Date: 23 June 2018- 60 TH Anniversary
60 Years of Fellowship- A short history of the Premier Sri Lankan Organisation in Australia.
The Australia Ceylon Fellowship was founded on the 6 December 1957.
On reflection, it must have been quite an arduous task in the late 1950s to the day, the month of 1957 the year the Australia Ceylon Fellowship was founded. It is well documented the obstacles our founders had to overcome form an organisation which was primarily set up to help Sri Lankan families – then Ceylonese- to migrate to Australia. And put in place various programs to help these new settlers down under. White Australia policy prevailed and European genealogy had to be proven to enter Australia.
Mr. Benjamin Blaze whose dedication and determination coupled with his strong organisational skills made it possible for the Australia –fellowship to be formed and provide the necessary help for new migrants to be considered favorably to enter Australia. The inaugural meeting was held at the home of Mr. Benjamin Blaze in East Bentleigh. Those present at the first meeting were Mrs. Dorrit Blaze, John Blaze, Mr. and Mrs. R C W Paulusz, Mr. Hugh and Ione Aldons, Messers Peter Paulusz, Hal Keegal, Mrs. K Kalenberg, Mr. and Mrs. Lyons, and Mr. G Paulusz. At this meeting, a list of Ceylon settlers was drawn up. The first Annual General Meeting was held on the 25th January 1958 at The Armadale Presbyterian Church Hall. Mr. C E Foenander was elected as the FIRST PRESIDENT.
ACF life member Mr. Gerald DE Zilwa writing in the 40th issue of the ACF Journal “On Four Decades of Fellowship” provides a somewhat emotional account of the early beginnings’ of the Organisation. “ in the early years of the ACF was keenly focussed on establishing itself in the community. This called for extraordinary dedication and hard work. It was no easy task to come into a new country as a migrant where only a few countrymen existed, to try and establish a new organisation. It was of vital importance to bring people together, cultivate a common interest and sell the idea of forming a Fellowship to both Australians and the people of Sri Lanka. Fellowship is still very much the focus of the ACF.
The recorded minutes of the ACF disclose that in the early years the Executive meetings were poorly attended, but the organisation remained robust. It had accomplished a great deal more than what many could have imagined could have been possible. They placed Ceylon migrants on the map and made life easier for those who came later.
Although we celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of the Australia-Ceylon Fellowship Annual General Meeting this year, Ceylonese had been meeting as guests of the Warblers Club, for two years before 1958, enjoying a New Year’s Eve Dance each year and an occasional cricket match.
As one of the four remaining founder members of the Australia-Ceylon Fellowship (ACF) and the only one still active on the ACF Committee, I write this brief account of its genesis. In 1956 and 1957 it was a dream which I shared with my parents and others. The reality somewhat differs from the dream.
We were part of the diaspora of Ceylon, the land of our birth and heritage, reluctantly constrained to leave because of the increasing Sinhala nationalistic enthusiasm. We correctly anticipated that Ceylon was heading for racial conflict and discrimination due to a change of language emphasis. Australia held the promise of a future of opportunity and democratic stability. All of us were fluent in English and most of us had grown up with strong Judeo-Christian family values.
Migrating to Australia was expensive and had difficulties. In place was stringent, restrictive immigration policy. In those days travel by ship rather than air was less costly and also a would-be immigrant could bring more necessities by ship. Migrants had to comply with the “White Australia” Policy, evidence of ready employment and accommodation, good health and good character. Many could not meet all these criteria, particularly the cost.
We discovered that the immigrants from the United Kingdom and from parts of Europe received government financial assistance. As British Subjects, as we were then, we were entitled to immediate permanent residence and Australian Citizenship after living in Australia for twelve months. Our hearts ached for the people who wanted to come to Australia from Ceylon but could not meet the cost.
Previous approaches to the Minister of Immigration revealed the following facts regarding government financial assistance. Migrants from some parts of Europe and the United Kingdom had reciprocal financial agreements with the Australian Government and a sponsorship scheme in place. There was no hope of any such agreement with the Government of Ceylon. In fact, the Ceylon government made it more difficult as they introduced strict currency regulations. Those leaving Ceylon were only able to take 300 rupees (£30.00 Australian) per adult over 18 years and 150 rupees per person under 18 years. A very meager amount for any family wanting to start life in a new country. We were advised that if we had a sponsoring body to take the place of the Ceylon government we may overcome some of the difficulties.
The main aims of the sponsoring body, that we wished to set up, were to assist people from Ceylon to migrate to Australia, assist them in practical ways as they settled into their new life and work to integrate the new migrants into the community by building bridges with other Australians, through fellowship, as we shared our gifts and talents. Through my contacts in the Presbyterian Church, I met Rev. Alan Stuart who joined the Fellowship and introduced me to Miss Margaret Holmes the then Secretary to the
Australian Council for the World Council of Churches. Through this contact, after many meetings and much negotiation with the World Council of Churches and the Australian Government we were successful in receiving an interest-free loan of £100,000 to enable us to pay the passages of those who qualified to become Australian immigrants. The agreement was that the people would pay back the loans as they gained jobs so that we could bring more people to Australia. All loans, with the exception of one, were repaid. Most loans were repaid within two years.
To be eligible to receive the loan from the World Council of Churches we had to create a sponsoring body.
In 1957 eleven of us met to discuss the situation at the home of my parents, Dorrit and Benjamin Blazé. The eleven were Mr. Hugh and Mrs. Ione Aldons, Mr. Halroyd Keegel, Mr. Richard and Mrs. Viola Paulauz and their son Pieter, Mr. Benjamin and Mrs. Dorrit Blazé and their son John Blazé, Mrs. Kitty Kalenberg who had just arrived from Ceylon and Mr. Gerard Paulauz. Our average age was 35 years. We decided to work to become the sponsoring body to enable people to come to Australia from Ceylon. Benjamin was a genealogist and he was the onerous task of helping would-be migrants with their genealogies so that they could qualify to become immigrants, as well as helping to find jobs and accommodation for would-be migrants. We asked Victor Ebell, Douglas Fernando and Denis Moldrich from the Warblers Club for names and addresses of Ceylonese in Australia and contacted Members of Parliament, Clergy and Councillors and invited them to our first meeting. We held the first AGM of the ACF in 1958. Mr. C. E. Foenander, the former Salt Commissioner for Ceylon, was elected President. After discussing names such as the Australia-Ceylon Association, Brotherhood, Fellowship it was decided that the new association would be the Australia-Ceylon Fellowship. Multi-gifted Dorrit Blazé was requested to create the emblem. This aptly includes the elephant and the kangaroo in the emblem that we still enjoy today.
Many friendships were built in those early days with Members of Parliament, Councillors, clergy and other community leaders. This fellowship has continued throughout the years. In the early days, we challenged the Members of Parliament to cricket matches and defeated them!
Many of our people from Ceylon/Sri Lanka have made valued contributions to Australian society and we expect that our descendants will continue this legacy. We are very pleased to welcome leaders, as guests, to our function tonight.
Rev. John Blazé
Founder Member and Life Member