In 1978, the late Father Josip Kasić, who was the Parish priest of Saint Nikola Tavelić church in Clifton Hill, had an idea to start a Croatian folkloric group as a way to bring the Croatian youth of Melbourne together. Father Kasić called upon local parishioners Mr Aleks and Mrs Gizela Kechenovich to teach our youth about Croatian folklore. Mr and Mrs Kechenovich were seasoned folkloric dancers and had been a part of a cultural and artistic society in their hometown of Tavankut, in the Bačka region of Croatia.
With the help of hard working and dedicated members of the Croatian community, Mladi Hrvati was formed. Countless members of the parish spent hours sewing together traditional Croatian costumes, and local musicians recorded tambura and piano accordian music for the group to practice to. It was then that the parents and dancers unanimously voted on the name 'Mladi Hrvati - Clifton Hill'. In its early stages, the group started off with 30 members, but at its peak reached 248 members.
Our proud Bunjevci instructors taught the group all 22 dances from the Bunjevac region. These 'Bunjevačko' choreographies soon became a signature dance for Mladi Hrvati. It was not long before our dance repertoire began to grow with the addition of Slavonsko kolo and Stari Splitski plesovi. The group was then fortunate enough to have guest choreographer Mrs Dora Šatalić come and teach 'Ero s onoga svijeta' by Jakov Gotovac. In later years, well renowned choreographer, the late Anđela Potočnik who was a former performer for Ansambl Lado came and taught dances from Prigorje and Podravina, while her husband composer Božo Potočnik taught up and coming tambura musicians.
Mladi Hrvati has travelled and performed at multicultural and Croatian events all over Australia. But the most memorable performance to date was our performance for the late President of Croatia, Dr. Franjo Tuđman in 1995 at Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne.
After 20 dedicated years, Mr and Mrs Kechenovich stepped down as teachers and choreographers and now former dancers, Sandra Juka, Antun Rehlicki and Maya Juka teach the Junior, Intermediate and Adult groups. Mladi Hrvati has a long and proud history and looks forward to building on this success long into the future with many more generations of young Croatians in Melbourne.
Na Mladima Svijet Ostaje!