Working Life at Bonegilla

Australia welcomed the immigrants as a ‘directable and controllable pool of labour' that would be crucial in the country's post-war reconstruction. Bonegilla was the prime employment office assessing employability and dispatching newcomers to jobs all over Australia.

Many migrants got their first job helping the centre to operate. At any one time, between 400 and 1000 migrants were employed at Bonegilla in a variety of occupations ranging from kitchen or garden hands, to hospital, transport, recreation or office staff. Employment at the Reception Centre was always a good option. Public service conditions ensured that staff had reasonable security, pay, working conditions, prospects of overtime and promotion. They had privileged accommodation and rations. Many stayed at Bonegilla for some years.

During the economic downturns of 1952 and 1961, large numbers of migrants at Bonegilla held noisy demonstrations demanding work. They had good cause to be unhappy. Many had left employment in their homeland and emigrated to Australia after being told work would be available here. When they found there was no work, they felt they had been duped.

These feelings of frustration resulted in riots. The army was called out in 1952, and several carloads of police from the surrounding district were rushed to the centre in 1961. Both expressions of the migrants' discontent received national – and even international – attention.

Australian Government Regional Arts Fund