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Mid September 2021 Update

Estonian House Melbourne Future
working group responsibility
To provide solution options only, to the Executive Committees of the Estonian House Co-operative and Estonian Society of Melbourne which have the joint authority and responsibility to progress any of the solution options together with the members of their two organisations.

working group update as of mid September 2021
The Future Estonian House in Melbourne Working Group meets regularly and the most recent meeting was held on Sunday 12th September, 2021.

The Working Group’s current work plan
sep - oct 2021
  1. Meet with leaders of other ethnic communities in Melbourne to learn how they have addressed the future of their respective community centres (meetings to be held online due to the unpredictability of COVID restrictions).
  2. Collate the feedback gathered via the online survey and the series of meetings conducted from mid April to early October.
nov - mid dec 2021
  1. Analyse the collated feedback, conducting further research as required.
  2. Begin to draft solution options for the future Estonian House in Melbourne, conducting further research as required
  3. Review and finalise solution options for the future Estonian House in Melbourne
late dec 2021
  1. Present the solution options to the Executive Committees of the Estonian House Co-operative and Estonian Society of Melbourne
background
Melbourne Estonian Society Background ↗
The Executive Committees of the Estonian House Co-operative and Estonian Society of Melbourne (“Kodu”) wish to ensure Estonian House in Melbourne remains the important community hub that it has been to date.

Therefore, these committees commissioned a Working Group in early 2019, with the purpose of reporting on the following ::
  1. The broad requirements of a building that would support the needs of the Estonian Community in Melbourne through to 2025.
  2. Whether the existing building supports the needs of the Estonian community in Melbourne through to 2025.
  3. Solution options that would meet the needs of the Estonian Community in Melbourne through to 2025
  4. How each option could be implemented including in terms of how it would be managed, operated and maintained.
These activities are scheduled to extend into 2021, as the Estonian community in Melbourne nears the key milestones of
  • 70 years since the inaugural meeting of the Estonian House Co-operative in 1952
  • 50 years since the current Estonian House was opened in 1972, and
  • 30 years since Estonia regained her independence, easing communications and travel restrictions to and from Estonia.
key questions to be answered by the working group
As agreed with the Chairperson of the Executive Committee of the Estonian House Co-operative, the goal of the Working Group is to answer the following questions :
  1. What are the current space/building requirements of the Estonian community in Melbourne through to 2022?
  2. Does the current Estonian House meet the current space/building requirements of the Estonian community in Melbourne?
  3. How frequently does the Estonian community in Melbourne currently use Estonian House in Melbourne?
  4. Looking to the future through to 2025, what are the space/building requirements of the Estonian community in Melbourne?
  5. Looking to the future through to 2025, is a dedicated venue required to host Estonian activities in Melbourne?
  6. Looking to the future through to 2025, if a dedicated venue IS required in Melbourne, are the facilities and size of the current Estonian House appropriate?
  7. Looking to the future through to 2025 , if a dedicated hall IS NOT required in Melbourne, what type of venue and related arrangements are required?
the working group
The Working Group members are :
  • Imbi Knappstein (Bio)
  • Lembit Marder (Bio)
  • Kersti Nõgeste (Bio)
  • Michael Payne (Bio)
  • Bernadette Pilli (Bio)
  • Ain Utt (Bio)
frequently asked questions (FAQs)
The Working Group maintains a list of Frequently Asked Questions ↗.

contacting the working group
Should you have comments or questions, the Working Group may be contacted via the following email address : This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or paper mail addressed to The Future Estonian House Working Group c/- PO Box 6042 Collingwood North VIC 3066.
Why do we need to review the requirements for an Estonian House in Melbourne?
The Executive Committees of the Estonian House Co-operative and Estonian Society of Melbourne wish to determine whether an Estonian House in Melbourne is still relevant as a community hub.

Therefore these committees consider it important to plan for the future Estonian House by
  1. The broad requirements of a building that would support the needs of the Estonian Community in Melbourne through to 2025.
  2. Whether the existing building supports the needs of the Estonian community in Melbourne through to 2025.
  3. Options that would meet the needs of the Estonian Community in Melbourne through to 2025
  4. How each option would be implemented including in terms of how it would be managed, operated and maintained.
These activities are scheduled to extend from early 2020 through to the end of 2021, as the Estonian community in Melbourne nears the key milestones of
  • 70 years since the inaugural meeting of the Estonian House Co-operative in 1952
  • 50 years since the current Estonian House was opened in 1972, and
  • 30 years since Estonia regained her independence, easing communications and travel restrictions to and from Estonia.
Who is leading these planning activities?
The planning activities will be led by a Working Group jointly commissioned by the two Executive Committees. The Working Group which meets monthly comprises - Imbi Knappstein, Lembit Marder, Kersti Nõgeste, Michael Payne, Bernadette Pilli and Ain Utt. Working Group member biographies may be viewed by scrolling down this page - Working Group member biographies
The Working Group may be contacted via email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or paper mail addressed c/- PO Box 6042 Collingwood North VIC 3066.

