Travelling Australia - Journal 2012
March 2012 - Albury - Bonegilla, Block 19
Bonegilla Huts
Migrant huts at Bonegilla.
In the decades after the Second World War thousands of migrants to Australia were initially housed at the Bonegilla Migrant Reception Centre on the shores of Lake Hume and close to Wodonga.

In the immediate post-war years the Australian government actively sought migrants to increase Australia's population and began accepting displaced persons from refugee camps in Europe. The army camp at Bonegilla, previously housing up to 5,000 Army personnel engaged in specialised training, was one of several military establishments used to house migrants. By 1950 there were 23 such camps around Australia. The standard of accommodation was spartan with migrants living in unlined galvanised iron sheds in a climate which was cold in winter and hot in summer. At first, 20 people were housed in each single-sex hut; later huts were subdivided and families lived together in lined and painted cubicles. Food was provided in a central mess hall in each block and residents were discouraged from cooking for themselves.

The reception centre had its own banks, cinemas, sporting fields, hospital, police station and railway station. Migrants arrived by sea at Station Pier in Melbourne and were shipped by special train to the reception centre. Block 19 contained 24 buildings and usually housed about 350 people; there was a total of 24 blocks of a similar size. There were usually between 2,500 and 3,500 residents in the camp which covered 240 hectares.

170,000 displaced persons came to Australia between 1947 and 1951 and about half of them lived at Bonegilla. Most stayed for approximately a month learning English and about life in Australia; then they were moved to work in places where there was a shortage of labour. After the displaced persons programme ended, Australia implemented assisted migration schemes to encourage Europeans to migrate to Australia. Many other camps for displaced persons closed but, between 1951 and 1971, Bonegilla was used to house assisted migrants on arrival in Australia.

The Bonegilla camps had a significant impact on Albury-Wodonga. Many migrants chose to settle permanently in the area and the camp provided employment for hundreds of local people while is was open.

In 1971 Bonegilla Migrant Reception Centre closed and the site reverted to the army. Subsequently, most of the site was demolished and redeveloped. For various reasons Block 19 escaped being redeveloped and was given heritage listing in 2002. The Block has been retained as an informative memorial to the migrant programme.

Sculpture commemorating the Bonegilla migrant camp.