Welcome all present at the Quo Vadis Conference

I have pleasure to represent the Polish Community Council of Australia. It exists since 1951 when majority of Polish organisations in Australia came to conclusion that they needed a top body that could speak on their behalf to the Australian Government. It was also necessary to have such representation for dealings with other Polish communities abroad. At that time Poland functioned under the Stalinist system imposed by the Soviet Union and there were no relations between the organized Polish Community and the Polish Peoples Republic. However, after the first free election in Poland after the World Second War, in 1989, all Polish communities in the World have been developing friendly and healthy relations with the Polish Government.
There were important issues when a strong voice of the Australian Polish community should and may influence decision making process in both Australia and Poland. For example: in 1999 the Polish TV, that was providing popular and widely watched program “Oto Polska” screened by SBS, sold this program to a private operator and this program was no longer screened by SBS. The Polish Community Council of Australia negotiated with SBS and Polish authorities in Poland to keep the spot for the Polish viewers. Finally it resulted , thanks to Polsat, in new program Kalejdoskop, free of charge. Later “Oto Polska” news program returned to SBS and the Polish community has even two programs to choose from now.
The second example: in year 2000 a local mayor of a shire comprising part of the Snowy Mountains presented publicly an idea of changing name of Mt Kosciuszko to, as he said, “something more Australian”. He added that “Poles should give us the name back”. The Australian media picked up an attractive topic. In the draft management plan for Kosciuszko National Park the authors proposed either to change the current name to the Aboriginal one or to give a dual name for the Summit.
It was a difficult issue because at that time it was very politically incorrect to have a different opinion than Aborigines or claim something that could belong to them. Fortunately it wasn’t Aborigines who made such claim. The local politician wanted to use them. Moreover, no Aboriginal name of Mt Kosciuszko ever existed and the author of the proposal could not even suggest any.
The Polish Community Council of Australia handled this issue from the very beginning. A number of letters were sent to appropriate authorities. Articles were published in the Polish media. Our council A published an attractive visually and strong with arguments Bulletin devoted to this issue. Some other organisations and individual members of the Polish community, acting independently joined a mass action. Kosciuszko Inc. opened a website promoting Mt Kosciuszko and the man who found it to be the highest mountain of the Australian continent – Sir Paweł Edmund Strzelecki. Another distinguished player in the field - Kosciuszko Heritage - was awarded a Medal of the Polish Community Council last year, for the outstanding cooperation with the Aboriginal community of the Snowy Mountains, and constant, very creative promotion of achievements of Paweł Edmund Strzelecki, and Tadeusz Kosciuszko.
A few years ago the threat of the name change has significantly diminished but we have to be vigilant. Mt Kosciuszko name is part of our heritage and the most popular Polish contribution to Australia. We feel that we are custodians of this Australian heritage.
For more than ten years the Australian Polish community has been a subject of defamations thanks to the Australian media. The most serious and frequent is the distortion of the history of Poland, particularly the events during World Second War. The last such case took place last year, in Brisbane, in the “Time Off” magazine – popular paper centred mostly on contemporary art and entertainment. They published an essay, allegedly funny, blaming the Polish people for Holocaust.
Two years ago we had to deal with organisations responsible for ethics in the advertisement industry. It was about a clip promoting Polish vodka through Polish drunks. In such cases our presidium - executive committee converts into an editorial body, does appropriate research, collects opinions and advice Polish community members, prepare draft responses, edits them and finally sends to the culprit. It is a big job that sometimes eventuates in publication.
During the turbulent time of Solidarity and martial law in Poland, members of the Polish Community Council of Australia organised and coordinated meaningful financial and material support for some institutions and organisations in Poland.
When there were serious floods in Poland, members of the Australian Polish Community also wanted to help and their eyes turned to the national organisation, which was able to coordinate collection of money and send it to a charitable organisation in Poland.
You can appreciate that many our activities can’t be planned. On behalf of the Polish community we have to respond to life, to real events that shape our position in this country. Sometimes an issue is so big and multi-layered that it requires a number of responses taken years.
Although we don’t comprise all organisations functioning within the Australian Polish Community, we are recognised by the Australian and Polish governments as the appropriate body to represent our community. Sometimes we are being asked for opinions or participate in certain events. We can initiate process of awarding orders.
As Quo Vadis – Australian Branch joined the Polish Community Council of Australia last June; I suggest that you look at our website polishcouncil.org.au, where you may find our constitution and more information about our activities, including president’s yearly reports and minutes of our congresses. You will be able to realize that we are working in a democratic way and our decisions are based on consultation and competency. Our members, organisations like yours, come with certain requests and our program is based on them. The very same organisations check later how we comply. But we don’t check them, nor give them orders.
For over two years, we have been trying to rejuvenate our organisation with understanding that our program must be attractive for young people. We also understood that we couldn’t do something that only young people can. Their participation in our council and their voice should be heard louder. We identified that within our existing structure we had three strong youth organisations: PolArt, scouts and students, however the last ones are usually represented by teachers. We did a lot of work with the PolArt community towards including its representation at the executive level. We hope that this work may be finalised this year.
I am attending this Quo Vadis conference to tell you how the Polish Community Council of Australia works and also to listen to your issues and concerns. You have a chance to enhance our program and opportunity to analyse our constitution from your point of interest and, please, come with your concepts. I, myself, and my committee, hope that you will help us to include concepts that will enrich not only Quo Vadis but also the whole “youth block” I just mentioned, in such a way that it would benefit the whole Polish population in Australia.
I am here to welcome all your questions and suggestions. I will take note of them and pass to my committee members during our meeting on 12th October.
Thank you for your attention.
Leszek Wikarjusz