoria, then to the Wendish/Sorbian Heritage Society in 1991, before finally being incorporated in 1995 as the Wendish Heritage Society Australia Inc.
The Society’s main aim is to promote awareness of Australia’s Wendish heritage. This includes the study and promotion of Wendish history, culture and heritage in both Lusatia and Australia. Our Society’s emblem features an Australian gum leaf and Lusatian linden leaf, representing the connection between Wendish descendants in Australia and the Sorbs of Lusatia. The Society operates a research centre at Ivanhoe in Melbourne and publishes a twice-yearly newsletter to provide information about Wendish affairs and events. A sister society, the Wend/Sorb Society in South Australia, represents Wendish descendants in that region, with full co-operation between our two groups. Our Society is also an associate member of the Domowina in Bautzen.
Heritage is extremely important to Australians. We are a young nation, established by immigrants, so it is natural we should be interested in the homelands and history of our ancestors. Our identity has been and is being determined by people from many nations and races, including Wends or Sorbs. Those of us with Wendish ancestry take great pride and interest in it.
The founder and driving force behind the Wendish Heritage Society Australia is John Noack. In 1986, John Noack and Rev. Kevin Zwar established the Sorb Committee in Victoria, located at John’s home in Eaglemont, Melbourne. Kevin Zwar was appointed President and John Noack Secretary/Treasurer. Since then John has worked tirelessly to promote awareness of Australia’s Wendish Heritage and help descendants trace their Wendish and German ancestry.
Prior to the 1970s, many Wendish Australians were unaware of their Slavic ancestry. The publication of Gerald Stone’s The Smallest Slavonic Nation: The Sorbs of Lusatia in 1972; Rev. Rupert Burger’s article The Coming of the Wends in 1976; and George Nielsen’s book In Search of a Home: The Wends (Sorbs) on the Australian and Texas Frontier in 1977 were the catalysts to greater interest by Australian Wendish descendants in their European ancestry. In Victoria, Wendish descendants such as Chris Deutscher had visited Lusatia in 1981 and Kevin Zwar in 1984. Kevin had previously received copies of Wendish letters written from Australia to Lusatian relatives during the 1840s and 1850s which had been translated into German by Pastor Siegfried Albert, of Gröditz. In 1985, Robert Wuchatsch published his book about Westgarthtown, a German/Wendish settlement established near Melbourne in 1850. He was assisted by another Australian Wend, Professor Richard Dalitz, of Oxford University. But it was John Noack who recognised the need for the provision of greater information and assistance to help family history researchers explore their Wendish origins and decided to do something about it.
John Noack, born at Yorketown, South Australia on 16 May 1944, is a descendant of Lower Lusatian Wends Johann and Anna Noack (née Hondow) of Tauer, who arrived in Australia in 1850. John’s father, Friedrich Wilhelm Noack, was pastor of the Lutheran church at Yorketown, having previously served as a missionary in New Guinea. In 1948, Pastor Noack was called to Swan Reach on the River Murray, where John was raised. John’s grandfather, Johann Friedrich Noack, was also a Lutheran pastor, who served at Natimuk in Victoria for 44 years.
John first attended school at Swan Reach, then moved to Concordia College in Adelaide, where he excelled academically, musically and at sport, particularly Australian Rules Football. He achieved credits in history and geography and went on to study history, philosophy and languages at Adelaide University. Although he intended to be a history and geography teacher, his father influenced him into the ministry and he completed the Lutheran Seminary course in 1968. During his religious studies he played football for Sturt in Adelaide and for Geelong when he lived there in 1967 as a trainee vicar.
While at Geelong, John met Ene Lukas, a school teacher and they married in 1969. They have two children – Anthony and Ingrid. After serving as pastor at Rainbow in Victoria’s Southern Mallee, John decided to pursue his historical and musical interests in Melbourne. Following further study, he taught at various schools there before being appointed as a Religion and History teacher at Trinity Grammar School, Kew where he remained until 1993. After a serious illness in 1994 John decided not to return to teaching and now works for a textile company.
