Receiving Europe's Displaced

Page 1


1947 - 1953

Introduction In the immediate post-war years, Australia launched a bold mass immigration program to increase the size of the population. Australia looked first to the United Kingdom for prospective migrants. It offered assisted passage to British ex-servicemen, then to ex-servicemen who had served with the Allies. It wanted to attract members of the British public, but there were difficulties in getting sufficient people and in securing ships. In 1947 the Australian Government reached agreement with the International Refugee Organisation (IRO) to take in some of the many people who had been displaced by the war and were being accommodated in refugee camps, principally in Germany. By 1951 Australia had, with the help of the IRO, taken in more than 170 000 of Europe’s Displaced Persons. The Australian Government established temporary accommodation centres for the refugees on their arrival, usually in former defence establishments. The largest and longest-lasting reception centre was at Bonegilla, a huge under-used army camp not far from Hume Dam on the Murray River. Bonegilla took in and processed more than half of all the Displaced Persons who arrived before 1953 and large numbers of non-English-speaking assisted migrants and other refugees between 1951 and 1971. It accommodated altogether about 309 000 post-war refugees and migrants, that is, about one in eight of the 2.5 million that came from Europe to Australia between 1947 and 1971. Approximately a quarter of those who entered Australia via Bonegilla were Displaced Persons.

Defence establishments had been decentralised during the war when Australia seemed vulnerable to coastal attack. The decision to place reception and holding centres in country areas was politically adept as it seemed to imply that the new workers might help meet the ‘unsatisfied demand for labour in provincial and rural areas’. Further, country towns welcomed the opportunities of supplying local goods and services to a non-military establishment as they had to wartime encampments. Such local ownership augured well for community involvement in assimilation endeavours. Albury and Wodonga enjoyed the economic stimulus of hosting the Bonegilla Reception and Training Centre. Via Albury’s Border Morning Mail the local community was kept aware of developments at the Reception Centre and got to know vicariously something of the many residents and the reception processes they were undergoing. Albury and Wodonga were the first communities of contact and represented the host society to many of the displaced. In the twenty-first century the Block 19 remnant at Bonegilla is being re-developed as a memory place. The construction of an army camp in 1940 and its subsequent conversion into a migrant centre in 1947, both, separately and together, indicate attempts to cope with national vulnerability during and after the Second World War. Block 19 Bonegilla is associated not only with those involved in defence of the nation, but also with those who endured the impact of war and its aftermath in Europe. It is a military and a non-military memory place.

Receiving Europe's Displaced

Who were Europe's displaced persons? Politicians and publicists chose words carefully when trying to persuade the Australian public that the proposed big post-war immigration scheme was in the national interest. They carefully selected phrases and paraded notions that would help with their comprehensive ‘conditioning’ program ‘to make [the Australian public] aware of the necessity of migrants and in a mood to receive them as future Australians’. 1

In 1947 there were 1.6 million people in Europe in 920 refugee camps under the care of occupying armies and relief agencies. They included survivors from concentration camps, former Nazi conscripts and people fleeing from the prospect of Soviet rule. The IRO assumed responsibility for their repatriation or resettlement. The United States, Canada and Australia took the greatest numbers.

Publicists had initially warmed to the term ‘Displaced Persons’. It helped them distinguish the refugees sponsored by the IRO from other people wanting to leave Europe and come to Australia. They expected some people to be anxious that Australia might be swamped by Jewish survivors. Others, particularly ex-servicemen, might be suspicious that ex-enemies and collaborators could seek entry under the guise of being refugees. The publicists thought that the Australian community more generally would give at least a guarded welcome to ‘the blameless victims of war’, if a reputable body like the IRO vouched that they were so.2

From the beginning, Australia saw itself as competing for the best of the Displaced Persons to fill its population and labour market needs. At first, it recruited the young and easily assimilable from the Baltic countries. The search for good quality workers widened to include Poles, Ukrainians, Slovenians, Hungarians and White Russians, then Bulgarians, Romanians and Albanians. By the end of 1949 it embraced all European ‘races’ deemed eligible by the IRO.

Proportion of nationalities / Total Displaced Persons received in Australia






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0% s 3. sian .1% Rus s3 ian ton

Es Cz




Poles 37.1%


Hungarians 7.

11 vi a Lat




E Kunz, Displaced Persons, p.43 and p.134.


v sla


go Yu






inia kra

The pool of employable young men and women that Australia sought as a priority from the IRO was soon exhausted. Displaced families were deemed acceptable from mid-1948. Widows, deserted wives and unmarried mothers with children were accepted in early 1949 and, then, males without wives but with young children later in the year. The number of children increased rapidly after April 1949. A photograph of one of the last groups to arrive by ship in July 1951 shows young children outnumbering adults.3 Overall children comprised 25% of all the Displaced Persons Australia accepted. More were born after their parents arrived. By 1951 there were only 177 000 left in European refugee camps, mostly the aged and infirm who were hard to place. The last of the refugees officially recognised as Displaced Persons, that is, those assisted by the IRO, came to Australia by early 1952. Germany and Austria, however, continued to have a worryingly large number of refugees, many of them displaced with post-war adjustments to Germany’s boundaries. Former enemy peoples were outside the protection of the IRO and its migration program. Nevertheless, many such displaced peoples came to Australia under nation-with-nation assisted passage and other agreements during and after 1951.

Selling the Displaced Much time and energy was devoted to the conditioning program to win host society acceptance of the program. Indeed, it seemed to one analyst that, ‘Australian policy was often at least as much concerned with publicity, and with generating public acceptance as is was with the wellbeing of the new arrivals’.4

conveyed of immigrants making handsome, willing and valuable contributions to the national workforce.

Politicians and publicists tried to win public support by focusing on what the nation might gain. Arthur Calwell, the first Minister for Immigration, had a canny politician’s eye and ear for a pithy phrase or telling metaphor. At various times he made much of the security advantages that would accompany a larger population. ‘Without adequate numbers this wide brown land may not be held in another clash of arms’; without a substantial increase in the population ‘we cannot continue to hold this island continent for ourselves and our children’. Australians were as endangered as the koala and he called for a ‘trebling of the population’. Recalling in 1953 the way he had tried to sell his case for a mass immigration program, Calwell acknowledged he had been about ‘playing subtly on the fears of decent citizens for the future of their children: “we must fill our country or lose it”’. Calwell saw migrants as providing the necessary increase in the workforce to boost post-war reconstruction. For him there were no ‘island paradises where a few people can live their lives in lazy leisure’. Australia needed a ‘virile population’. He enthused about the fine types he saw among the displaced in German refugee camps. They came from a variety of occupations; they ‘represent an ideal source of migrants who will fit smoothly into our way of life and who will help to meet Australia’s labour shortages …’. However, they had to be prepared to serve what became two year contracts ‘in industries and occupations vital to the development of Australia’: ‘they cannot expect to walk in here and pick and choose the jobs that they like’. An official spelt out for him, ‘[The displaced] were coming to fill the gaps in our economy. The greatest gaps occurred in industry and manual labouring callings where there were backlogs to be overtaken in supply of building materials, water conservation, reafforestation etc.’5

Calwell’s Beautiful Balts The first contingent of 839 young men and women from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania arrived at the newly opened Bonegilla Reception and Training Centre, in North-east Victoria in December 1947. Their arrival was carefully stage-managed and received favourable media coverage. Publicists were pleased that the carefully selected group ‘sold themselves’, especially with the prospect they 2

Pix 31 January 1949.

The media enjoyed showing newcomers frolicking in and on the banks of Lake Hume. Canberra based politicians and publicists worked hard to win local community and media support. Albury’s Border Morning Mail was the media closest at hand to greet the first contingent. It reported that the new arrivals were attractive, cheery, eager to work and neatly clad. The women had ‘surprisingly good complexions and figures’. In smiling they displayed ‘splendidly formed white teeth’. The men were suntanned, strong and good humoured. They were ‘particularly good types’. Five weeks on, the Border Morning Mail noted there had been ‘not one word of complaint’. The Balts were ‘very keen for work’: ‘Quite a few of the Balts in their time off worked on nearby farms, helping with the harvest, and their energy and adaptability in learning work entirely new to them was pleasing.’ This prompted the editor to question Australia’s reputation for being contemptuous to ‘foreigners’, ‘refugees’, ‘dagoes’ and ‘pommies’. Hostility to immigrants was usually explained in that ‘they will beak down our standard of living’ or ‘they will get all the best jobs’, but there was much to learn from this first contingent. After all, ‘Large-scale immigration – and quickly, too – is our only hope of preserving this boasted ‘way of life” of ours.’6

From Displaced Persons and Balts to new Australian and resettled Nationals The success of the first contingent prompted a shift in the Department of Information’s publicity strategies. Appeals to the charity and sympathy of the Australian people to accept ‘the blameless victims of war’ could turn easily ‘to tolerance or contempt’. Sympathy, yes, but emphasis would better be placed on the contributions the newcomers would make to Australia’s economy, culture and demographic growth. By the beginning of 1948 Government discarded the term ‘Displaced Persons’ and asked the media to follow its lead. Government preferred the term ‘Tomorrow’s Australians’, before settling in 1949 on ‘New Australians’, the term which prevailed through the 1950s.7

shift blame. Their deaths, he said, ‘were a tragic reminder of the conditions of privation under which the children were still forced to live in war devastated Europe’. Australia should do what it could to help ‘these innocent victims of the war’s cruel aftermath’. Still, Calwell was to rebuke those migrants who dwelt obsessively of the memory of their displacement and their earlier lives in other places. In 1953 Calwell recalled the challenge of resettling ‘the homeless and friendless from the Displaced Persons’ camps of Europe’. He acknowledged many ‘sad-eyed’ people held ‘poignant memories of depression and tyranny at the hands of Nazi and Communist dictatorships’. Some still feared for the safety of loved ones. However, Calwell was critical of those who refused to let go the past. Their obsession could retard their absorption.9

The displaced themselves were pleased to discard the label. No one wanted to be a Displaced Person. It seemed that, as feared, the term was used disparagingly. It implied inferiority; it denied nationality. The displaced saw it as emphasising their powerlessness and lack of prestige. Australia plainly preferred British migrants. ‘DPs’ and ‘reffos’ were ‘a lot of trash’.8 The arrangements government made for the reception of the displaced made them aware of their lack of importance. Unlike British migrants, they had agreed to work as directed for two years and knew that little or no heed would be taken of their skills or qualifications. They were expected to accept rudimentary accommodation that was below the standard set for British hostels. They were expected to accept the separation of breadwinners from dependants, if there were no family accommodation available near a workplace. They were expected to substitute English for their native language as soon as possible. They knew they came cheaply, costing the Australian Government less than the ex-servicemen and the British to transport. They were shipped in bulk lots, often in former troop ships. As non-British aliens, they would not qualify for full privileges and obligations of a citizen. They were obliged to register their presence in the country and to report every house move, change of job or change of name. They could not secure permanent employment in the public service. They could not expect to get for many years the same level of government support with housing and pension payments that the native-born or the British received.

