On September 25, 2021, the well-known public figure and philanthropist Mikhail Moiseevich Ovchinnikov, founder and director of the first Russian Museum in Australia, ataman of the Consolidated Cossack village (stanitsa) in Australia, head of the Russian World Cabinet in Sydney, president of the World Cossack Brotherhood, publisher of the newspaper “Gorizont” (“Horizon”), printed in Russian in Australia, as well as a number of other Russian-language publications in this country, celebrates his 75th birthday. In Russia, with the support of Mikhail Moiseevich, the “ABC of Faith” dictionary was published. He also supported the construction of a number of churches in Russia and the restoration of the Cheremshansky Dormition Saint Serapion Monastery.
Mikhail Moiseevich’s grandfather Tikhon Kuzmich Bugaev left for Manchuria from the Trans-Baikal village of Dono after the Bolshevik revolution. From there, the Ovchinnikov family came to Australia. They and their compatriots had to create there a haven for the Russian soul, the Russian Old Believer faith. The spiritual life of Christians in Sydney was supported by the Church of the Nativity of Christ built there. Every year Russian emigrants got deeper and deeper into Australian society, and not everyone succeeded in preserving their customs, culture and faith.
“The Russians of the first waves of emigration who moved to Australia grow old and leave, while representatives of the younger generations of their families are no longer interested in Russian values and simply throw away many things,” Mikhail Ovchinnikov tells about the emergence of the idea of the museum. “It hurts to look at it. I have been pondering the idea of creating a Russian museum for many years and now I decided that it is time to do it. I was very surprised by the huge response that this initiative has found in our community. People bring us the reliquiae taken away from Russia by their ancestors, which are most precious for them.”
On March 28, 2016, when the museum opened, it consisted of only a few rooms. The exposition mostly consisted of books, secular and Old Believers’, which were placed on the shelves. There were also household items of the Cossacks of Transbaikalia of the 19th and early 20th centuries. The history of the Ovchinnikov family in photographs and documents which told about the family’s arrival to the Green Continent and how it settled here, was also presented.
More than five years have passed since that time. The museum has undergone significant changes, and it has become a beacon of the Old Believers and the Russian world in Australia. There are four main halls in the museum. In the main hall, two expositions stand out. The first is about Lidice, a small Czech town where children died at the hands of the Nazis in a concentration camp. The second is about Russian Harbin. It contains memoirs, photographs and poetry from 1898 to 1960.
In order to develop the theme of repeated forced emigration, a separate hall was required, which is called “Harbin hall”.
Another hall of the museum tells the story of a man who, in the first years of emigration, was able to unite compatriots from a foreign land. This is Dmitry Rechkalov, the fourth chieftain (ataman) of the Consolidated Cossack stanitsa. The main exhibits here are a hat and a whip of the ataman. These things are more than a century old. When Cossacks saw them, they understood what is the law and order for them and who can be their advocate for their interests in Australia. They knew that the ataman would solve their problems with the local authorities and that he would not tolerate disagreements inside the community…
In a separate room, holy objects and reliquiae are kept: prayer books, books, magazines, newspapers, paintings with faded colours. In the same room there is the Bible of Ataman Dmitry Rechkalov, published the century before the last and decorated with 208 illustrations.
The most common exhibit in the museum is a suitcase. Leather, wood and plywood, with metal and braided handles, worn and crumpled are witnesses of how Russian people came to Australia to start a new life and what they brought with them. There are many books by Russian classics and our contemporaries in the halls. There are items of traditional Russian folk life: samovars, nesting dolls and Dymkovo toys. There are also those that are witnesses of the Soviet era: commemorative coins, calendars, postcards.
The museum is being filled with exhibits donated by members of the Russian community, whose ancestors went through many trials. In each exhibit in this hall, the feelings of people who have twice left their homes because of the revolutionary events in Russia and China are reflected.
Metropolitan of Moscow and All Russia Korniliy and the Educational Department of the Russian Orthodox Old Rite Church send congratulations and wishes for bodily health, salvation of the soul and God’s help in everything to the ideological inspirer and organizer of the museum’s work, the hero of the day, Mikhail Moiseevich.