Vytautas Vaclovas DONIELA, Dr.Phil.

Dr. Vytautas (also known as William or Bill) Doniela is an academic by profession who, until his retirement as Associate Professor of Philosophy, lectured at the University of Newcastle, NSW. In an article contributed by Dr. Maurita Harney to "Essays on Philosophy in Australia" (Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht / Boston / London, 1992), edited by Jan T. J. Srzednicki and David Wood, she notes that "William V. Doniela...was to become a prominent figure in the development of contemporary European philosophy in Australia and a scholar of international repute in this area" (p. 134-135). Dr. Doniela has also been active in the Lithuanian community and has held a number of posts there.
As a person Dr Vytautas Doniela is one of those rare individuals who is gifted in more than one area. He combines considerable scholarly achievements and an aptitude and love for pedagogical work and research. He has a pleasant personality, is easy to talk to and very helpful. He kindly agreed to be interviewed by Isolde Poželaitė - Davis AM, cultural reporter for the Sydney Lithuanian Website SLIC.

Prof. Vytautas Doniela
I.P-D: Will you please tell us about your place of birth and family background?
V.D: I was born on 12th February 1930 in Skuodas, which is in the Žemaitija part of Lithuania, though some of my early youth was spent in Plungė, also in Žemaitija, where my father, Povilas Doniela, owned a bookshop and my mother Paulina, nee Putriutė, was principal of one of the local schools. My early schooling, too, took place in Plungė, which our family left in the summer of 1944 as the Red Army approached. I had a younger sister, Danutė, born on 10 April, 1937. She had a strong inclination for art, enjoyed creating and exhibiting ceramics, but succumbed to cancer in 2005 in Sydney.

I.P-D: Where did you continue your school studies?
V.D: War's end was witnessed by our family in South Germany, in what later was termed the French Zone, but soon we moved north, to the British Zone. Within a matter of months Lithuanian schools were established in the numerous refugee camps which, however, were frequently moved around and restructured. So I passed through Camp Montgomery, Seedorf, Stade and finally obtained my High School Certificate at Dedelstorf.

I.P-D: Why and how did you eventually settle in Australia?
V.D: By 1948 - 1950 refugees in the so-called Displaced Persons camps were offered selective re-settlement by such Western countries as the USA, Canada, Great Britain and so on. Another host country was Australia, whose migration officers were active mainly in the British Zone of Germany. Having just completed secondary school, I and several schoolmates ventured to emigrate to this distant and somewhat exotic land. Our migrant ship, the Protea, departed from Venice, Italy, on 21st August 1948 and arrived in Melbourne on 29th September. Incidentally, as the ship was run by an Italian crew, for five weeks the menu consisted of some basic varieties of pasta. It was only some 8 years later, as a postgraduate student back in Europe, that I had a go at spaghetti again.

I.P-D: I assume, that like any other postwar refugee migrant from Europe, you were subject to a two-year contract to work where the government sent you.
V.D: Yes. After an initial warming up spell (that particular summer happened to be a hot one) at the Bonegilla sorting camp near Albury, Victoria, a group of us, mainly seventeen, eighteen, nineteen year olds, were sent to an open-cut coal mine in Leigh Creek, South Australia. At that time job placement was a matter of chance. In my very first Australian document of identity my profession was inscribed neatly as Cane Cutter, but before long I did just as well as Coal Miner. Eventually I was permitted to transfer to Sydney, based on my application for admission to the University of Sydney. Here I joined up with the rest of my family, who had arrived in Australia some half a year later than I did and had passed through different jobs and domiciles.

I.P-D: So your next stepping stone was the University of Sydney?
V.D: In 1950 I enrolled in the Faculty of Arts, first as a part-time student because my government contract had not yet run its full course. My First Year exam results brought me a Commonwealth Scholarship, which was later extended repeatedly and supported me, in addition to my summer jobs, for the next three years. In 1954 I graduated Bachelor of Arts with First Class Honours in Philosophy. In 1956 I obtained Master of Arts with First Class Honours, also in Philosophy, and was awarded a Sydney University Travelling Scholarship.

Vytautas Doniela as a PhD candidate at the University of Freiburg
I.P-D: Which overseas university did you choose for your doctoral studies?
V.D: I had been thinking about the University of Goettingen in West Germany, which traditionally had been known for mathematics and the sciences, though for me its main pull was the philosopher Nicolai Hartmann, who was doing interesting work on ontology. Regretfully, he passed away unexpectedly, and I went to Freiburg, my second choice. In the event, I was more than satisfied. In 1959 I submitted there a dissertation on the relation of logic to ontology ( Zum Verhaeltnis der Logik zur Ontologie) and was awarded Dr.phil. cum laude. A few months later I was back in Australia as a Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Newcastle. Eventually I retired, as Associate Professor of Philosophy, in 1987 after a service to the University of 28 years.