By 1953 scholars like demographer WD Borrie cautioned against viewing Displaced Persons as a single category. There were at least twelve different nationalities involved. They were indeed ‘diverse groups of people strongly influenced in their social and cultural life by the roots they had in the pre-war life of the countries from which they were displaced…. They may well consider themselves as nationals of their native country as they knew it in pre-war days rather than as refugees.’ A study of the distribution of those who had arrived as Displaced Persons dissected the total by nationality, each national group gravitating separately to varying locations and occupational groups. Poles and Ukrainians were to be found in country areas; the Czechs, Greeks and Hungarians preferred cities; the Germans and Yugoslavs were in industrial centres; the Latvians, Lithuanians and Estonians divided between city and the country. Prompted by the arrival of migrants assisted as national groups, the 1954 census made it easier to trace information about separate nationalities than the displaced as a whole. Such dissections reflected more closely nuanced community understandings of the social changes associated with the immigration program generally and the displaced persons scheme particularly. The blanket term of Displaced Person had outlived its usefulness. This was an unscrambling that the displaced themselves wanted.

The dismissal of the term ‘Displaced Person’ did not obscure their displacement. Calwell himself found it politic on occasions to refer to the misfortunes they had endured during and after the war. When thirteen children died at Bonegilla in 1949, for example, Calwell was anxious to

Unscrambled they were becoming, but the Displaced Persons at Bonegilla were still that – the homeless of postwar Europe, war refugees resettled in another land. What did they and the host society make of each other and of the arrangements for their reception?


Selling the growing migrant presence The duties of government department publicists did not stop with helping to manage the arrival of the first contingent of Calwell’s beautiful Balts. The Department of Information became the Australian News and Information Bureau in 1950, but retained the ongoing role of trying to shape community expectations of the immigration program as a whole and Displaced Persons in particular. Publicists insisted the program was planned ‘scientifically’ and managed efficiently. It was achieving government’s intentions ‘to provide for defence and development through an increase in population, to assist the rehabilitation of the victims of war, and to enrich the social and cultural life of Australia’, particularly the economic and defence aims. They also had to reassure the host society constantly about the positive outcomes of the program and address any disquiet. They focused on the economic contribution of the displaced and the nation’s ability to absorb them.11

Increasing the workforce The displaced proved valuable additions to the workforce, but first government had to convince the public that migrants ‘make jobs not take them’. To win trade union acceptance, the government observed two fundamental principles: the displaced were allocated work for which no Australian labour was available and their conditions of work would be the same as those normally applying in the industry. They could be appointed to unskilled jobs; they could be sent to remote areas. All the men were labourers; all the women were domestics. They were not supposed to leave a job without the permission of the District Employment Officer who would arrange an alternative placement. Department of Immigration publicists actively recruited and publicised success stories that centred on the economic contribution made by individual migrants in a widening diversity of jobs.12

They were engaged in ‘those jobs that were least attractive to Australian workers.’ The Northern Victorian Fruit Growers Association wrote to Calwell complimenting him on two hundred displaced workers who harvested fruit in the Goulburn Valley. ‘[The Balts] were excellent workers, most conscientious, very clean in their habits, and very fine specimens physically. They were very keen to earn money …’. 13

Absorbing Aliens There was general unease about whether the nation could cope with the rapid rate of population growth. There were plainly stresses on the housing market and the provision of services such as education and health. The surge in numbers through 1949 and 1950 seemed to exacerbate such problems. Further there was unease about the nature of that growth. The absorption of aliens was expected to cause social stresses. Questions continued about whether the newcomers were assimilating as well as they should have been. In 1950 the Government established annual Citizenship Conventions that were to help with the ‘task of converting the migrants into contented and permanent settlers’. For Calwell, Minister for Immigration 1945-49, Aliens were ‘only to be admitted in such numbers and of such classes that they can be readily assimilated’. For Harold Holt, Minister for Immigration and Labour and National Service 1950-56, it seemed ‘From a practical viewpoint of there being a maximum number of aliens that any community can be expected to absorb and assimilate in any short period of time without arousing unfavourable reaction and resistances’. Holt reassured the parliament ‘we have no cause to fear that the inflow of alien people will undermine our British institutions or destroy the fundamentally British character for our people.’14

Herald-Sun exhibition materials, ALM.

Men leave for labouring jobs in various parts of Australia. Women en route to domestic and nurse aide jobs in hospitals. 4

Taking in war refugees

Australia received the displaced aliens as war refugees. There was some uncertainty about how their war-time and post-war experiences might ease or impede their absorption. War experiences proved difficult to communicate. Both the host society and the refugees found that the European and Pacific theatres were parallel wars. Immigrants arrived with memories of a war that was different from that most Australians had lived through. Connections were hard to make. They had few common historical reference points or ports of repair when sharing war memories.15

Films were shown and instruction booklets issued to broaden the newcomers’ perspectives of the war. ‘They had no appreciation of Britain’s part in the war and were quite ignorant of any part played by Australia’.17 ‘The shop assistants blamed the Great Depression and the war for the shortages. I could not understand why it would affect the Australian economy five years after the war, and was then told by them about the Japanese attack on Sydney and Darwin. Not having been anywhere but Canberra, I imagined that the towns were completely destroyed and sympathised’ Helena Walsh, Latvia.

‘As it happened, I liked hearing about other people’s lives. But there was nobody who was interested in listening to mine.’ Helena Walsh, Latvia. ‘It was rare for a Displaced Person to meet an Australian who genuinely wanted to learn about his experiences and views and with whom he could carry on an easy, informal, and even reciprocal social relationship.’ Jean Martin. 16

The press was not averse to the ‘horror and pathos of refugee stories’. but was generally uncurious about the war experiences of the newcomers. Plainly language barriers made interviews difficult. Perhaps reporters and readers were confused by national diversities. The refugees cited chronologies such as dates of the bombing of Kiev, Yugoslavia or the Ukraine that did not resonate with those who timed the conflict in phases related instead to attacks on Pearl Harbour, Darwin or Sydney. At Bonegilla staff who had been ex-servicemen in Europe could talk with the displaced about the war. The wider community was hard of hearing if not quite deaf to personal war experiences.


The host society wrestled with how to read the impact of war on the newcomers. Generalisations were dared about how war may have affected the displaced personally. Experiences of the war and post-war years were plainly quite different. That did not stop some people hazarding guesses. In Albury the local newspaper thought that many years in refugee camps had made many dependent like children. Officials at Bonegilla thought the displaced lacked initiative: they arrived and remained dispirited; they did not ‘have a go’. Children of the displaced have kinder memories. Their parents seemed to be toughened by the brutalities of war. Some recalled thinking the ‘war left mother distrustful’; ‘the war taught my parents to be resilient, to be survivors’; they survived by ‘using their cunning’.18 In more general terms the community perceived the displaced as war-weary, war-proud, war-heavy and/or war-tainted.

War-weary In 1947 Calwell asked for sympathetic handling of the refugees. They came from the privations of post-war Germany and had endured the difficulties of living for an extended time in refugee camps. The Border Morning Mail reminded readers that the displaced were coming from ‘a state of slavery’; ‘they have suffered their share of pain’. They were ‘the flotsam and jetsam of Europe’; they were ‘the blameless victims of war’. These ‘newcomers tell tales no Australian want enacted in this country’. They came just happy to be ‘out of the war’. They wanted to escape the exigencies of the war and its aftermath. They were weary of long term dislocation and suffering. As one new arrival put it, all they want is time ‘to dream a little, to live in quietness, once more as a human being’.19

What we saw in Bonegilla was a dispirited group, many of them suffering from the after effects of malnutrition, gaunt faces, ribs and haunted eyes. Most of them had lost all they had ever owned, and the rest of their family as well. They had been fitted out very correct grey suits and the inevitable Australian street hats for the men and floral dresses for the women. They each had a cheap cardboard suitcase, as well as a bag of toilet articles that had been supplied by the Red Cross on their arrival in Melbourne.’ Alan Hodge, language instructor. A Border Morning Mail reporter was impressed with how they coped with less than a suitcase of worldly possessions and the way they regarded the facilities at Bonegilla as a luxury. When asked if he might view huts he found them suspicious but polite. Some gave permission with a curtsey. ‘One senses immediately the manner in which these people were forced to obey their captors.’ It was unfortunate, he observed, that the local community still regarded such newcomers contemptuously. BMM 23 June 1949.

The displaced came trailing memories of violence and/or privations. It has been estimated that about half of the Polish refugees had passed through work and concentration camps in Germany before they arrived in Australia.20 Many in the host society acknowledged ‘we do not know what they have lived through’. Some of the displaced themselves accused others of using war and post-war tales for personal aggrandisement. Their fellows could be ‘imposters, falsely claiming past importance, achievements, or sufferings’.21 Some remained mysteriously taciturn: ‘What I did in the war years is my business.’ 6

Some at Bonegilla recalled the violence and dangers of war: Jan de Kruiff, The Netherlands 1952, remembered hiding during bombing raids in a big cellar beneath the German factory in which he worked as a forced labourer. Valerie Klucnieka, Latvia 1951, was wounded in an American bombing raid while in a refugee camp. Andrew Rutowski, Poland 1951, had a number tattoo from a concentration camp near Berlin. Bohdan Skowronski, Poland 1951, carried a bullet in his leg from the Warsaw uprising.

