Czech Brisbane community tunes in to local roots

Lenka TeWhiu, photo: archive of Lenka TeWhiu

The Czech expatriate community in the Australian city of Brisbane only counts several hundred people, but they have always been very active in maintaining the Czech language and culture for future generations. One of the members of the local expat community is Lenka TeWhiu, who settled in Brisbane more than fifteen years ago. I caught up with her during her recent visit to Prague to talk about her life in Australia and about her work for a local radio station. But I first asked her how she herself ended up living in Australia:

Lenka TeWhiu | Photo: archive of Lenka TeWhiu
“I have lived in Australia for over 16 years. I was initially studying French and German at Charles University here in Prague, but I made some Australian friends and I wanted to improve my English, so I decided to interrupt my studies in the Czech Republic and enrolled in a six-month course in Australia.

“I went there just after the Olympic Games in Sydney in 2001. After I finished the course I decided to complete my studies there. I graduated from applied linguistics at the University in Queensland and I gradually found a job and a husband and ended up staying in Australia.”

So what did you like about Australia so much that you decided to stay there?

“It may sound superficial but the initial impression of Australia is that it’s a very welcoming country. People are very friendly, relaxed and helpful and they are very keen to include you in their community.

“Australia is in a way a very socialist country, in a good way. It is a country where people do care about each other. The attitude is very positive, very friendly welcoming and very warm. So that was my first impression of Australia and after 16 years I have to say that the feeling is still there, it hasn’t changed.”

Can you tell me more about the Czech community in Brisbane?

“The community in Queensland, particularly in Brisbane, is not as big as in Sydney. A lot of the members of the Czechoslovak club and the radio are of a senior age who came to Australia after WWII. These people are doing an amazing job with minimal finances.

“They are organising a number of activities for children of the newly arrived Czechs or children of the older generations. So the members are doing all they can for the Czech language not to die out.”

The Czechoslovak Club you are talking about was established already after WWII. Can you tell me more about it? And how did you become involved?

Brisbane,  photo: Brisbane City Council,  CC BY-SA 2.0
“I used to go to Czechoslovakian Club for many years with my husband but paradoxically we discovered the club through our Russian friends.

“It’s a club that’s open every Friday for dinners and for any special events around Easter Christmas and other public holidays. It organises activities for small children and grown-ups, festivals parties originally just for dinners.

“We originally just went for dinners but couple of years ago I was approached by the club’s secretary, who was looking for young people interested in broadcasting in the Czech radio, which helps to revive and maintain the Czech language.

“Because I was very interested in languages and in keeping contact with other Czechs I thought it was a brilliant idea. So I enrolled in a panel broadcasting course through a radio 4EB 98.1FM.”

So you work as a presenter and you are broadcast in Czech for Czech speakers in Brisbane.

“We broadcast for Czechs not just in Australia. We broadcast for Czechs or any other listeners around the world, because you can listen to us on website of the radio 4EB98:1FM. We have a website called ‘On Demand’, so anyone, including my family, relatives and friends can listen to us, even in the Czech Republic.

“We broadcast in Czech every Wednesday and every Saturday and on Friday we broadcast in Slovakian. Radio 4EB stands for ethnic broadcasting, so we broadcast in up to 53 foreign languages. The amazing thing is that whenever you come in, you would hear different languages coming out from the studios. It is quite a fascinating multicultural community.”

And what is interesting is that you also use programmes from Radio Prague’s own Czech station.

Milena Štráfeldová,  photo: Martina Bílá
“Yes we do. Mrs. Milena Štráfeldová from the Czech section of Radio Prague supplies us with regular news and we also get news from other stations. It is a fascinating work, you do learn a lot about yourself as well as the outside.

“People are able to call to the radio to request songs or make comments afterwards. We mainly broadcast live, so it is not always perfect. You hear a lot of paper scrunching and lots of other noises which I guess makes it a bit more real.

“The Czech community is interested in a mixture of information. They do want to hear some news and current events but because a lot of them still travel to the Czech Republic on a regular basis, they want to know about things such as currency or the weather.

“A lot of them just listen because of the Czech and Slovakian music. That’s something that brings them back to their era, it brings back memories. So we have to play fifty percent spoken word and fifty percent music.”

Have you had any previous experience with journalism?

“No, I didn’t. I had no experience with journalism before. I studied applied linguistics, so that was my only background. I work with computers software for languages, so it was a new experience, but very rewarding.”

As a person who studied languages and a mother of a young child, is it important for you to maintain Czech in the next generation?

“Yes, definitely, not just from the perspective of a linguist but also a Czech mother who has an Australian husband. I would like my daughter to be able to experience Czech culture through the language, because I think the better you speak any language the better you can understand the particular country.”