I.P-D: In Australia, university staff are given opportunities, the so-called sabbaticals, to spend a year doing specialist research at other universities. Where did you go?
V.D: At first sabbaticals were awarded after six years of lecturing, but with lengthy ship voyages giving way to much faster plane travel, sabbaticals came to be awarded after three years, for a period of six months. In England, I spent some time at Oxford, later at the University of Sussex and at the London School of Economics and Political Science. In Germany, I went to the University of Heidelberg, but when my special interests increasingly turned to the German philosopher Hegel (1770 - 1831), I spent four half-years in the Hegel Archives, which was also a centre of Hegelian studies at the University of Bochum.

I.P-D: As a Hegel scholar you gave papers at several international Hegel conferences. Where? Moreover, you were quite active in philosophy conferences in Australia and arranged conferences in your home university in Newcastle.
V.D: After my first journey to Prague in 1966, I gave papers at international Hegel conferences in Moscow, Salzburg, Belgrade, Oxford and, somewhat fittingly before retiring, in Athens. In Australia, I gave some 10 papers at professional philosophy conferences, including 3 or 4 at the annual meetings of the Phenomenology Association, of which I was a founding father. As for philosophy conferences at the University of Newcastle where we had an active Philosophy Club, I enjoyed arranging the First Hegel Conference in Australia, one on Contradiction and one on Aesthetics.

I.P-D: You once wrote that one of your favourite courses you gave at the University of Newcastle was entitled "Egalitarianism and Authoritarianism". Is there a link between it and your stay at the London School with its star professor Karl Popper?
V.D: Not quite. I do think that Karl Popper's "The Open Society and its Enemies" is a powerful landmark, but my course on "Egalitarianism and Authoritarianism" was related rather to the work of professor John Anderson of Sydney University and Hegel, plus Erich Fromm and some other Neo-Freudians. Perhaps I should add that another favourite course of mine was on the history of the foundations of logic. It was a rather dry and specialised course, but it developed in much greater detail a theme I had taken up in my doctoral studies.

Vytautas Doniela with his wife Dalia at the Olympic Park in Sydney
I.P-D: If I am not mistaken, most of your academic work has been done in Australia and written or published in the English language. But you have published in Lithuanian as well, at least in "Metmenys" and in "Lietuvių Enciklopedija".
V.D: My links with the Lithuanian community have always been strong. In my younger days I was active in the Santara-Šviesa organization, which had started off as a post-war Lithuanian student association, but with time and maturation of its members it turned into a cultural-intellectual society. I have contributed to its journal "Metmenys" and have a couple of articles in its collective publication "Lietuviškasis Liberalizmas", edited by Vytautas Kavolis in 1959. At a more professional level, I was enthusiastic about the production of "Lietuvių Enciklopedija", published in 37 volumes in Boston, USA, to which I contributed about one half of the entries on philosophical topics, some 180 in all. Regretfully, Soviet occupation of Lithuania made it practically impossible to participate in the efforts of home-based Lithuanian academia, but after Lithuania regained independence in 1990 I was invited to join the Senate of the reconstituted University of Kaunas and in fact managed to offer some short courses on philosophy there. It is my very deep personal regret that academic openness came to Lithuania at a time when I had already slid into retirement.

I.P-D: How did you manage to find time for the Lithuanian community in Australia? Please sketch a few posts you have occupied.
V.D: On the whole, I see no problem in being "multi-cultural". As a youngster I was a boy scout in the Lithuanian tradition, in Sydney I took part in the activities of Lithuanian students, later became Chairman of the Newcastle and the Sydney Lithuanian Communities. After retirement I was elected, for two years, President of the Australian Lithuanian Executive, and prior to that I also attended sessions of the Parliament of the World Lithuanian Community, in Washington and in Vilnius. Perhaps I should add that I hardly ever missed the bi-annual Lithuanian festivals, the so-called Lithuanian Days, which are held in irregular rotation in Adelaide, Melbourne, Geelong, Canberra and Sydney. For me, this sort of bi-focal existence came naturally, as it were.

I.P-D: You omitted to mention that for many years you have contributed to Lithuanian newspapers, especially the Sydney-based weekly "Mūsų Pastogė". And the reader might want to know that in 2003 the President of Lithuania, Valdas Adamkus, made you Commander of the Order of the Cross - for merits to Lithuania.

Indeed, Vytautas, thank you for the interview.