Some related stories of perilous journeys and narrow escapes: Elizabeth Mergl, Hungary 1949, remembers walking from Hungary to Austria over two weeks. She pushed a pram and carried a sack. Her husband pushed a bicycle balancing a suitcase on either side. They hid in ditches when the road was strafed from the air. Josef Soudek, Czechoslovakia 1948, like so many others, spoke of the risks taken in bluffing ways to cross borders.

Some recalled difficult refugee camp conditions: Gordana, Yugoslavia (Serbia) 1952, remembers the earth floors and thin bean soup of the Aversa refugee camp where the refugees were treated like prisoners. Amelia Brinkis, Latvia 1949, remembers fleas, cockroaches and lice at Gdansk.

Some could not cope with war memory: their ‘miseries unhinged their reason’. Between 1950 and 1951, 85 non-British migrants were certified for admission to mental hospitals in New South Wales alone. A study of Victorian mental patients found that ‘psychoneuroses, other than depressive ones, occurred most frequently in Eastern European males …. Eastern Europeans, who had the greatest degree of exposure to severe war experiences, also had the highest rates for schizophrenia.’ 22

Some remembered trying to meet the criteria to be selected for another country: Gordana, Yugoslavia (Serbia) 1952, remembers noting that good teeth were perceived to be an indicator of general health so one woman had her teeth removed and dentures fitted. Gordana’s husband hardened his hands to show he was fit to work as a labourer and she pretended she had worked as a domestic rather than a teacher. Laima Zole, Latvia 1950, remembers waiting a long time, before the authorities agreed to accept their man-less family unit. The selection officers decided her grandmother could care for her as a child while her mother worked. Being able to speak English was a decided advantage. Some had been able to make the most of post-war employment opportunities in the American zones of Berlin. Dimitri Gorny, Poland, worked as a mechanic in US Army transport. He not only had opportunities to become fluent in English, but was also paid in the prize currencies of food and cigarettes.

For the young, the war, like migration, was remembered as a family experience, recalled principally through the prism of parental anecdotes as well as direct observation.

Some children sensed something of war experiences that were never articulated. Wanda Skowronska, born Bonegilla, father Poland 1951, remembers indecipherable sighs and the wordless absorption of ‘something from their parents’ soulspace’. There were ‘untellable things’. Bonegilla was a refuge: the ‘surrounds were ‘bushy, hilly, picturesque and secure’; ‘their dreams were not of gold, but respite, perhaps some sanity and peace …’. Others were well aware that all was not right. Kathy Valer Gordon recalls being disappointed that she had to pretend she was only five, even though she was six. As a five-year-old she was not compelled to wear a yellow star and she could run messages and buy food for her Jewish family in occupied Budapest. The world was still awry in Bonegilla: ‘we were the only Jews at that time; it was not a safe place for Jews’. 23


Hunger had made no age distinctions. Monika Malowski, Poland, remembers her Polish father continuing to share food from his plate with his children, even in the land of plenty. There was a sense that something precious had been lost. Lucy Grejszczak, Poland, who arrived via Bathurst, remembers when the German soldiers came to relocate the family her mother made us ‘kneel and kiss the earth that nurtured you’. Schooling and learning varied. Some, like George Karaskiewicz (later Carrington), Poland 1949, recalls war-time disruptions to schooling. Stefan Klepiak, Poland 1957, became street-wise in post-war Mannheim, scrounging in bombed-out apartments for anything that could be sold. Old hurts and enmities lived on. Inga Hanover’s father, Latvia would never learn to speak English ‘because the English had betrayed Latvia’. Laima Zole, Latvia 1950, remembers feeling uneasy as a young adult patronising the Moscow Circus. Jan Zika, Czechoslovakia 1948, kept the yellow star of David his mother, Heda, was forced to wear. The idea that people were desperate has endured. ‘My family were forever grateful to the Australian community for helping them in their most desperate times of need.’ Antonia B, Croatia 1947 (Block 19 visitor). 24

The war-proud Some used the sense of solidarity that had helped them to endure the war years to make connection with each other and with the host society. They wanted to build on war memory to shape the peace. The first schemes incorporated ex-servicemen who had fought with the Allies. Members of the Returned Sailors Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia (RSSAILA) sent personal letters of welcome and met exservice people on arrival. At Bonegilla some, like Polish ex-servicemen, found companionship with each other and with their former allies in commemorating their war service. Local ex-servicemen welcomed those who had fought as Allies into membership of the local branch of the Legion of Ex-Servicemen. They marched on Anzac Day with new mates.25

Allied ex-servicemen found that their war service helped procure jobs and the good opinion of native Australians. So, for example, faced with deportation, Milo Radevic detailed his service in the Royal Yugoslav Army and with the resistance for consideration in his favour. 26

The war-heavy At Bonegilla all were urged to forget past national differences. That did not stop former enemy peoples and even allies trading war taunts. Many of the assisted migrants disliked sharing quarters with former enemies.

‘We impress on them that they are starting in a new land, that they should try to break down international barriers and to forget past differences’, R Dawson, Director.

The vocal anti-communism of the Displaced Persons suited the Government’s Cold War stance. At the beginning of the 1950s Australian troops joined United Nations forces trying to contain communism in Korea, The local press discovered stories of Bonegilla residents who had endured Russian concentration camps. It reported how New Australians disrupted local Communist street demonstrations and meetings. Attention was paid to a celebration in June 1951 at Bonegilla of the tenth anniversary of the Russian mass deportation of Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians – the ‘captive nations’. Lutheran Pastor Bruno Meutzelfeldt emphasised ‘the need to fight Communism in all its forms’. In the first hectic years of settlement the refugees had little energy for political activity, but their anti-communism was deep and enduring. Capital city ‘captive nations’ commemorations became major rallying points for the expression of anti-communist feelings in the late 1950s.28

The war-tainted Not all of the displaced persons were war-weary, or even British allies. Some ethnic Germans managed to infiltrate the DP scheme under their pre-war nationality, while German women married displaced persons and therefore became eligible for refugee status. Hungary was a German


ally during the war and yet Hungarian displaced persons were accepted into Australia by virtue of their anticommunism. Similarly, many Baltic DPs were pro-German. While those who had fought against the Allies were excluded from refugee status, some displaced persons took advantage of post-war confusion to slip through security screenings. There is evidence that up to 500 war criminals entered Australia during these years.29 In early 1948 Calwell made tentative suggestions that people from former European enemy nations might be welcomed as migrants. After all Australia had ratified peace treaties with Germany and Austria. The question of admitting former enemies took on a sharper focus early in 1951, as the end of the displaced persons’ scheme became foreseeable. Shrewdly Calwell had involved representatives of the RSSAILA in advisory bodies helping to oversight of the program. He arranged for ex-servicemen representatives to tour the displaced persons camps and see how Australia was screening applicants. During 1950 the RSSAILA withdrew its objections to Germans as migrants, especially as the Menzies Government was given access to the tighter American screening processes. Skilled German tradesmen were admitted first to serve on special projects like the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme. Subsequently, in August 1952, Australia committed to a migration agreement with Germany. German ex-servicemen and concentration and labour camp guards were amongst those accepted into Australia. There was some community disquiet about German migration. There was talk of ‘irreconcilable Hitlerized youth’ finding their ways to Australia. It was dangerous to allow a large number of Germans in the country. Politicians urged capital city protest meetings ‘not to forget Coventry, Rotterdam, the Jews, the Trade Unions and the Churches’. Some made charges that Nazi paraphernalia had been found at Bonegilla. There were stories of shower-room discoveries of SS under-arm tattoos. There were allegations that convicted Nazis were working on the Kiewa and Snowy Mountains hydroelectricity schemes. Holt, like Calwell before him denied any SS or Nazi presence amongst the Germans or Yugoslavs selected to come to Australia. Holt gave reassurances that ‘our strong democracy’ would resist any Nazi influence. That did not stop Jewish associations worrying about individual complicity in atrocities.31

the challenges of finding and adapting crude shelters into houses that won them acceptance, even admiration as fellow peace-time battlers. Many of the sturdy showed they were prepared to ‘have a go’. From Bonegilla they went to accommodation that was supplied by the employer – often little better than railway work gang tents, fruit packing sheds, share farmers’ shacks, rabbiters’ huts, garden sheds and even livestock stalls. Many invested in land when they could and started with a garage in which to live while they built a house – one room at a time.

Konrad Kalejs, Latvia 1950, worked at Bonegilla as a clerk. He died in 2001, while fighting a magistrate’s order for his extradition to Latvia to face genocide charges as a member of the Nazi controlled state police. His trials brought forward allegations that there were other Nazis amongst those at Bonegilla. In a sense all aliens were war-tainted. In 1951 Harold Holt, the Minister for Immigration and National Service, stressed the importance of immigration to the defence of the nation. ‘The immigration program was adding tens of thousands of able-bodied men and women in the younger age groups to the population’, he said. But the Army continued with its ‘deeply entrenched objections to the employment of aliens.’32 Even during the war years when government encouraged enlistment to increase the nation’s firepower, Aliens could only enlist in Employment Companies and serve as soldiers without guns. After the war non-British men could join the Citizen Military Forces provided they had expressed an intention to naturalise. Few were successful in overcoming the restrictions on the enlistment of aliens. The restrictions were eased in 1953, but it was not until the conscription campaigns of 1967 that they eased sufficiently for the non-British to have much chance of enlisting.