How were the members of the Working Group selected?
The members of the Working Group were jointly selected by the Executive Committees of the Estonian House Co-operative and Estonian Society of Melbourne based on applications received in response to an advertised Expression of Interest.

Who can comment on the needs of an Estonian House in Melbourne?
Comments are welcome from all people who identify themselves as a member of the Estonian community in Melbourne, regardless of their level of involvement in Estonian community groups in Melbourne or attendance at formal events held at the current Estonian House in Melbourne.

How are members of the Estonian community in Melbourne be able to comment on the needs of the Future Estonian House in Melbourne?
As the Working Group’s activities draw closer to their planned completion at the end of 2021, community members are able to comment in the following ways:
  1. By completing the Individual and Family Survey, available - email addressed to - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or
    - paper mail addressed c/- PO Box 6042 Collingwood North VIC 3066
How will the Working Group formulate the solution options?
The Working Group’s recommendations will be formulated in response to the following key questions :
  1. What are the current space/building requirements of the Estonian community in Melbourne?
  2. Does the current Estonian House meet the current space/building requirements of the Estonian community in Melbourne?
  3. How frequently does the Estonian community in Melbourne currently use Estonian House in Melbourne?
  4. Looking to the future, what are space/building requirements of the Estonian community in Melbourne?
  5. Looking to the future, is a dedicated venue required to host Estonian activities in Melbourne?
  6. Looking to the future, if a dedicated venue IS required in Melbourne, are the facilities and size of the current Estonian House appropriate?
  7. Looking to the future, if a dedicated hall IS NOT required in Melbourne, what type of venue and related arrangements are required?
What options do we have regarding the future Estonian House in Melbourne?
In basic terms, there are probably two key options – “stay” or “go”. However, there are potentially many versions of both of these – how we might “stay” and where we might “go”.

Therefore, the Executive Committees of the Estonian House Co-operative and Estonian Society of Melbourne are being very careful not to go straight into “solution mode”. Instead they wish to start by gathering community requirements before defining options. The Executive Committees want the solution to meet current community requirements along with those forecast for the future.

The property value of Estonian House must have increased a lot since it was bought in the early 1970s, can members of the Estonian House Co-operative vote to sell it and share the profits of the sale amongst themselves?
No, this is not an option because, under Victorian state law, the Estonian House Co-operative is designated as a non-distributing co-operative which must abide by a set of rules that mandate “a non-distributing co-operative is prohibited from distributing any surplus to members”.

Once solution options have been proposed by the Working Group, who will decide which option is the best?
The Executive Committees of the Estonian House Co-operative and Estonian Society of Melbourne will determine the appropriate approvers and approval process based on the range of solution options. The Working Group will not be making any decisions. The role of the Working Group is to define solution options only. How do I stay up to date with the Working Group’s activities and progress?
Working Group updates are included in “Teateleht” (the Estonian Society in Melbourne’s member newsletter), on the Melbourne page of the estonia.org.au and the Facebook group related to the Estonian community Melbourne

Estonian House is the cultural home for Estonians living in Melbourne and has been the focus of numerous festivals, events and commemorations for many decades. The first Estonian House was in Sydney Rd, Coburg. Due to the need for a larger premises to enable greater participation the current venue at 43 Melville Rd, Brunswick West was purchased and officially opened in 1972. ''Eesti Maja'' continues to provide a "home" for a number of regular culturally focused activities. The property is owned by the Estonian House Co-operative Limited and its ongoing operation and maintenance is shared with the Estonian Society of Melbourne Incorporated.

The Melbourne Estonian Hall is centrally located. It’s a large hall with kitchen facilities, and additional smaller rooms available for hire. The hall is owned by the local Melbourne Estonian Co-op, and can be a great venue for your next event.