John Noack’s role has always been pivotal to the success of the Wendish Heritage Society Australia but was particularly so from 1986 – 1994. Although initially supported on the committee by Kevin Zwar and then from 1989 by Gladys Koch, Beverley Gotzky and Robert Wuchatsch, John’s contribution was enormous. In those early days, he established the Wendish/Sorbian Research Centre at his home; arranged Wendish displays and spoke regularly about the Wends to Lutheran congregations, genealogical groups and historical societies; wrote many articles for related journals and newsletters; commenced, edited and published the Society’s twice-yearly newsletter and regular Wendish/Sorbian Information Sheets; and instituted the Society’s annual Wendish dinner.
The Wendish dinners, held first at Kew, then Box Hill and Doncaster, were eagerly awaited highlights, with German food provided by a team led by Pam Modra and Gladys Koch and speakers such as Ray Deutsher, Robert Wuchatsch and Kevin Zwar. Alfons Frencl of Rosenthal was a special guest in 1990.
In 1989, John contributed to the book Sorbs/Wends of Lusatia: The Unknown Immigrants with Bev Hall and Hans Dieter-Senff and also travelled to Germany with other Australian Wends to visit the homeland of their Upper and Lower Lusatian ancestors. He repeated this tour in 1994 as leader of another group of Wendish descendants. These tours coincided with Sorbian Festivals at Bautzen and Raddusch.
In 1994, with John’s illness and Kevin Zwar’s move to Sydney, the Society transferred its research centre and meeting place to Doncaster and expanded its executive committee. Robert Wuchatsch was elected President, with John Noack Secretary/Treasurer and Barbara Healy Assistant Secretary. Other committee members were Phyllis Baker, Joan Sheppard and Pam and Max Modra. In the same year Autumn field trips to Victorian German/Wendish settlements were introduced, the first being to Westgarthtown.
Hardworking committee members over the next few years also included Clarrie Handreck (Vice-President and Librarian) and his wife Helen, who together indexed the holdings of the Society’s Research Centre, Rev. Ed Koch, Netta Heine, Iris Sullivan, Doreen Bozen, Lena and Frieda Mirtschin, Glenys Wollermann, Sue Burton, Ann Sandman, Richard Albert and Clay Kruger. Dinners and field trips continued. In 1999, the Society held a 150th Anniversary dinner to celebrate the arrival of the first four German emigrant ships to arrive in Melbourne, with the largest attendance ever, including the German Consul-General Hans-Michael Schwandt and his wife.
This dinner followed the launch in April that year of Tom Darragh and Robert Wuchatsch’s book From Hamburg to Hobsons Bay: German Emigration to Port Phillip (Australia Felix) 1848-51, which was published in association with the Wendish Heritage Society Australia. That book included much information about the arrival of Wends in Victoria, including an English language translation of Carl Traugott Hoehne’s book Emigration to Australia and return to the Fatherland related by himself and combined with further authentic information about Australia which was published in Bautzen in 1853. A photocopy of this book had been provided to Robert by Mrs Trudla Malinkowa, the author of the 1985 book Shores of Hope: Wends Go Overseas.
In 2002 the Society moved its research centre and meeting place to Ivanhoe and Joel and Janice Blackburn joined the committee, the latter as Librarian. In 2003, Robert Wuchatsch retired as President and was replaced by Gladys Koch, with Robert Vice-President, Clay Kruger Treasurer and John Noack Secretary and Newsletter Editor. The Society was privileged that year to be visited by Texas Wend descendant and author George Nielsen and his family. Another important development in 2003 was the publication of Betty Huf’s book Courage, Patience and Persistence: 150 Years of German Settlement in the Western District of Victoria.
In 2004, Robyn Zwar assumed responsibility for design of our newsletter and also arranged the most important change of the decade – the introduction of the Wendish Heritage Society Australia’s website www.wendishheritage.org.au Following its introduction, the website was overseen by Kevin Zwar, but is now managed by Joel Blackburn, enabling Kevin to handle the many requests for information which arrive from around the world via our email address firstname.lastname@example.org A visit to our website will show how much useful information has been added since 2005.
Since 2007, John Noack has been President, with Joel Blackburn Vice-President, Clay Kruger Treasurer, Glenys Wollermann Secretary and Newsletter Editor and Janice Blackburn Librarian. The remaining committee members are Betty Huf, Paul Kruger, Geoff Matuschka, Moira Nagorcka, Robert Wuchatsch and Kevin Zwar.
It is fitting that John Noack should be the elected leader of the Wendish Heritage Society Australia, a group he was so instrumental in establishing, in its 25th Anniversary year.