Peace-time battlers Generally, the Displaced Persons won good regard at their workplaces. It was, however, their willingness to meet


Local government and national authorities worried about the increase in sub-standard dwellings, but the press expressed admiration of the residents’ courage and industry. Border Morning Mail echoed the concerns about a cluster of unsightly humpies on Mullins Estate, beside the Kiewa River between Bonegilla and Bandiana. In 1953 it returned to what had become known as ‘Little Russia’ and found the settlement much improved. The dwellings now had more than one room. There were gardens and wells. The settlement now was ‘proof of the capabilities and industry of one group of New Australian families’.33

BMM 17 December 1959. Displaced Persons joined native-born battlers in neat well-kept half-houses or garage houses in Wodonga and Lavington struggle towns. Parliamentarians commenting on similar developments in other electorates acknowledged it was to the credit of New Australians that houses below accepted Australian standards were gradually being turned into comfortable dwellings. The housing disadvantage migrants endured continued for many years. A hopeful report in 1959 noted they were facing more difficulty than the native born, ’but their position was improving’. 34

Receiving Europe's Displaced at Bonegilla Well-managed reception centres and procedures were crucial to the success of the program as a whole. Reception Centres provided for ‘the general medical examination and x-ray of migrants, issue of necessary clothing, payment of social service benefits, interviews to determine employment potential, instruction in English and the Australian way of life generally’. They were initially managed by ex-servicemen and the migrants themselves provided labour as fulfilment of their work contracts. Publicists promoted the accommodation facilities and the services provided. Initially their attention focused on reassuring the public about the adequacy of ex-army facilities for people from Displaced Persons camps; the facilities at Bonegilla were basic and not luxurious. The Displaced Persons were not getting special treatment that the native population, especially returned service people, were missing out on. In 1949, 1950 and 1951 attention moved to showing how the accommodation centres were coping with the pressures of the surge years, particularly the disruptions caused by the coal strike and the health scare in 1949. Towards the end of the Displaced Persons scheme, improvements were made to make the facilities acceptable to assisted immigrants. By 1953 Bonegilla was no longer as rough and ready as it had been for the displaced.

The military character of Bonegilla For many of Europe’s Displaced Persons it must have seemed that Bonegilla was a continuation of war by other means. They found themselves in a place that was hopefully the last staging post in their long post-war journeys. Disappointingly, however, it was based on camp living, similar in kind to that they had endured in Europe. The travail of the war and post-war years continued to and through the reception centre.

Pix 31 January 1948.

The huts were unlined. Furniture was basic army issue. Initially women and men were separated into 20-person huts.

NAA A12111, 49/22/5.

By the end of 1948 some huts for staff were being divided into cubicles, 4m x 2.5m. 10

Apologists suggested the migrants had little difficulty with the rudimentary conditions at the ex-service establishments, as they were used to refugee camp conditions. ‘Most of them had been accustomed to some form of camp or hostel. On their arrival here they were provided with accommodation which was better than that to which they had been accustomed’. CPD 25 February 1953 (Thomson). ‘At no time was the war-camp or peace-time migration hostel meant to be anything but a temporary accommodation area’, Pat Smith, administrator.

clearly visible in the paddocks or open sheds. The ordnance depot and the vehicle park were given new life as Australia recruited, armed and prepared troops to fight in Korea in the early 1950s. Initially there was an Army presence at Bonegilla itself. Uniformed servicemen guarded the gates against intruders. They drove the centre’s buses, trucks and cars. They worked in the kitchens and in the supply and distribution of stores. A ‘flimsy fence’ separated the soldiers’ barracks from the migrant accommodation blocks. In April 1949, the Army withdrew when the Department of Immigration needed more space to cope with an expected surge in migrant numbers.

Calwell proudly told Parliament in 1949 that a visiting executive of the IRO was astonished with the Australian reception facilities and processes. ‘No other country was offering such training and facilities to ensure that their life in their new land began propitiously’. CPD 8 September, 1949, p.143. Responding to criticism that the huts were unheated, Major Kershaw, Director, pointed out that each block had a common room that had one or two fireplaces or a stove. ‘The migrants are not in the camp very long, and some little inconvenience is not asking too much of them. My wife sits in our home in Melbourne without any heating whatsoever, and I can’t see why anyone coming in Australia should have preference over my own kith and kin.… Representatives of the International Organisation had visited Bonegilla and declared that nowhere in the world was better care given to displaced persons than at Bonegilla.’ BMM 5 July 1949.

Location, fabric and accoutrements were military styled. Like other defence force facilities, Bonegilla was set well away from the civilian population. The Army needed open training areas where trainees could use weapons; isolation from civilian populations helped impose military discipline. The way the reception centre was set apart from Albury and Wodonga added to the impression that migrant newcomers were not quite part of the community. They, too, were set apart. Bonegilla was part of a military district. At Bandiana, on the road between Bonegilla and Wodonga, armed patrols guarded huge warehouses full of small arms and other equipment. Tanks, trucks, jeeps and artillery pieces were


Some migrant staff were contracted to work with the Army on kitchen duties prior to the Army withdrawal in 1949. The Department of Immigration insisted Bonegilla was a ‘centre’ and not a ‘camp’, but, Bonegilla’s army beginnings meant that the accommodation was austere. The buildings were mostly standard army-type huts, usually unlined, timber-framed huts with corrugated iron cladding and low-pitched, gabled roofs. These huts were arranged in bleakly named blocks, each relatively self-sufficient with its own eating and cooking places and ablutions. Most blocks had latrines. Eating, washing and recreation facilities were communal. Each sleeping hut was commonly meant to accommodate twenty men and had no internal partitions. Each person was allocated a wire-based army bed, mattress, pillow, locker and chair. They were issued with army blankets and sheets, eating implements - and army issue clothing, if needed.

Little was done to prepare the barracks for their new use. Some effort was made to ensure there were sufficient beds rather than palliasses. Bedside carpet squares and some second-hand carpet rolls were acquired. Large mirrors were installed in the women’s quarters. Padding was added to the benches in the back of the trucks to transport women. Some, but not all, of the long grass was cut. Quoits, dartboards, table tennis tables and two pianos were provided for migrant and staff use. Eight huts were divided with ply wooden screens into sixteen instruction rooms and fitted with blackboards, blackout shutters, film strip projectors, Union Jacks and Australian ensigns. Walls were decorated with pictures of Australian scenes. There was to be some argument about the best scenes to show, but finally cattle drafting, sheep shearing, a dingo, koala and kangaroo were among those selected. Authorities worried that the standard accommodation offered the livein language instructors ‘may be a little embarrassing’. 35 Not much else was done. Henry Guinn, who had served as Director at both Bathurst and Greta, was surprised when he took up a relieving position at Bonegilla in February 1953 that it was ‘still an army camp’ with no heating, unlined messes and deep-pit latrines. Bonegilla, Guinn thought, had to move beyond simply supplying the bare necessities of a temporary staging camp. Pat Smith, who worked two terms at Bonegilla as a senior administrator, found on his return in 1964, that, although there were some changes to the buildings and surrounds, ‘the military aura still prevails’.

The Commandant wore uniform when he greeted new arrivals. Announcements were made over a public address system to summon the migrants to attend various sessions or duties. Alphabetical orders prevailed in most things, including listings for job interviews, much to the advantage of people with names like Aabt. Migrants formed queues for various registrations, meals and even morning showers and toilets. During 1949 there was a surge in the number of migrants arriving. When the Government doubled the capacity at Bonegilla, the press worried about the use of scarce building resources for immigrants when so many Australians were living in miserable conditions. There were allegations migrants were generally being accommodated in lavish luxury. However, an RSL group reported after an inspection in mid-1949, ‘The accommodation supplied at the Centre will not affect in any way the supply of materials for the erection of houses for Australians. From reports we had previously received we rather imagined that the accommodation would be more or less elaborate. Far from this, it was just sufficient for normal human needs.’ The group agreed with the suggestion that there be some subdivision of huts to allow for privacy for mothers and children. Some huts occupied by as many as 26 people became family unit huts, each divided with ply wood to accommodate five families.38

Reception Centre adminstrators insisted that although Army routines and ways were adopted, there was ‘no sergeant major stuff’. ‘Army principles for the handling of a large number of peoples were used to organise the migrants … but without the regimentation’. They were proud that IRO inspectors thought the Army presence was ‘camouflaged’.36 BMM 23 June 1949.

A Commandant (later renamed Director) was in charge. He coordinated the activities of seven different public service departments involved in the processing. He had detailed supervision of the accommodation and processing arrangements and least impact on the running of the hospital. Civilians working at the centre as teachers or social workers found they occupied a lowly place in the hierarchy of activities. Pay rates and working conditions were gendered, as elsewhere in the community at the time: female employees received four-fifths of a male’s salary; there were restrictions on the employment of married women. Females complained of the strong masculine ethos, but that was as much public service based as Army related. 37 12

The Director acknowledged that conditions were ‘not all that could be expected’, but the large numbers arriving made it not possible to provide better accommodation. Taxpayers were reassured about the thrift of the reception and training operations: the accommodation was ‘only reasonably comfortable’; the food plain, though nutritious and plentiful; there was neither luxury nor squalor; all expenditure was carefully monitored. ‘By no stretch of the imagination can it be said that these people – tortured through war, abused and ill-treated afterwards as they sought to find their place again – are living in luxury as we know it. But to them it is luxury!’ They were only there three weeks.

‘The Bonegilla Centre meant different things to different people - a curate’s egg sort of place. To some it was a place of peace and plenty after years as conscripts in German factories on starvation rations, a place where one could roam at will, where one was close to the sky and Nature. To others it was an isolated place in the middle of nowhere from which they couldn’t get away fast enough.’ Marie Ashley, language instructor 1949.39

Residents seem to have retained vivid memories of the locale, the buildings, the food and the atmosphere. They baulked at the preponderance of mutton on the sevenday menu. It seemed that the camp officials were trying to ‘wean the Balts from goulash’.

ALM 96.1303.

Zigrid S, Latvia 1948, recalls, ‘No railway station, nothing just open space, only knee-deep dry yellow grass’.

