THE Estonian Cultural Foundation in Australia (fKA Estonian Relief Committee)
Once known as the Eesti Abistamise Komitee (EAK), or in English, the Estonian Relief Committee (ERC), it was constituted on the 22 July, 1945, when a group of well-meaning people of Estonian origin met in Sydney and formed a provisional committee to prepare a constitution for the proposed organisation. The constitution was then developed and the organisation was duly registered with the then NSW Chief Secretary’s Department as a non-profit welfare agency.
The Committee was very active in its early years in assisting refugees of Estonian origin in war torn Europe with aid parcels, comprising mainly clothes, and later by facilitating the migration of many of these refugees to Australia. During the first ten years of its life, the Committee dispatched some 700 food parcels to refugees in post war Europe and arranged landing permits for 3500 prospective immigrants to Australia.
The concept of establishing an Estonian Retirement Village in the vicinity of Thirlmere some 100 km from Sydney, arose in the mid 1950’s. At that time there were over 60 families of Estonian origin living in Thirlmere township and its surrounds. Many of these people were highly industrious and were making a good living from poultry farming. This was seen as a good support base for the proposed Village.
A 6 ha parcel of land located on Estonian Road, Thirlmere was purchased in 1957 and the first building, which provided accommodation for 10 people, was occupied in February, 1962. In 1999, the Village was comprised of 73 one and two bedroom units together with a hostel complex comprising of 39 beds. The two hostel facility also contained a respite room, nurse’s accommodation and a small flat for the Manager. A multipurpose hall was completed in the grounds of the Village in 1997.
On the 15th of January, 2002, the organisation was incorporated as a company limited by guarantee under the New South Wales Corporation’s Law. At this time, the Company had about 120 members.
As the years passed, it became increasingly difficult to maintain the facility due to high costs, funding becoming tighter and that scourge of modern times, “bureacracy”. An increasingly stricter regulatory framework for the Aged Care Industry meant that the Board at the time had to spend more time and effort to ensure compliance. For well meaning volunteers, this was a burden to great too carry by themslves. In 2011-12, the Board made a conscious decision to seek out a like-minded organisation with whom they could share the costs and responsibilities entailed in managing Taara Gardens.
By late 2012, the ERC completed a transaction with RSL LifeCare which saw Taara Gardens taken over in its entirety. It was the best decision ERC had ever made and guaranteed the future and well-being of all of its residents.
As part of the transaction, the ERC was left with a reasonable amount of cash funds and following its absorption of the Thirlmere Estonian Society – “Koit”, these funds grew to approximately $800,000. It was then decided to amend its mode of operation with the objective of funding people or organisations that would promote future Estonian culture in Australia.
In 2020, the ERC changed its name to the Estonian Cultural Foundation in Australia (ECFA) in Estonian translating to Eesti Kultuuri Sihtasutus Austraalias (EKSA). This also included a new website and new identity facilitated by Kristi Barrow and Lachlan Bell.