  • Theatre, stage shows and gigs
  • Charity events
  • Corporate functions
  • Quiz nights and other social functions
  • Wedding receptions
  • Regular classes (such as dance, music, yoga)
  • Convenient & central location in West Brunswick
  • Generous sized hall with traditional raised stage
  • Timber floor throughout – a great dancing surface
  • Evaporative air-conditioning (main hall only)
  • Tables (Round/rectangular) & chairs available – for up to 300 people
  • Heating available – for a small extra charge

Please see the schedule at the Melbourne Events Calendar

AESL Aukiri 2021 Award to Hilja Toom

Background - Estonians in Australia
It can be safely assumed that people from the region recognised as Estonia have been arriving in Australia since the time of early European settlement. However, Estonian language, culture and traditions were not formally celebrated in Australia until the early 20th century when the Estonian Society of Sydney and Estonian Society in Melbourne were established in 1912 and 1914 respectively. By 1924, nearly 200 Estonians were formally recorded as living in Australia. By 1929, this number had increased to nearly 900.
The greatest influx of Estonian immigrants occurred between 1947 and 1955, when an additional 5329 people arrived, with the vast majority being assisted refugees seeking a safe haven far from war ravaged Europe. After settling into their new lives in Australia, the post World War II arrivals joined and expanded upon the local Estonian Societies’ community groups which included sports clubs, folk dancing groups, men’s, women’s and mixed choirs, drama clubs, Estonian cultural/language schools, art and craft clubs, libraries, scout and girl guide troops and church congregations. These varied and highly active groups provided members of the immigrant community with the opportunity to socialise with fellow Estonians, perpetuate and promote key aspects of Estonian language, culture and traditions in Australia.

The Estonian Society in Melbourne
Estonian Society in Melbourne - 100 Years 1914-2014 44 page PDF booklet
On 8 February 1914, during the first meeting of the Estonian Society in Melbourne, a draft constitution was approved with the purpose of the Society being “to assemble Estonians in Melbourne and its environs for the common mutual spiritual and mutual support”. Unfortunately, this initial version of the early Estonian Society in Melbourne ceased activity six years later in 1920, remaining inactive for the next 18 years.
In 1938. the revival of the Estonian Society in Melbourne included the Society being named “Kodu” (“Home”); a name which continues to the present day.
As described above, the influx of post World War II arrivals heralded a new era for Estonian communities in Australia, including an increase in the membership of the Estonian Society in Melbourne.

The Estonian House in Melbourne
On 22 June 1951, decisions made at the Estonian Society of Melbourne AGM resulted in the Estonian House Co-operative being registered as a separate not for profit entity in December 1951. The purpose of the Estonian House Co-operative was to find a building that could become a home for the Estonian Society of Melbourne. As communicated (in Estonian) by the inaugural meeting of the Co-operative in February 1952, “The house will be our oceanic continent’s beacon to show the way, to carry and develop all the noble and beautiful things that Estonians have to offer to their fellow citizens and to pass their rich cultural origins on to their future generations
The money required to purchase a building was raised via a combination of community fundraising events and the sale of membership shares in the Estonian House Co-operative. Since the Co-operative is a not for profit organisation, the monetary value of each membership share does not change; it stays the same as when originally purchased. Following the conversion to decimal currency on 14th February 1966 the value of each of these membership shares was simply converted to the equivalent value in decimal currency.

The Estonian House in Melbourne – Sydney Road, Coburg
In early 1955, the Co-operative purchased a single fronted shop and residence at 67 Sydney Road, Coburg. After many months of painstaking volunteer work by community members, the building was officially opened as the Melbourne Estonian House on 4 December 1955.
The Melbourne Estonian House in Coburg truly did become the “home” (Kodu) of the Estonian community in Melbourne, with the building humming with near constant use by the various community groups. Due to its size, the building was limited to hosting only small scale community events, with larger events being held in halls specifically rented for the occasion.