‘Bonegilla was just a paddock and a lagoon … It didn’t look nice – no town or anything.’ Alexandria, Ukraine 1951. ‘There was nothing there to uplift the spirit or claim to be civilized … just lots of people put into the vastness of Australia.’ Marita B, Ukraine 1949. ‘The gray colourless land, the vastness, the isolation were very depressing in the first few days.’ August S, Lithuania 1949. ‘Bonegilla was in the middle of nowhere. There was not a tree, not a flower, just an army barracks in an empty, hot, dusty place. There was barbed wire all around it like a German concentration camp. And the heat. The supervisor used to tell us to bring bucket after bucket of cold water and pour it on the floor and then we would all sit in it. We felt this enormous sense of deepening isolation. We didn’t know where we were, we just knew that there was no way back’, Eugenia B, Lithuania.40

There was ‘little more than two rows of beds , on each of which were a mattress, four blankets, sheets, a pillow and towels . On the ceiling near the light bulb sat two enormous moths, looking like a pair of small birds.’ Dmytro Chub, Ukraine, 1949. ‘They were not really prepared for us,’ Dragoslava Williams, Serbia 1948.

‘We were shivering all night. We couldn’t sleep because we were so cold and you just heard sobbing in the hut. There were ten young women in there. They all cried.’ Leopoldine Mimovich. ‘I never took my clothes off all the time I was in the camp’ Anton Potocnik, Slovenia 1951. ALM 96.1564.

New arrivals had to check baggage before heavy items were placed in store and became difficult to access. Bus drivers recall that many Displaced Persons arrived with little baggage. Gus Holicky boasted that all his possessions on arrival fitted into one brief case. 13

Hendrikus W, The Netherlands 1950, remembers wheelbarrowing hot river stones from the recreation room fire to his cubicle. He also recalls raids on the centre’s wood heap to find materials that might be used for furnishings.

‘For me Bonegilla was terrific, first and foremost because of the food. It was lovely actually. It was right on the banks of the Hume Weir and it was a nice place.’ Nick, Estonia 1949.

Coping with the surge in migrant numbers, 1949-1951

NAA A12111, 49/22/8.

Newcomers were provided with a meal within an hour of arrival. ‘The most vivid memories were of kitchens smelling of mutton fat, and loudspeakers blaring all day amidst the bleak corrugated iron barracks … there was a general mood of hardship and overcrowding felt at the time, but with a hint of optimism.’ Meie Kodu, Estonia c1949. ‘The heat the vastness, cockatoos, and not having any relatives [other than our own] family.’ Ruth G, Germany 1953. ‘The shock of the primitive barracks; the blowflies on the meat; the possums in the roof; delay of getting a posting etc’ Kreitsch P, Yugoslavia 1950. ‘Bonegilla was like a real heaven for us and we stayed about nine months there … I didn’t have to cook, that was good. The food was always the same, but that didn’t matter to us and it was plentiful. After the refugee camp in Italy we really like it.’ Gordana, Yugoslavia (Serbia) 1952. ‘We never went short of food at Bonegilla, but I got sick of continuously eating mutton and lamb, Aima, Estonia 1949.

‘After the hard times many of us had during the War in communist prisons, gulags, interrogation institutions and various other prisons and or prison camps, Bonegilla was a paradise. Three full-size meals a day … morning and afternoon tea, sporting facilities, social workers, a well-equipped hospital, a free cinema and various other amenities made the stay in the camp a lovely beginning of a new life in the country of our choice.’ Rad Leovic, Yugoslavia (Serbia), 1952.


As more ships became available the number of arrival increased markedly. The Department of Immigration came under pressure to provide more accommodation and the Department of Labour and National Service to provide more jobs. There were frequent, even feverish, calculations and recalculations of the numbers mustered ready to leave Europe, the capacity of the ships and their dates of arrival and the number of beds in migrant accommodation centres. An additional reception centre was opened in Bathurst (NSW). Temporary reception centres opened in Greta (NSW), Northam and Cunardin (WA). Bonegilla was expanded so that it was able to take 7 700 with an additional 1 600 in tents if required. Instructional huts were given over to accommodating new arrivals. A teleprinter was installed to expedite the dispatch of workers to workplaces. Up to forty employment officers were kept busy processing and dispatching as many as 100 people per day during some parts of 1950. Groups of migrants were dispatched to workplaces if one in the group had survival English.

The quicker we could get people whether workers or dependants out of Bonegilla the better we liked because only we and Canberra and the offices in Melbourne and Sydney knew of the number of ships carrying thousand of migrants appearing on the horizon.’ Pat Smith Administration Officer.

In September 1949 there was a health scare. Recently arrived children died: 19 in all, 13 of them at Bonegilla. There was a flurry of activity to explain that all was well at Bonegilla. An inquiry found that children suffering from gastro-enteritis had been on a ship-board diet of boiled water for a prolonged time. The inquiry was also critical of how the Bonegilla hospital was under-staffed and inadequately equipped.41

‘Once employment officers would ask migrants where they preferred to work. Now they don’t seem to care. They just send the people where they have vacancies, without asking them if they have any preferences.’ Masing Juno, Estonia, BMM 15 June 1950.

The national press, followed Calwell’s lead and shifted the blame to the ships and to the refugee camps. Most reflected on the unfortunate backgrounds from which the families had come.

‘The Commonwealth Employment Service had never let us down yet by failing to empty the camp before the arrival of the next transport.’ Dept of Immigration, 1950.

Some could not help wondering about parental care.

A National Coal Strike for seventeen weeks in mid-1949 made it difficult to transport new arrivals to the Reception Centres, but even more difficult to distribute them to jobs. The Army was pressed to take and provide for large numbers of displaced workers.

Health Scare, 1949 Europe did not give them a chance

The President of the Albury District Hospital Board, JC King, tried to re-direct blame from the hospitals at Albury and Bonegilla to more direct criticism of the conduct of parents. ‘The mothers could not speak English and it was difficult to advise them what to feed the children. “In my opinion they have not had good food since they were born”, he said. “No blame could be put on the camp officials”’. BMM 5 September 1949. Some parents are apparently ‘ignorant of child welfare and have been providing improper food.’ Herald (Melbourne) 5 September 1949. ‘Parents hide children’s illnesses and do not disclose them so as not jeopardise their selection to enter Australia.’ CPD 8 September 1949, p.103 (Calwell).

BMM 6 September 1949.

Sister Shirley Frost with Zdenko Elinger (left) and Theresa Baumber. 15

Measures were taken to improve hospital and living facilities at Bonegilla. Hospital referral procedures were reviewed along lines suggested from Canberra. The hospital building was painted and linoleum put on the floors. Fans were placed in wards. Additional facilities were provided for obstetrics and to improve sterilisation procedures. Blocks were set aside for family accommodation. They had heated rooms and were equipped with bassinettes and a hot plate. Parents had access to a refrigerator in each block. The kitchens were supplied with additional supplies of eggs and milk for young children. There was an infants feeding room. A crèche and kindergartens with children’s furniture, decorative murals and a toy house were opened. Outdoor play equipment was installed. Trees were planted.42

Separation The pressure on accommodation places was made even more acute by the arrival of larger numbers of families and fewer single workers. Twenty Holding Centres were established in other ex-service establishments in country areas. They would relieve pressure on the reception centres by taking dependants when there was no workplace accommodation near a family’s breadwinner. At the end of 1948 the first busloads of Yugoslav women and children were sent from Bonegilla to Uranquinty Holding Centre. Dependants were supposed to go to a Holding Centre ‘in proximity to the location where the breadwinner is employed’. From Bathurst workers and dependants were to go to northern NSW, that is north of a line to the South Australian border through Cowra and Bungendore. From Bonegilla that were to go to southern NSW and the ACT and further afield to Queensland and South Australia. Through 1949, 1950 and 1951 women and children were sent from Bonegilla to Holding Centres in places such as Cowra, Scheyville and Parkes (NSW), Benalla and Rushworth (Vic), and Wacol (SA). Neither the Holding Centres nor the transport arrangements to get there were always satisfactory. The Border Morning Mail published protests from community members when a bus contingent made the journey to Cowra without adequate arrangements for the use of conveniences en route. On arrival there was no meal provided. Women and children were bedded down on the hut floors with palliasses.

compatible with bare necessities’. There were reports of meal-time protests at both Cowra and Uranquinty during 1950. Publicists reassured the public - the troubles were plainly ‘exaggerated’.43 Calwell was mindful of the impact on the workers, as well as families: ‘It is not always easy to arrange employment for the breadwinner and accommodation for his wife and children in the same area…. It is not always practicable, however, to keep the members of a family together. … While we are doing our utmost to overcome the difficulties associated with the employment and accommodation of migrants, it should be remembered that many Australian seasonal workers are deprived for considerable periods of the company of their wives and families, and of the amenities enjoyed by city dwellers.’44

To minimise family separation, married women were released from their work contracts when their husband could find work and independent accommodation. Social workers were appointed to help pregnant women and others who may have special needs. There was some provision of child care, with kindergartens established at each child centre. By 1951 14 000 married women had been housed in Holding Centres. This was a high proportion of the 70 000 displaced women who came to Australia as that 70 000 included single women as well as aged dependants.

The Holding Centres were in smaller country places, but were supposed to meet ‘the minimum standards

S. Morris, Uranquinty Remembers, p.79. S. Morris, Uranquinty Remembers, p.66.

Some men who were allocated work at Bandiana cycled to Uranquinty, 120km away, to see their families at weekends. 16

Doina Eitler recalled her father, Alfred Himan, borrowing £50 from the Wodonga Parish Priest to erect a one-room hut on Wodonga flats, so that the family, sent to Uranquinty could be reunited with him.

Family separation was distressing. ‘But [Bonegilla] also became a place of one of the most cruel things whichever happened in Australian immigration. Husband might have been sent to work on a farm, Wife and children were sent to Benalla. Or you had a married couple without children, so wife was sent somewhere and husband was sent somewhere else. So imagine? In a new country where you need the support of each other you are suddenly dislodged as a family unit’, Michael Cigler, Czechoslovakia 1951. They separated those who ‘have only families when they start a new life’ Selga F, Latvia 1949.

Newcomers struggled with a strange geography. ‘My mother remembers not knowing where her husband was working.’ Francesca D, Slovenia 1952. Michal and Vera B, Ukraine 1949, remember the bus taking the men away to work. ‘The women cried as they did not know where the men were going’. ‘Dad caught trains and came home on Saturdays and Sundays from Port Kembla.’ Daila J, Latvia, 1949.

