Estonian-Australians celebrate 60 years of Sõrve Estonian Children's Summer Camp
More than 260 people met on the shores of Lake Macquarie on the New South Wales Central Coast in Australia to mark the 60th Estonian Children's Summer Camp, Sõrve, from 1 to 8 January 2023.
The first family camp was held in 1953 to maintain the cultural ties of the then relatively small population of Estonians in Australia, following the displacement of the Second World War. In 1962, it moved to Point Wolstoncroft Sport and Recreation facility, where it affectionally became known as Sõrve because of the geographic similarities to the peninsula on the island of Saaremaa in Estonia. It has been held annually at this location ever since (except for in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic).
Estonian Ambassador to Australia, Ms Kersti Eesmaa, attended the diamond jubilee event on behalf of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Estonia.
Sulev Kalamäe, President of the Sydney Estonian Parents' and Friends' Association and Honorary Consul of the Republic of Estonia in NSW, said: "The role that Sõrve plays in bringing together succeeding generations of young people of Estonian heritage in Australia cannot be underestimated."
As a former camper and leader, Kalamäe added: "We now see fourth generations of Australian-born Estonians, as well as those who have come to Australia in more recent years, congregate for a week each Australian summer. While the two countries may be separated by great distance, there is a special bond between the two cultures. This year more than ever we reflect on the importance of preserving one’s culture at a time in history when the very existence of some nations is being threatened."
Sõrve has a longstanding tradition of providing Australian children with Estonian heritage the opportunity to enrich their cultural knowledge and provide them as young adults with opportunities to develop youth leadership skills, which flow to the wider Australian/Estonian community.
Australia now hosts the fifth largest Estonian community in the world. According to the 2021 Australian census, 11,598 Australians identified as having Estonian ancestry – this is a 21% increase compared with the previous census held in 2016.
Sõrve is run as a registered not-for-profit association. Each year a committee it elected by its members to administer the organisation of the camp and ensue the tradition is upheld. Major supporters are the Council of Estonian Societies in Australia, the Estonian Cultural Fund in Australia, the Estonian Embassy Canberra, and the Integration Foundation in Estonia.
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