The Estonian House in Melbourne – Melville Road, West Brunswick
In January 1970, a decision was made to search for larger premises that could accommodate the needs of the local community and in anticipation of the Estonian Society in Melbourne hosting the bi-annual Estonian Festival in Australia at the end of 1972.
In early July 1971, the Co-operative purchased the former Marco Polo cinema building at 41-43 Melville Road, West Brunswick. The money required to purchase the building was raised from the sale of the Sydney Road property, community fundraising events and the sale of additional membership shares in the Estonian House Co-operative. Since the Co-operative is a not for profit organisation, the monetary value of each membership share does not change; it stays the same as when originally purchased.
During the next 18 months, thanks to countless hours of voluntary labour, the former cinema was totally refurbished to include function spaces, meeting rooms, offices and kitchens whilst retaining key internal architectural features. Indeed, the scale and the transformation of the building was such, that during the Opening Ceremony in 1972 it was described as being on par with any Estonian House in the world.
Since 1972, in accordance with its historic intention, Estonian House in Melville Road has operated as the focal point for local Estonian cultural events, including commemorative and celebratory functions, folk dancing and choir rehearsals and concerts, drama rehearsals and plays, the Estonian language school, handicraft club, library, and scout and girl guide troops. This variety of activities has enabled members of the Estonian community in Melbourne to maintain their knowledge and experience of Estonian language, culture and traditions.
In August, 1991, the country of Estonia restored its independence, leading to the gradual easing of travel restrictions to and from Estonia. As a result, members of the Estonian diaspora including those in Australia, were able to gain direct access to their Estonian language, culture and traditions. Access which up until then, had primarily been provided by functions, rehearsals, meetings and classes held at their local Estonian House.
Since the early 2000s, the frequency of, participation in and attendance at functions, rehearsals, meetings and classes at the Estonian House in Melbourne has gradually decreased This is due to a combination of factors including the easing of travel restrictions, the increasingly widespread use of the internet and the shifting demographic profile of the local Estonian community – from the generation of post World War II arrivals to their Australian born children and grandchildren and recently arrived temporary and permanent Estonian immigrants.

The Estonian House in Melbourne – Looking to the Future
As we enter the third decade of the 21st century, the Executive Committees of the Estonian House Co-operative and Estonian Society of Melbourne wish to ensure Estonian House in Melbourne remains the important community hub that it has been to date. Therefore, these committees consider it important to plan for the future Estonian House by
  • Reviewing current and future requirements
  • Identifying options for the future Estonian House in Melbourne, and
  • Proposing a recommended solution for the future Estonian House in Melbourne.
These activities have been scheduled to extend from early 2020 into 2021, as the Estonian community in Melbourne nears the key milestones of
  • 70 years since the inaugural meeting of the Estonian House Co-operative in 1952
  • 50 years since the current Estonian House was opened in 1972, and
  • 30 years since Estonia restored its independence.

Story of the Western Theatre, East Brunswick before it became Estonian House in 1972

Melville Rd near Victoria Street is a busy retail and business centre nowadays, but the sound of lions roaring at the Melbourne Park Zoo could easily be heard a mile or two up the new tramline when a resourceful real estate agent named Thomas Gladstone Dowsley built the Western Picture Theatre.

Glad Dowsley, like his father before him, had through his thriving real estate agency, been deeply involved with the development of the north-west Brunswick area ever since the land was first subdivided back in 1920.  But the real catalyst for Dowsley to open a theatre was the spectacular development of the area following the construction of the tramline.  By 1927, only 12 months after the first tram had travelled up Melville Road, most of the empty land which swept down to the banks of the pristine Moonee Ponds creek had given way to urbanisation.  Glad Dowsley then formed the Western Theatre Pty Ltd. and soon after, the Western started to rise on the south-west corner of the Melville Road and Victoria Street as a symbol of the progress of the area.

It has not been recorded who designed the theatre, but it had some interesting variations: the most notable being its arch-shaped entrance and a distinctive curved roof instead of the predominantly slanted ones that were a part of the structure of every other Brunswick theatre.

Because of its elevated position it was (and still is) a large landmark, even to the point of being used as advertising billboard that was very easily seen by the patrons at the Moonee Valley Racecourse.

As a Greater Union Theatre, it opened without fanfare sometime early in 1928.  The first mention in the press was in the Coburg Leader on 20 April, when it reported on the success of a picture night at the Western in aid of the Brunswick Amateur Football Club.

The many social occasions such as this which were recorded at the Western make it clear that all early managers, Messrs. Macallum, Allardice and Oneill, were very much involved with the needs of the local community.  As the depression deepened and poverty wrecked the lives of so many in Brunswick, these occasions took on a sense of urgency.  The Western first started to show the talkies on 5 October 1939, but soon the advertisements for the exciting new talkies in the Brunswick and Coburg Gazette were sharing the front page with chilling headlines starkly describing the parlous plight of Brunswick’s many un-employed residents. 

Times were bad for everyone and whilst the soup kitchens were busy, picture theatres were not.  Many closed down or converted into boxing stadiums or mini indoor golf courses.  Fortunately this did not happen to the Western, but the fact that after 1932 Burnley theatre are recorded in the rate books indicates that the Western theatre company was not spared from the inevitable economic difficulties.  (Burnley theatres continued as the owners until 1942, and after that as leasees to Western Theatres (not theatre) until 1946.  Then Western Theatres became both the owner and occupier of the property).

