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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Cuni, Luke (1911–1980)

by Bahri Bregu

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

Luke Cuni (1911-1980), Albanian community leader, was born on 31 August 1911 at Prizren, Kosovo-Metohija, son of Albanian parents John Cuni and his wife Marta. During his secondary schooling he improved his knowledge of Albania's history, literature and language; he later studied Latin and classical Greek, graduated from the faculty of philosophy at Skopje, Yugoslavia, and is reputed to have become a professor at that institution. On 1 July 1936 he married Filomena Marko (d.1979) at Skopje.

After witnessing the suffering of the Albanians under the Kosovan authorities, Cuni and two of his university friends began to organize festivities to celebrate the Albanian National Day (28 November)—against the wishes of the Yugoslav government. In World War II Italy took over the Kosovo district on behalf of Albania. Supported by Josip Broz Tito's Yugoslav forces, in 1944 Albanian partisans defeated the local nationalists and carried out a policy of repression against anti-communists. With his wife, son and daughter, Cuni sought refuge in Austria (1944-45) and Italy (1945-49) where they lived in refugee camps before sailing for Australia. They arrived in Melbourne on 27 March 1950.

Life as immigrants was not easy. The family was forced to separate: Luke was employed at the migrant hostel, Williamstown, while Filomena found a job as a housemaid at Croydon and the two children boarded at separate schools. Reunited in 1954, they settled at Yarraville. Cuni was naturalized on 24 July 1957, one of the proudest days of his life. He worked at Spartan Paints Pty Ltd, Footscray, as a storeman for the State Electricity Commission and part time in a delicatessen. In his spare hours he taught English privately and in migrant hostels.

An active member of the community, Cuni was associated with the Australia Day Council, the Captive Nations Association, the Yarraville Community Centre, the Good Neighbour Council and the Catholic Family Welfare Bureau. As a talented linguist who spoke eight languages, he helped newly-arrived immigrants; as an interpreter, he worked for the police, in the law courts and in prisons; as a devout Catholic, he preached and conducted funeral services. Successful in mixing with members of many different migrant communities, he was a familiar and respected figure in the Yarraville and Footscray districts. In 1979 the Rotary Club of Footscray named him citizen of the year.

A leader in the Albanian community in Victoria, Cuni was widely known as presenter of the Albanian language programme on radio 3ZZ (1975-77) and on 3EA (1977-80). Like his kinswoman Mother Teresa, he was a pacifist. Shortly before his death, he broadcast on the topic of law and order, and spoke of the pointlessness of vengeance and the virtue of forgiving one's enemies. On 21 May 1980, while working as an interpreter at the Supreme Court, Melbourne, Luke Cuni, with four others, was shot by a man who had threatened to kill anyone associated with a particular hearing. Survived by his daughter and son, he died next day in Royal Melbourne Hospital and was buried in Footscray cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • S. Baldwin (ed), Unsung Heroes & Heroines of Australia (Melb, 1988)
  • Herald (Melbourne), 22 May 1980
  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 23 May 1980
  • Mail (Footscray), 23 May 1980.

Citation details

Bahri Bregu, 'Cuni, Luke (1911–1980)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 30 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

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