Donaldson, Anita

Prominent Refugees, 2 January 1948

Anita Donaldson

Anita Donaldson

Dr Anita Donaldson, former Dean of Performing Arts at Adelaide University, was born in a children's refugee camp in Nazi Germany.

Her family had fled from their home in Latvia in October 1944 after the Soviets invaded for the second time. Donaldson's grandfather, a pharmacist, had disappeared in the first invasion, while her grandmother, a music teacher, had been sent to Siberia for 10 years. "This time there was no choice ... fleeing was the only option," she says.

Donaldson's mother and maternal grandmother packed whatever they could carry, buried the silver in the garden, and, together with Donaldson's eldest sister, set out on the long and difficult journey that would finally bring them to Australia. En route, Donaldson was born in Kampenwand camp.

Granted refugee status by the United Nations in Germany, the family made its way to Italy to catch the first available ship to Australia the SS Oxfordshire, bound for South Australia.

They arrived on a hot and dusty day in November 1949. Life in Australia began in the tin Nissan huts of Woodside Migrant Camp, where Donaldson's mother, a qualified dentist, worked in the camp hospital while her father worked for two years as a labourer. The camp provided a kindergarten, English language classes and various orientation sessions, but the main source of assistance came from individuals associated with various churches, the Church of Christ in particular.

Donaldson considers the emphasis placed by her parents on education as one of the most positive aspects of the exile experience. She is also proud of her dual cultural heritage. "Although I regard myself very much as an Australian, being Latvian is also an essential part of who I am."

She became a pioneer of dance education, developing the first centre for Dance Criticism and Choreological Studies in Australia. Following a Bachelor of Arts and Diplomas in Teaching, Dance Education and Physical Education, her 1993 doctorate was the first PhD in "pure" dance in Australia (although she had to go overseas to do it).

Donaldson was Dean of Performing Arts at Adelaide University from July 1993 to December 2000. She made a significant contribution to dance and the performing arts through her membership in university course accreditation committees nationally and internationally, her position on various government boards and advisory committees, as well as her reviews and newspaper articles.