‘Together or apart’ – married couples asked employment officers. ‘I was sent to Ivanhoe, my wife went to the Royal Melbourne Hospital as a domestic.’ Orion Wenhrynowucz, Ukraine 1948. Nikolaus H, Ukraine 1949, was sent to a glass manufacturer in Melbourne while his wife Maria and their daughter Elisabeth were sent in the opposite direction to Cowra. Anton Sziller, Ukraine 1949, was sent to Adelaide and his wife, Lea, to Cowra. ‘Our first wish is to remain together and our second desire is to work in one of the cities.’ Mr and Mrs W Wisniewski, Poland 1951.46

The separated breadwinner had to pay not only for his own accommodation near his workplace, but also to contribute up to £3 per week for the accommodation costs of his wife and children. On self-funded family visits he was given accommodation at the holding centres without charge, if he was paying for hostel accommodation elsewhere. 17

Separation added to the stress on marital relationships especially those already under strain. Prolonged separation was a factor in the frequent breakdown of marriages. There were reports of infidelity and abuse arising from jealousy.47

Michael Cigler, Czechoslovakia 1951, remembered the pressures on relationships. ‘I was sorry for the married people. Of course, there were a lot of problems. The infidelity in those camps, you see … And some of the marriages were more or less marriages of convenience, you know, some of the women, like some German girls just wanted to get out of Germany. And very often well educated, intelligent, they would marry some immigrant from some European country with low intellect, educational standard and it was a tragedy. Raimond Gaita, Germany 1950, remembers, ‘Tensions existed between [my father, Romulus] and my mother [Christina], dating back to Germany, and deepened by her romances with other men on board ship and now also in the camp at Bonegilla. More than once my father was told, “Control your wife, she is stealing our husbands”. When a woman from Bonegilla visited her husband [at the work camp on the Loddon River] she told my father that I was neglected and running wild.’ Milo Radevic, aged 40, was charged in Melbourne with the murder of his wife, Ingebord Radevic, aged 26, at Bonegilla on 6 April 1950. He stabbed her when he allegedly found her kissing a customs officer just outside the camp. He said, his wife ‘was a very bad woman and he had seen her with an officer in a cabin on a migrant ship at Port Said. She was for him and not for all men’. Mikola Wychopen drowned in what was suspected to be suicide. His wife, Kathleen, said he often accused her of ‘not being true to him’. 48

In deciding whether to continue separating dependants of the non-British into Holding Centres once the Displaced Persons scheme had ended, the Immigration Advisory Council considered several arguments for and against the practice.

At Holding Centres, the states provided educational facilities for children. There were better opportunities for women to learn English and some seasonal employment opportunities for women. The movement of dependants to city hostels was likely to lead to them settling in the city and would thus ‘undermine efforts to decentralise population…. There is a much healthier and more wholesome atmosphere for growing children in country areas’. Separation would also encourage migrants to fund normal private accommodation. However, there were humanitarian reasons for discontinuing the separation policy, ‘such as a more contented family group, the abolition of expenses to the breadwinner in visiting his dependants and so on … It is not desirable that nonBritish migrants should receive discriminatory treatment in relation to separation or non-separation of the family group.’ Separation had ‘adverse effect upon efficiency and stability of workers’. It was also more expensive to maintain a person at a Holding Centre than at Bonegilla.49

Co-location with assisted migrants

The Immigration Advisory Council and the Immigration Planning Committee held a joint meeting in Albury and inspected Bonegilla in 1950. They decided that with a few alterations the facilities could be used to receive assisted migrants, as they had the displaced. Unlike the displaced, assisted migrants had no experience of European refugee camps. They regarded themselves as economic migrants responding to invitations to come work in a welcoming Australia. They plainly expected a different style of temporary accommodation. In 1951 and 1952 the first groups of Dutch, Italians and British assisted migrants baulked at the conditions that had prevailed during the time the displaced were the sole occupants of Bonegilla. To the Dutch the huts were ‘shacks’, ‘chicken sheds’, and ‘cubby-hole sized cubicles’. The Italians were frustrated principally by delays in being allocated employment, but also by camp conditions and a cold damp winter. All baulked at German being used on signs and in loud-speaker announcements as an official alternative language. None, especially the Italians, enjoyed the culinary efforts of the displaced who worked as cooks at the centre.

‘Bonegilla was really a military camp not suited for families’, A Klabbers, The Netherlands, 1952. To me Bonegilla was a place I don’t want to remember much. We were put in the middle of nowhere with no relatives or friends …. It was the worst three months of my life, Giovanni Sgro, Italy 1952. ‘The Commandant seemed to think he was running a prison camp’, James W, Scotland, 1951. ‘The latrines had walls of hessian and long lines of holes on a wooden bench. Behind a timber wall there was another row of holes for women’, Barry H, United Kingdom 1951.

NAA A12111, 51/20/14.

Officials attending the special IAC/IPC joint meeting inspected the hospital facilities for children. Migrant waitresses listened to the formal speeches from the kitchen doorway. 18

‘I think that if the European migrants could speak English as well as the English migrants, they probably would grumble more that the English people. By the time they learn sufficient English to be understood they are already satisfied in this country and do not grumble.’ A Zukiwskj.50

Nevertheless, attention had been given to refitting the centre in preparation for the British in particular. Blocks 17, 18 and 20 were reconditioned in anticipation of their arrival. The kitchens and messes were painted inside and out. Plastic covers were placed on the dining tables. Ablutions and toilet blocks were reconditioned. The huts were divided into cubicles each slightly less than 4m by 3m so as to give some privacy. Each cubicle was fitted with a chest of drawers, bedside mats and window curtains. Some of the Dutch were placed in the reconditioned areas, but many, such as the Italians, went to areas like Blocks 11 and 13 that had not been renovated. Neither the Dutch nor the Italians appreciated the discrimination in favour of the British. Most heed was paid to the British complaints, for after about eight months they were no longer sent to share accommodation with the non-British at Bonegilla. The displaced now recall with some pride distinctions between themselves and the economic migrants that came after them. They endured an unrenovated Bonegilla with fewer complaints. For them there was little other option. However bad, Bonegilla held the prospect of new opportunities when no others seemed to exist.

competence and allocated to language classes. Within a few days they registered at the Commonwealth Employment Service and had a job interview. Separately they registered for social services (unemployment and child endowment payments) and an Alien Registration Certificate, which permitted them to live in Australia. They had to attend a medical examination and be X-rayed. Two aspects of the reception and training processes were particularly important to the migrants – getting a job and learning the language.

Allocating Work For migrants the most important event in their life at Bonegilla was the job interview. ‘[The central question was] Do you know what kind of job are you going to get?’ Ingrid S, Latvia 1948. ‘Mostly they talked about their jobs, who was being sent where to work – how much one had to work to buy a block of land and build a shack on it.’ Dmytro Chub, Ukraine, 1949. ‘Since work plays such a large part in the daily thinking of the male immigrant, his occupational happiness has a profound effect on his general outlook.’ Hans Mol, chaplain 1952-54. ‘Work was the most important thing in their lives’, B King, Social Worker 1951. King recalled employers looking over prospective employees like cattle. She advised against taking farm work that was likely to be isolated and unregulated.

Laszlo and Eva Makay made their hut cheerful. ‘We were not coming from luxury like some other nationalities who complained. DPs never complained really,’ Laszlo Makay, Hungary 1951.

Reception processes On arrival newcomers were allocated a hut with an issue of eating utensils, crockery, blankets and linen. They were given opportunity to check all their heavy unaccompanied luggage had arrived and was stored. Within an hour they were given a meal. Next day, they were welcomed to Australia and Bonegilla. They were tested for language 19

‘I had finished secondary school and worked in an office. I was branded a domestic and sent to be domestic and nanny for seven children.’ Albina M, Italy 1950. ‘It is true that there were only two occupation stamps in the camp: “labourer” for male immigrants and “domestic” for the females. But this did not matter at all. Everyone knew that this was a free country, a land of opportunities and that sooner or later everyone would find right place according to skills and abilities … It was better to be a medical doctor or lawyer officially called “labourer” or “domestic” but alive in Australia than a doctor or lawyer in a communist prison or gulag or German concentration camp’, Rad Leovic, Yugoslavia (Serbia) 1952.

Many found their first job at a migrant accommodation centre. By 1950, 4 106 of the 4 637 employed at the various centres were migrants. The staffing ratios varied overtime but it was not uncommon to have 1 staff member for every 8 residents. At Bonegilla there could be over 400 migrants employed in a variety of occupations as kitchen, garden, works, hospital, transport, or office workers. Some became block supervisors with the responsibilities of being the administrative contact for about 400 people. Employment at the reception centre was always a good option. Public Service conditions ensured reasonable security, pay, working conditions, prospects of overtime and promotion. Staff had privileged accommodation and rations. Many stayed at Bonegilla for years. Michael Cigler, Czechoslovakia 1951, recalls how he got a job at Bonegilla hospital by saying he was a university student and letting the interviewer assume that he was a medical student. It seemed that it was not what you know but who you know that could get you a job at the reception centre. Current staff had some influence on who was selected. Poles tried to appoint fellow Poles. Latvians had control of the transport office at one stage. Staff club members tried to ensure that anyone who was a good tennis player could join the staff (and, then, the Bonegilla tennis club team). Nikola Kitt, Ukraine 1948, was employed as a kitchen hand and cook, then a hygiene worker/ boot repairer while on contract and again after his contract had expired.

‘I spoke five languages and that was very helpful. My job was typist but I also did a lot interpreting, timesheets and wages. My work was very varied … One of the benefits of working at Bonegilla was that the staff had their own room … You had just enough space to put your bed in from wall to wall, a small wardrobe and I was able to get hold of a chair. Two people [would have] trouble fitting in the room together, but it was my own room, my own little kingdom. We also had our own dining hall for the Bonegilla staff with table cloths. What a luxury!’ Eleonora Conolly, Yugoslavia (Serbia), 1949. ‘Many staff members were happy. Overall, the staff was satisfied and many of the migrants were also satisfied because some people had better life even in the Centre than in their own home or their own country.’ Laszlo Makay, Hungary 1951.


