Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Bonegilla migrant centre

I've just had a couple of days away with my mum.  We did something we've talked about for a long time and drove to Wodonga (at the border of Victoria and New South Wales) to visit her first home in Australia.

It was the Bonegilla migrant centre which operated as such between 1947 and 1971 with more than 300,000 migrants spending time living at the centre.  The first migrants at Bonegilla were refugees from refugee camps in Europe following WW2.  They learned English while living at Bonegilla and were assisted with finding work.  From 1951 the migrants arriving at Bonegilla changed from refugees to assisted migrants from many European countries, including Finland where my mum was born. 

My mum was the eldest of 10 children and was 13 years old when the family arrived at Bonegilla at the end of 1959.  Of the 20 something blocks of buildings (each like a little village) they have kept one block as a museum.  It was the block where my mum's family had lived so it was excellent for her to see it again.

What a shock it must have been to arrive from such a cold country as Finland to the blistering Australian Summer.  The accomodation was in un-insulated army huts, there was no trees or shade or grass as there is now.  The migrants lived in small one room cubicles, each with one tiny window and a door to outside.  Larger families like my mum's had 2 of the cubicles.  The toilet and shower block was a couple of hundred metres away and they ate in a canteen.

Many of the migrants who have written in the guest books don't remember their time at Bonegilla fondly, they disliked the food and hated the living conditions.  My mum remembers it all as a big adventure with lots of other kids around, a great place to swim in Lake Hume beside the camp, and the start of a new life. 

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