These changes did not affect the friendly approach of the Western management with both patron and employee.  Andy Romer, a former projectionist, still has happy memories of working at the theatre.  “I had some wonderful times there” said Andy.  “One Saturday arvo the manager, Mr Alladice, let me climb on the roof to see Phar Lap run in his last Australian race at Moonee Valley.”

John Mackay who has lived most of his life in West Brunswick, went to the Western soon after it opened.  In a recent brief interview he said, “The first half of the program was all vaudeville.  Some of the artists were well known radio personalities, and most of them were real good.  But when the crowds were low, the (management) regularly brought back the picture “Naughty Marietta” because everybody loved it so much and that always brought back the crowds”.

“Naughty Marietta” was a film version of a famous stage operetta.  Given the public’s love affair with musical comedies, it must have been the thrill of a lifetime when two of the biggest names in Australian musical comedy agreed to appear live at the Western.

The first was Robert Chisholm, originally born in West Brunswick (and a Western Theatre shareholder) who had become a famous musical comedy star on Broadway, returned to his old haunt for a few brief, but extremely well received season in July 1930.  The event, according to the advertisement in the Brunswick and Coburg Gazette was an “Attraction Extraordinary.”

The following June, a front page story in the same paper carried the exciting news that the great Gladys Moncrieff, the undisputed Queen of Australian musical comedy, would “star at the Western”.  (The Western had to share this honour with the Moonee Ponds in Puckle Street.  Once Gladys performed at one theatre she was whisked away by car to the next.)

“Our Glad” had agreed to this arrangement because of her deep concern that not many could afford to travel into the city – a good sport, she had insisted that no more than the usual movie ticket price be charged for the occasion.

The coming of the Second World War signalled the end of live shows at the Western.  But in those worrying times people were at least employed, and as a result, there was an almost unprecedented resurgence in picture theatre attendances.  At last, the shareholders received worthwhile profit for their investments.

This pleasing state of affairs continued unabated until the late 1950s when television wrecked attendances.  On 28 May 1960 the last picture at the Western was screened.  On 6 December that year a special meeting of the directors and shareholders of the company voted to wind up the company.  It then had a chequered existence.

It was a vast store for the New England Loading Equipment Company and then reverted to a cinema.  It was known as the Marco Polo, and screened (mainly) Italian Films.

Finally, in late 1969, it was purchased by the Estonian Community in Melbourne and after 2 years of voluntary renovations by the community members it was officially opened in January 1972 as Estonian House, the largest Estonian House in the world.  This building has served as the community headquarters since that time.  Estonia, is a northern European country, which was under soviet occupation at the time the house was officially opened.  Many of the people involved in its development were post war refugees who had found a home in Australia but still felt a need to maintain their cultural heritage.  The house was a place that all Estonians could come to speak and learn the language, sing in choirs, learn handicraft skills of their elders and practice folk dancing.  It was hoped that through this activity the Estonian culture would remain alive at a time when soviet occupation was trying to eliminate it. 

Today, Estonia is again an independent country (since 1991) and a member of the European Economic Union.  The original purpose of the house has altered.  The Estonian Community in Melbourne is much smaller and the need to maintain the culture in exile is no longer as required, however there are still active third generation elements within the community who wish to learn the language, sing and continue to dance.  Whilst this interest is still alive the house will continue to exist as the Estonian House in Melbourne.

The former Melbourne Estonian House (1955-1972) at 67 Sydney Rd Coburg as it exists today.

Estonian House Co-Operative
  • Matti Kivivali - Chairman
  • Matti Põldoja - Vice Chairman
  • Kuno Mikkor - Secretary
  • Jeanette Kivivali - Treasurer
  • Rein Valling - Assistant Secretary
  • Leo Adamson - Assistant Treasurer
Melbourne Eesti Ühing
  • Bernadette Pilli - Chairperson
  • Gabry Mikkor - Deputy Chairperson
  • Milvi Vaikma - Treasurer
  • Maret Wocaldo - Secretary
  • Reet Hammond - Assistant Secretary
Future Estonian House Workgroup
  • Imbi Knappstein
  • Lembit Marder
  • Kersti Nõgeste
  • Michael Payne
  • Bernadette Pilli
  • Ain Utt

43 Melville Rd
West Brunswick VIC 3055

General: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Melbourne Estonian House future workgroup: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.