Tuesday, July 24, 2012


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 Australia’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.

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 Greece – well, he was born under it, after all.  


  1. My idea of hell is a place where NOTHING happens. A lot. So why do we expect places where nothing much happens such as gaols, detention centres and refugee camps to improve the people who inhabit them?? Then we're surprised when they don't magically turn into 'better' citizens??

    But all that money is being spent on 'essentials' like sports stadia, 'how good am I' government signage and other voter magnets. Weird, huh?!

    1. Hi Red.
      Just scribbling "how good am I government signage" in my collection just under "invisible friend".

      Seriously, when I think of Calwell's crimes I wonder just how backward the whole country was "in those days". Did it occur to anyone to buy some footballs or would that demand too much imagination. It seems boredom was THE single greatest problem, and still is. [But more on that later.]

  2. I loved the video. Thanks for posting.

    It...and your post really puts things into perspective.

    What's going on now was going on then.

    It looks like a summer camp.

    The conditions don't seem terrible, especially if you compare it to something like Auschwitz.

    I know someone who moved to Sydney. She had a huge house, good food, a beautiful view, and total freedom. Yet she hated it at first. She was miserable. She missed America.

    I think even in the best conditions, many migrants are going to be miserable. IF you put them in 1 or 2 star conditions they might have the urge to riot.

    1. I don't know how easily I would adjust if I had to move to another country. Strewth, I don't know how I'll cope if I meet one more surly shop 'assistant' in Shepparton.

      I'm not sure the conditions are the issue. They might be a little like racist epithets - an excuse [pathetic as it might be] to go on a rampage because something more significant is bubbling away beneath the surface.