Heritage and New Horizons: Croatia and Croatians in a Global Context Conference

Macquarie University’s Croatian Studies Centre in partnership with the Croatian Studies Foundation hosted a 4-day conference from the 8th to the 11th of February celebrating the 40th anniversary of the introduction of Croatian Studies at Macquarie University.

This was a momentous occasion, acknowledging the continuation of the only institution in Australia where Croatian can be undertaken for tertiary education. The Conference titled Heritage and New Horizons: Croatia and Croatians in a Global Context Conference saw the multi-disciplinary collaboration of about 100 participants, with over 70 papers and a dozen books presented, in tandem with two poster exhibitions and a film screening.

The participants of the conference included interstate contributions from Australia with delegates from four other Australian universities, as well as from Croatia, the United States of America, Germany, Austria, Argentina, Ireland, Netherlands and New Zealand, showcasing the diversity of Croatian diasporic experiences and research, as well as this interdisciplinary knowledge conducted within Croatia itself.

To cater to this multi-regional participation in the conference, hybrid forms of in-person and online presentations were offered to the delegates. Among the more than 70 papers presented, knowledge from leading academics and practitioners in the field of social and other sciences, saw a diverse range of fields of research and foci including Croatian language and linguistics, history, archaeology, political and economic discourse and Croats and their achievements throughout the centuries.  

Current head of the Centre of Croatian Studies, Dr. Jasna Novak Milic, chaired the ceremonial opening of the conference on Thursday 8th of February along with keynote speakers Vesna Drapac and Ivan Hrstic.

In the evening of the first night, a film screening of The Countryman, directed and chaired by Peter Pecotic was broadcast, which followed his personal journey of retracing his father’s footsteps in the late 1950s to find the descendants of his home island of Korcula, Croatia. However, in the process he comes across a Waramungu artist Joseph Williams in desert country who believes his father is also of Croatian descent, highlighting the unique hybridity of Croatian and Australian culture, relevant to the diasporic experience. The film was exceptionally received by homeland Croatians part of the conference, being a testament to the cultural exchange of diasporic and homeland Croatians in their diversity of experiences, despite coming from the similar origins. This screening was also followed by a Q&A section with an online interview featuring Joseph Williams, and a catered reception dinner at the university. 

Other unique features of the conference included the two poster exhibitions; They Wrote in Glagolitic Script by Dr. Ivana Hebrang Grgić, of the University of Zagreb and Tie of Prominent Croatian Women and Men in the Diaspora by Nada Pritisanac Matulich, president of the American Croatian Congress, both showcased on Friday 9th of February.

On that night, a formal dinner was held in Curzon Hall for 170 guests, conference participants, alumni and current students of Croatian studies, and prominent members of the Australian-Croatian community such as Anthony Gurlica, president of the Croatian Studies Foundation, who gave a speech in celebration of the 40th anniversary and the conference. Other dignitary speakers included Ivica Glasnović, Consul General of the Republic of Croatia to NSW, Queensland and NT, H.E. Betty Pavelich, Ambassador of the Republic of Croatia to Australia, New Zealand and Fiji, Dario Magdić, Deputy director of the Central State Office for Croatians abroad, Ivan Tepeš, Deputy Director of the Croatian Heritage Foundation, and Dr. Jasna Novak Milić, Director of Croatian Studies at Macquarie University.

After the official processions of the dinner, guests were entertained by live music performed by a local Croatian band Pajdaši, and in typical Croatian style, guests danced until the late hours of the night. 

On the final day of the official part of the conference, 13 book presentations were given largely centered around the experiences of Croatian migration to Australia, particularly during the critical period of 1961-1976. These books oversaw personal stories, recounts, and political and economic circumstances of these experiences. Former director of the Croatian Studies Centre Luka Budak also gave a presentation on an overview of the Croatian Studies Foundation and his honorable contribution to its inception. 

On Sunday 11th of February, visitors mostly from Croatia, partook in an excursion to Wollongong, and participated in the Holy Mass at Mary Queen of the Croats Catholic Church guided by local Reverand Ivo Tadić. After lunch, the visitors spent the rest of the day visiting Wollongong and returned to Sydney in the late evening. The excursion day was unique regarding the insight of Croatian-Australian lives from the church visit, whilst also introducing homeland Croatians to the stereotypically Australian beachside experience of Wollongong.  

Overall, the Heritage and New Horizons: Croatia and Croatians in a Global Context Conference was a momentous occasion that enabled the cooperation of the Croatian academic community, exchange of reflections on current challenges for Croatia and Croats in the global context and opened the possibility for new international research.  

Text: Damian Shahfazli 

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