While we were in Albury last week, we finally got around to visiting the Bonegilla Migrant Camp a few k's out of town.
The original huts at Bonegilla were built as an Australian Army Camp, with some prisoners of war were held there for a time during WWII.
After the war, the 320 acre site was converted for use as a migrant camp for displaced persons [1947-52], then for refugees, followed by migrants travelling on assisted passage. At it’s peak it housed 8,500 people, and was not closed down until 1971.
There were 22 camps altogether, and parts of camp 19 have been preserved as part of
’s heritage. Some of the land has been used for what is now the Latchford Barracks, but a great deal of it has reverted to bushland and is heavily populated by roos. It’s not the most riveting or busy museum you’ll ever see, but it’s quite an interesting place to walk through, just the same. Australia
The conditions might look quite primitive to some, but the four of us who made the trip all agreed it just looked like any decrepit old guide or scout camp we’ve used at some stage or another. For displaced persons escaping the bombed out ruins of WWII it might have seemed quite promising – even into the 1950s many of London’s East Ender’s were still living in relative squalor, and having to fetch water from communal taps outside.
As time progressed it would be logical that migrants’ expectations would have grown. I have met some Italians who passed through the camp in the 50s, their first comment invariably that when served their first meal they wondered what on earth this shit was they were supposed to eat, what crazy kind of people would think this shit was okay to eat anyway, and how they could go back to where they came from.
The second complaint was that although the camp was meant to be a temporary processing centre where they could learn English and be found work, the work wasn’t always found quickly, and everyone was bored out of their brains.
Amongst the usual collection of enamelled chamber pots or camp beds a few bits and pieces are personal enough to be conspicuous. One chap carried a piece of roman-style terra cotta roof tile with him all the way from
– well, he was born under it, after all. Greece