Migrant memories

Remembering Bonegilla

People remember the smells of eucalyptus, the detergent used in the toilets and latrines, the unfamiliar smell of nearby bushfires, mutton cooking, and the all-pervasive smell of cigarettes. They remember the sounds of the squeaky iron beds, the hiss of illegal kerosene primuses, an occasional accordion, the lullabies sung in different languages, blowflies, magpies carolling, crows cawing, and loudspeakers blaring instructions. The tastes they recall most commonly are lamb chops, Vegemite and fresh peaches. They recall the fierceness of the seasons at Bonegilla. Both the cold of winter and the heat of summer impressed roughly the same number of people. They remember the beauty of the surrounding landscape and peace after years of war.

If you have a personal experience of the migrant reception centre share it here, or enjoy the personal stories of those whose lives were touched by Bonegilla in this data base of memories.

Migrant Memories

‘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, 1949

‘If I start to remember, really remember, I cry.' Edda (née Zorin) Marcuzzi, Italy, 1955 (Belongings)

 ‘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 liked it.' Gordana, Yugoslavia, 1952

‘I loved walking through the open country around the camp and seeing the red bottlebrush bushes in bloom.' Josephine Giseus Aggio, Latvia, 1948

‘… it had not been “thought through” in terms of people, merely numbers … the place had more the look of a concentration camp than the promised land.' Cornelius Vleeskens, The Netherlands.

At Bonegilla we were sent to the barracks, we were in Block 19. They separated the women and men, we could not live together. It was not good for the children, they wanted their fathers. The married couples used to go for a walk at night, trying to find some privacy, other couples would be laughing, knowing what they would be doing!' Amelia Brinkis, Latvia, November 1949 (Belongings)

‘It was part of a big adventure before settling into a stable home again.' Monika, age 6, Germany, 1961

‘I felt safe after what we had left behind, but also lost because of the language barrier.' Elizabeth Ann Court (née Juhasz), Yugoslavia, 1960


Migrant memory database

Read the personal experiences of people who passed through Bonegilla.
Read more



Australian Government Regional Arts Fund