A Latvian love story

Glenida and Andy in their Wantirna home of 57 years. Photo: Grace Ashford.
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For many migrants, immigration is a lonely and isolating experience. However almost 50 years of marriage shows the strength of culture in bringing people together in a new diverse Australian society. Grace Ashford reports.

If it wasn’t for the Latvian community decision to hold regular dances in post World War II Melbourne, a Wantirna couple now married for almost 60 years say they might never have met.

Glenida and Andy Zutenis started dating after meeting at a New Year’s Eve dance in the summer of 1960.

Just a year later the two post-War migrants from the Latvian capital, Riga, were wed and settled in a quiet Knox City council neighbourhood, embarking on a new Australian life together.

 

Andy and Glenida on their wedding day in 1961. Photo courtesy Grace Ashford.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The couple share stories of camps, bombings and finding their feet in a new country.

“I was only three,” Mrs Zutenis recalls her earliest wartime memory. “I remember being woken up, bundled up in blankets, and taken underground to a cellar to shelter from bombings.”

Mr Zutenis remembers an air attack in February of 1945.

“You could see the sky was black from planes. We weren’t sure if our town would last the night.”

When discussing a particularly significant bombing, Mrs Zutenis asks her husband, “How many people died that night?” Mr Zutenis replies, “Oh, I think about 30,000.”

The Department of Immigration’s initiative to grow the Australian population brought the two and their family to Australia in the 1950s.

Both describe arriving via boat and instantly being “stuck in another camp”. An army camp turned migrant reception and training centre, Bonegilla, in Wodonga was a home for both Glenida and Andy at different points in their migrant experience.

As an able-bodied man over sixteen, Andy faced two years of assigned work upon his arrival, while Glenida grew up there, attending classes and awaiting her family’s settlement.

“I used to go to local dances at the town hall,” she says. “Except I was only allowed every second weekend.”

On New Year’s Eve of 1960 at the Royal Exhibition Building in Carlton, the two met at an event held to celebrate Latvian music culture.

Nowadays, the couple enjoy their retirement comfortably, enjoying the music and culture of their native Latvia that brought them together 58 years ago.