Growing up at Bonegilla

Many former residents who spent time at Bonegilla as children remember the experience as part of the adventure of growing up. At Bonegilla, they found ready companions among the other children, often from other nations. The proximity to Lake Hume, where they could swim and go exploring, made it seem like a holiday camp.

Yet, the facilities at the former army camp were not suitable for young children. Little was done to improve them until a health scare in 1949, when thirteen newly arrived children died from malnutrition.

Some remember the novelty of having to queue cafeteria style for their meals. Families tended to eat together in the mess. It wasn't permitted to take food from the kitchen or mess, and private cooking was forbidden, presumably as a fire and health hazard. Families found ways around these prohibitions preparing traditional dishes in their huts so as to have a change from the British-style meals served in the cafeteria.

But some of the former child residents also have darker memories. Many recall hearing their mother crying. Some recall the embarrassment of hearing strangers speak loudly to their parents, as if they were simple-minded, rather than merely unused to communicating in English. Many remember being separated from their father when he was required to work elsewhere. Some sensed the indignity their father felt at having to work in the wood yard or clean the toilets at the centre.

Australian Government Regional Arts Fund