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Herendi, János (John) (1925–2011)

by Attila Urmenyhazi

Son of a machine toolmaker, János (John) Herendi was born in the historic city of Eger, in Northern Hungary, in 1925. After completing his secondary schooling at the Roman Catholic Cistercian college, he studied Philosophy and Humanities at the Péter Pázmány University of Budapest. He counted himself fortunate and privileged to witness excavations under archeologist Dr. Vidor Pataki around the famous, national heritage Castle of Eger, which unearthed objects of enormous museological significance. At the outbreak of WW II he quit his studies and fled with his family to Austria.

Proficient in German, Herendi attended classes at the Faculty of Medicine in Graz for two and a half years. In 1947, seeking a secure and intellectually rewarding career, he moved to England where he worked as a brickworks hand. To years later he returned to Austria to rejoin his parents and his sister. They decided to migrate to Australia.

The family arrived in Adelaide where they settled in a foreign but welcoming surrounding. Lacking proficiency in English, John, again, had to contend with menial work, working as fettler for the railways for eleven years. In 1952 he married Martha Gaszner, a compatriot; they had two sons, John and Erik. Studying at night, he obtained his BA degree at the University of Adelaide in 1966. Afterwards he taught Social Studies, General Science, German, Hungarian Studies and Multicultural Studies at high schools until his retirement in 1985. He also helped establish Hungarian as a matriculation subject in South Australia.

Herendi played a major role in welcoming, and helping fellow Hungarian refugees settle in Australia. President of the Council of Hungarian Associations in South Australia (1973- 1988) and the Federal Council of the Hungarian Associations in Australia and New Zealand (1975-1977), he ardently supported the work of the Good Neighbour Council, welcoming migrants from Europe, and the Captive Nations Association, which included representatives from various ethnic organisations who aimed to bring public awareness of the tyranny and oppression suffered in Communist-dominated European countries (1953-1989).

In 1966 Herendi joined the Hungarian Scouts in Adelaide as secretary, and was a scoutmaster from 1970 to 1978. In 1959 he helped to establish, and taught at, the Hungarian Language School to keep the Hungarian culture alive amnogst the younger generation. From 1985 he was principal of the school's successor, The Hungarian Community School, and, with his wife, Martha Herendi, taught Hungarian to youngsters until their retirement in 2001.

Herendi was well known throughout Australia for his key role in the success of four Hungarian Cultural Conventions held in Adelaide: 1976 (3rd), 1988 (7th), 1997 (10th ), 2003 (12th), which celebrated Hungarian cultural heritage through concerts, exhibitions, talks and lectures, balls, folk dance shows, etc.

With the steadfast help of his loving wife Martha, John worked tirelessly in running, editing and publishing a Hungarian monthly periodical, Adelaidei Magyar Értesitõ, the Hungarian Bulletin of Adelaide, for 25 years. He was always ready to undertake a key role in organising and promoting the occasional ethnic folk art exhibition, food tasting carnival, etc. alongside his many other commitments. In retrospect, the most important roles among the countless voluntary tasks he undertook in life, that brought him fulfilment, were teaching and promoting Hungarian culture in multicultural Australia—his much loved, adopted homeland.

Herendi was a well known organiser and charity fund raiser, and a regular collector for the Red Cross. Under his direction, the scouts raised $2000 for the victims of Cyclone Tracy, the Premier's Bushfire Appeals, and the "Help Poland Live" appeal. In 2006 he was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia, for "service to the Hungarian community of South Australia through cultural, social welfare and educational activities, and to the promotion of multiculturalism". He led a very active life as a well loved and highly respected leader of the Hungarian community. An altruistic educator, humble family man, and outstanding Hungarian-Australian, John Herendi passed away in Adelaide on 5 August 2011, aged 86.

Original publication

  • Obituaries Australia, 2012

Citation details

Attila Urmenyhazi, 'Herendi, János (John) (1925–2011)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/herendi-janos-john-14655/text25790, accessed 26 August 2019.

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