Learning the Language In their land of resettlement the new arrivals were to look forward rather than back. In his customary ‘inspirational’ welcome the Director of the Bonegilla Reception and Training Centre told new arrivals, through an interpreter, that they were Displaced Persons no longer, they were now New Australians. He explained camp discipline and hygiene and outlined the advantages of the country ‘which they have accepted for their future’. He encouraged them to learn English as soon as possible. Bonegilla was about their future not their past.52

The language migrants were to learn in their few weeks at Bonegilla was ‘realistic’, rudimentary’, ‘utilitarian’, ‘situational’. The emphasis was on oral English. There was no analysis of grammar. A few model simple sentence structures were offered for imitation. Vocabulary would come afterwards. There were lots of simple repetitive songs to be learned. Some authorities wondered if the instruction was sufficient and appropriate. One critic complained that some in the first contingent left without knowing basic words like ‘food’, ‘money’, ‘pay’, ‘meal’.53 Attendance at classes was not good, but Major Kershaw, the first Director, opposed the notion of making attendance compulsory. As a general encouragement, the Immigration Advisory Council recommended that the Minister reduce the contract term by six months if migrants achieved a reasonable standard of English. The recommendation was not taken up. Attendance was made a pre-requisite to employment at the centre. Night classes were arranged for the staff. Some felt a linguistic dispossession. Without their native tongue they lost the ‘familiarity of daily life, the simplicity of gesture and the spontaneous expression of feelings’. Those with professions lost ‘the assurance of being of service to others’.54 Some lost their name to something more familiar to Australians.

Perhaps the most important thing is to learn to speak the language of Australians. They are inclined to stare at persons whose speech is different. Speaking in your own language in public will make you conspicuous, and make Australians regard you as a stranger ... [try] to avoid using your hands when speaking because if you do this you will be conspicuous.’ Even the most kindly and well meaning of staff – the chaplains, the social workers, the language instructors, the employment officers – advised newcomers to learn English and practise it constantly. The surest way into a job was to acquire English. ‘No English, No Job’ was the centre mantra. English was the key to assimilation. 21

NAA 1/1967/10/11.

‘An elderly patient’s face lights up as Nurse Riassa Halonkin speaks to her in Romanian at Albury Base Hospital’. Children often became sufficiently bilingual to communicate with grandparents and older people who had difficulty adjusting to the use of English.

Reviewing and learning from the Displaced Persons scheme

The Displaced Persons scheme demonstrated the practicability and the desirability of a large-scale immigration program. Its apparent success encouraged government to persist with the mass migration program and to continue to bring Europeans as assisted migrants. Indeed, because the displaced were able to be directed to the humblest of jobs in remote areas, they proved to be more productive than the otherwise preferred British migrants. In deciding to continue the mass migration program, government hoped that it would still be able to direct European migrants, like those from Italy and Germany, to places where labour was most needed.

in work contracts had varied throughout the Displaced Persons scheme, but government now insisted, where it could, that the new assisted migration agreements would contract migrants to commit to learning English.

It seemed that ‘migrant labour had come to the rescue of basic industries when it was difficult to recruit a local workforce.’ SMH.

Representatives of the migrants saw the need for other changes. Discussions at the Citizenship Convention in January 1953 drew on experience with British migrants and recent experience with the new waves of non-British assisted migrants. They took place not long after Italian migrants had remonstrated loudly at Bonegilla and in Sydney about the lack of jobs caused by the economic downturn. Held as it was at the end of the Displaced Persons Scheme the Convention reflected what some thought had been happening with the displaced.57

‘The benefits [of the scheme] for Displaced Persons included food and lodging, guaranteed employment and English language teaching. The memories of post-war refugees are very ambivalent, combining gratitude at rescue from Europe with resentment at exploitation by the Australian authorities. But the greatest resentments were often caused by public attitudes, including the expectation that New Australians would not speak foreign languages in public and would strive to appear identical to native Australians, which most found difficult’. James Jupp.55

There were to be changes. In the last months of the Displaced Persons scheme the proportion of ‘employables’ had decreased as that of dependants had risen. Australia hoped that with the end of the ‘humanitarian’ considerations, it could resume the introduction of young single men and women. It could now put some emphasis on gathering people with skills.56 At least one other change seemed necessary – to help overcome assimilation problems. The conditions specified


‘I shall use every endeavour to become proficient in the English language and shall attend regularly the night classes conducted for all migrants at the Commonwealth Government expense for the purpose of teaching them the English language.’ Clause from contract agreed to by Hendrikus de Kruiff, Netherlands 1952.

The Citizenship Convention saw the need to change migrant accommodation centres. It urged the Department of Immigration to appoint trained social workers at the centres; to increase efforts to bring the centres ‘into the life of the general community’; and to provide ‘the same standard of accommodation for European migrants as for British migrants … where practicable’.

The Convention was wary of the label ‘New Australian’ and asked that non-British children be simply called ‘Australian children’. It also suggested that all school children should be encouraged to study the cultural and historical background of European migrants.

The Citizenship Convention considered a report from the Good Neighbour Councils and New Settlers’ Leagues that drew to the attention to difficulties with assimilation that seemed rooted in the host society as well as the migrants. The authors noted, for example, the encouraging quick assimilation of children and the large number of migrant home purchases. Problems were caused by: (a) The deep rooted national prejudices existing among adult migrants; (b) the lack of appreciation among Australians generally of the importance of immigration; (c) the difficulties of New Australians placed in working groups with whom they have no [affinity] and with whom they get no opportunities for conversation; (d) the use of derogatory terms by Australians regarding new Australians; (e) the generalisations being drawn from unfortunate incidents, and the prominence given in the press to reports of such incidents;

have suggested that the host society was indifferent rather than hostile. Migrants were not actively encouraged to forget their pasts, but had few places to rehearse their remembrances in an indifferent Australia.58

Observing/recalling community experience of the Displaced Persons scheme The Border Morning Mail was willing to admire the industry and the doggedness of the displaced in their workplaces and in their struggles to access decent housing. On behalf of the immediate host society, it was prepared to comment favourably on their skills in traditional dancing and choir singing, in handicrafts and in soccer, basketball, table tennis, chess and bridge. It could plainly see their presence had invigorated local serious music life: there were long queues to get seats for concerts by the visiting ABC symphony orchestra; people gathered outside Pivot Smith jewellers to hear the classical music recordings the shop broadcast. It noted that Bonegilla residents went to fight bushfires and raised money for local charities. It acknowledged that the migrants had some influence on the local way of life extending the variety of foods being sold, and introducing Continental haircuts and clothing styles. The community had been on a ‘cosmopolitan adventure’.59

(f) the misunderstanding by Australians of the national pride and cultural inheritance of migrants; (g)

the criticism by migrants of the attitude of Australians towards Communism, suggesting that Australian are not strong enough in their opposition to it because they have had no first- hand experience of Communism;

(h) the housing and employment problems and the unequal distribution of the sexes; (i)

although considered to be only temporary problems, the discrimination against migrant in employment in some quarters and the lack of homes. Herald-Sun exhibition materials, ALM.

Scholars echoed similar caution in hailing assimilation as a success. Speaking in another forum the same month, Jean (Craig) Martin challenged the wisdom of discouraging immigrants from retaining their language, customs and traditions. She returned to this theme again in 1971 when she accused the host society of devaluing the previous experience of migrants. ‘By devaluation I mean lack of respect for or interest in ethnic institutions…. Apart from a passing appreciation of the entertainment value of folkdancing and choir singing, our attitude to ethnic cultures was essentially one of non-recognition.’ Other scholars 23

Estonian dancers rehearse for a concert in aid of Albury base hospital.

‘Wodonga and Albury wouldn’t have developed so much if wouldn’t have been Bonegilla here. Individuals who are living in Albury and Wodonga benefited very much because services were expanded,’ Lazslo Makay, Hungary 1951.

The newspaper praised individual achievement. So, for example, it drew attention to Heivi Seltam , Estonia 1949, who could not speak English on arrival but had in 1953 become a certificated nurse. That of course reflected well on the opportunities that were open to her and others in Australia. Self-congratulation seemed also to underpin accounts of the hospitality extended by the local YWCA, CWA, Apex and Rotary Clubs. All the same, the Border Morning Mail persisted beyond the Displaced Persons scheme with what it saw as the community’s preference for British rather than European migrants. In 1949 the newspaper had welcomed an addition to the large and long-resident family of Mr and Mrs S Thurling with the observation that these were ‘Australia’s best immigrants’. In January 1953 an adult summer school play ‘Horizons’ was performed in Albury. The play explored ‘the problems of a daughter falling in love with a New Australian’. The newspaper warned that was ‘something that could happen to anyone’.60 Jean Martin urged examination of particular social settings in which the immigrant and the native-born adapted to each other to better explore and understand the national experience of post-war migration. At a level removed a little if not completely beyond the rhetoric of politicians and the national media, small communities wrestled firsthand with enlarged migrant presences. It seems that, in Albury, community responses to the migrants were just as mixed as those of the migrants were to the reception centre.

The community was publicly at least more likely to appear supportive rather than hostile. Community spokespersons have subsequently held hard to the notion that AlburyWodonga extended generous hospitality to the newcomers. Migrants, however, felt they were met, in the main, with indifference.61 Memory has blunted recall of contemporary community anxieties and indifference. In the first newspaper memory pieces published after the reception centre closed, the displaced emerged again as blameless victims of war. They were ‘people on Desperation Row and Bonegilla was a sort of Last Chance Café’. They were the war-weary and warheavy who became suburban pioneer battlers. Memory of the displaced was not swamped by the more numerous waves of economic migrants and other refugees who came to the Bonegilla Reception Centre in subsequent years. Indeed, the displaced fixed something of the enduring character of the place. Via them as much as its Army origins and on-going military links, Bonegilla emerged as a war memory place. Unlike other war memory heritage sites, Bonegilla was not directly associated with or illustrative of devastation or violence. It was, instead, a big resettlement staging place, where the displaced from distant war zones were received on arrival in Australia. These displaced persons were to represent a population bulwark against the Cold War communist threat. In retrospect at least, they extended the Australian experience of war.

