The Bonegilla Story

An exhibition that showcases migrants' experiences of Bonegilla is now open at Albury's LibraryMuseum.

The exhibition has special significance for Albury resident Anne Hawker, who arrived at the Bonegilla Migrant Reception and Training Centre from Holland as a teenager. She later worked translating in Bonegilla's X-ray department. In addition to giving a personal account at the opening, Anne will speak with journalists at the LibraryMuseum tomorrow at 10.30am.

While many families cried when they arrived at Bonegilla, Anne remembers her family laughing and giggling. Despite being allocated two small, sparse rooms without heating and "chicken wire beds, with black blankets", they found the funny side of sleeping in beds that squeaked every time they moved.

"I think that was probably a good sign about us adapting to the way of life in Australia," Anne says.

Happy memories do not dominate the Bonegilla stories, which reflect the migrant camp's harsh and primitive living conditions.

The exhibition relies on suitcases, packed with possessions ranging from a chamber pot to a piano accordion, to bring people's memories to life. One exhibit includes the smell of Bonegilla's notorious roast mutton dinners. Another features white elbow-length ladies dress gloves, along with a memory of Friday night dances.

The suitcases serve as a reminder of one of the first challenges migrants' faced, as they had just one suitcase in which to pack all of the treasured and practical possessions they'd need to start their new life in Australia.

The 320,000 migrants who lived at Bonegilla, from more than 30 different countries, had a significant impact on Australia socially, economically and culturally.

The Bonegilla Migrant Reception and Training Centre is on the Australian Government's National Heritage List.

The Albury LibraryMuseum is open every day.  Exhibition entry is free.

Posted: 19 Nov 2009

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Australian Government Regional Arts Fund