Becoming an Australian

Initially, from 1947 through the 1950s, Bonegilla was called a ‘training centre' as well as a ‘reception centre'. Here, non-British migrants were to learn English and become familiar with the Australian way of life – its coinage, imperial weights and measures, geography, history, and standards of hygiene – with the goal of becoming assimilated into the broader Australian society. The newcomers would be encouraged to engage with local Australians and to take their place in the community. They would learn how to adapt to their new country and take their very first steps in turning from a ‘New Australian' into a true Australian.

By the 1960s there was acknowledgement that the host society was changing, too. The migrants and the native born were contributing to each other's culture. Mutual changes would lead to the development of an amalgam – a new, integrated community. These notions of assimilation and then integration held sway with the general community during the years that Bonegilla was a first home for immigrants to Australia. The notion of multiculturalism, which encompassed ethnic communities creating their own communal life and preserving their various heritages, was still novel when Bonegilla closed its doors in 1971. 

Migration was a bitter-sweet experience. Some former residents choose to remember Bonegilla as a portal or threshold; a beginning place that marked a new life. Others recall it as a place of loss and dislocation, where they realised their language, experience, training and connections were undervalued – even deemed irrelevant – by the host society. Transitions to a new way of life were not always smooth.

Either way, a short or long stay in Bonegilla marked a significant life milestone. Bonegilla was an in-between place, a transition zone. It was in-between here and there, now and then, the future and the past.

Australian Government Regional Arts Fund