Selected References Books and articles cited and used include: Lois Carrington, A real situation, Tara Canberra 1997; Patricia Donnelly, Migrant Journeys, Affordable Print Gilles Plains SA 1999; Alistair Greig, The Stuff Dreams Are Made Of, MUP Melbourne 1995; Harold Holt, Australia and the Migrant, Angus & Robertson Sydney 1953; Ann-Mari Jordens,. Redefining Australians, Hale & Iremonger Sydney 1995; Tony Judt, Postwar: a history of Europe since 1945, Penguin New York 2005; James Jupp, Arrivals and Departures, Cheshire Melbourne 1960; James Jupp, Immigration, Sydney University Press Sydney 1991; P Knightley, A Hack’s Progress, Jonathan Cape London, 1997; Egon Kunz, Displaced Persons, ANU Press Sydney 1988; Andrew Markus, ‘Labour and Immigration, 1946-49’, Labour History, Number 47 November 1984: Jean Martin, Refugee Settlers, ANU Canberra 1965; Jean Martin ‘Migration and Social Problems; in AIPS, How Many Migrants, Angus & Robertson, Sydney 1971, p.97109; Sherry Morris, Uranquinty Remembers, 1948-52, Uranquinty Progress Association Wagga Wagga 2001; John Murphy, Imagining the Fifties, UNSW Press Sydney 2000; Klaus Neumann, Refuge Australia, Sydney 2007; Catherine Panich, Sanctuary, Allen & Unwin Sydney 1988; Glenda Sluga, Bonegilla, Place of No Hope, University 24

of Melbourne Melbourne 1988; Ann Synan, We Came with Nothing, Lookups Research Sale 2002. Memory pieces, unless otherwise specified, are drawn from the Bonegilla Collection at Albury LibraryMuseum. Some appear on the Migration Heritage Centre Belongings website. Author voices from Dmytro Chub, So this is Australia, 1980; Raimond Gaita, Romulus, My Father, Text Publishing Melbourne 1998; Giovanni Sgro, Mediterranean Son, Scoprire il Sud Melbourne 2000. The voices of Michael Cigler and Laszlo Makay are from National Library oral histories (TRC 2536 and OH-VN4318388); Rad Leovic - Canberra Times 7 December 1987;. Henry Guinn, Mrs B King and Pat Smith - Sluga, Bonegilla (pp. 25-26, 93-97, 123-124); Gordana - Wendy Lowenstein & Morag Loh eds, The Immigrants, Hyland House Melbourne, 1977, pp.80-87; Klabbers - D & M Eysbertse, Where Waters Meet, Melbourne 1997/2007; Mimovich - Davies and Dal Bosco, Tales from a Suitcase; Anton Sziller - Catherine Murphy, Boatload of Dreams, United Trades & Labour Council (SA) 1994; Inga Hanover - Border Mail Souvenir Edition, August 1997.

Endnotes – Receiving Europe's Displaced _____________________________________ Immigration Advisory Committee, 27 February 1946.


HJ Murphy, ‘Publicity Needs’ January 1949, NAA CP815/1, 021.134.


3 4

Border Morning Mail (BMM) 28 June 1951. J Murphy, Imagining the Fifties, p.155.

See, for example, Calwell speeches, CPD 2 August 1945, p.4911 and 28 April 1948, p.1135; A Calwell, ‘The why and how of post-war immigration’, in H Holt, Australia and the Migrant, pp.8-21; HJ Murphy, ‘Publicity Needs’.



9 December 1947 and 19 January 1947.


ibid; Tomorrow’s Australians 1 October 1949.


J Martin, Refugee Settlers, p.78.

CPD 7 September 1949, p.5; A Calwell, ‘The Why and How’. NAA A10875, 1953, IAC, WD Borrie, ‘Migration - the Australian Population Pattern’, p.12.

9 10

G Sluga, Bonegilla, p.5; A-M Jordens, Redefining Australians, p.47; NAA CP815/1, 021.134.


CPD 14 March 1951 p.687 (Haylen) and 3 June 1952, p.88; BMM 16 January and 27 February 1951; CP1714/1, N47138,



Jordens, Redefining Australians. pp.137-151.


BMM 20 September 1950 and 21 January 1953.


IPC meeting 4 August 1959, A10875, 1959; Greig, The Stuff p.41.

NAA A437/1, 1947/6/261; CP815/1, 021.187; Carrington, Real Situation, p.70.



BMM 10 May 1954; NAA CP815 ,021.134.


Carrington, Real Situation, pp.22-23.

Sunday Telegraph 22 May 1949; Tomorrow’s Australians 1 August 1949.



Carrington, Real situation, p.42.


Knightley, Australia, p 219.

SMH 5 September 1949; BMM 6-7 September 1949; CPD 7 September 1949, pp.5-7.



BMM 17 September, 8 October 1949; 15 June 1950.


BMM 5 and 12 July 1949; 13 June and 24 November 1950.


Tomorrow’s Australians July 1950.

SMH 15 June 1949; NAA CP815/1, 021.134, 21 April 1948.


A-M Jorderns, Redefining Australians,. pp.89-113.

CPD 22 November 1946 and 6 December 1950, p.3796.


Jordens, Redefining Australians, pp.29-30; CPD 16 June 1949, p.1156.


13 14

Lewis A Cosser introduction to M Halbwachs, On Collective Memory, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1992, p.21.


Walsh, Reaching for the Moon, p 183; Von Holleuffer, ‘After 1945: Surviving as Survivors?’ in Steinert and Weber-Newth, Beyond Camps and Forced Labour, p 141. J Martin, Refugees.


NAA CP815/1, 021.030PART 1, Commonwealth Department of Education, 17 February 1948.


BMM 23 June 1949; NAA A445, 220/14/25, 31 July 1951; Skowronska and Hanover ALM.

Wenhrynowucz BMM 7 December 1987; Wisniewski BMM 26 January 1951.


CPD 3 September 1952, p.911 and p.926.


Radevic BMM 8 June 1950; Wychopen BMM 16 November 1949.

CPD 28 September 1950. Papers presented to IAC meetings 14 September and 27 November 1953



Speaking at the 1965 Citizenship Convention, Jupp, Arrivals p.121.


Sluga, Bonegilla.


NAA CP815/1, 021.134.


Correspondence 12 January 1948, NAA A445, 174/4/8.


BMM 14 October and 9 December 1947; 4 August 1949, 24 January 1951. 20 E Richards, Destination Australia, UNSW Press, Sydney, 2008, p.168. 19

E Apfelbaum, ‘Uprooted Communities, Silenced Cultures and the Need for Legacy’ in V Walkerdine, Changing Subjects, Palgrave New York 2002; Gordana, p.82.


J Martin, Refugees, p.78.


Borin, The Uprooted Survive, p 262; Morris, Uranquinty Remembers, p 100; Krupinski and Stoller cited in Jupp, Arrivals & Departures.





The Words to Remember It Scribe, Carlton North 2009, pp.337-342.


W Skowronska, Bonegilla Journey, c.2000; Illawarra Mercury 24 September 2005; E Edwards, Half a World Away, Orange City Council, 2007; SM Klepiak, The Bonegilla Kid, 2007; Border Mail Souvenir Edition, August 1997; Age 6 April 2003; Visitors Book 31 March 2008.


BMM 28 September 1950.


NAA A414, 1952/13/3554.


BMM 10 July 1954.


BMM 15 June 1953.


Mark Aarons, Sanctuary, William Heineman Melboune 1989.


Jordens, Redefining Australians, pp.35-37.

SMH editorial 27 January 1953;.J Jupp, Immigration, p.72 .

Planning 1951, NAA A445, 142/5/2; J Murphy, Imagining the Fifties, p.164. Resolutions, Fourth Australian Citizenship Convention, 20-23 January 1953, NAA A10875, 1953.


J Craig, The Social Impact of New Australians’ in H Holt, Australia and the Migrant, pp.62-84; J Martin ‘Migration and Social Problems’, p.102-103; J Murphy, Imagining the Fifties, p.162.


BMM 14 October 1947. A prediction probably prompted by a government publicist.


BMM 18 July 1953; 12 October 1953; 1 March 1949; 22 January 1953.


Bruce Pennay, Albury-Wodonga’s Bonegilla, Charles Sturt University, Albury 2001, p.41.


Tony Wright, ‘The Immigrants’, BMM 26 June 1979 and BMM 19 December 1987.


Series: At Bonegilla The Army at Bonegilla, 1940-71 (2007) Calwells’ Beautiful Balts – Displaced Persons at Bonegilla (2007) Never Enough Dutch – Assisted Immigrants from the Netherlands at Bonegilla (2007) Food at Bonegilla (2007, third edition 2011) Receiving Europe’s Displaced (2010) The Young at Bonegilla (2010) Greek Journeys Through Bonegilla (2011) Rubbing Shoulders with Post-war Newcomers (2013)

The Bonegilla Migrant Experience

Related works: Albury-Wodonga’s Bonegilla, Albury Regional Museum 2001 Reading Bonegilla: A guide for secondary teachers, Albury & District Historical Society, 2008 So Much Sky, written by Bruce Pennay [for the] Migration Heritage Centre, New South Wales

The Bonegilla Collection at Albury LibraryMuseum

Acknowledgements: This publication project was supported by funding from the Australian Government through the Department of Environment Water Heritage and the Arts. Albury City Council provided initial seed funding via its Cultural Grants scheme. The Bonegilla Migrant Experience Heritage Park Steering Committee is grateful for that funding and for the support it gets from Wodonga and Albury City Councils and Parklands Albury-Wodonga.

Author: Bruce Pennay OAM, Charles Sturt University assisted by Jayne Persian, research student University of Sydney ISSN: 1834-6359 Published by Parklands Albury Wodonga PO Box 1040, Wodonga, Victoria, 3689 © 2010 Reprinted by Wodonga Council, June, 2016