Sharing Bonegilla Stories - the Post War Immigration Scheme

Sharing Bonegilla Stories is a special exhibition dedicated to the first migrants who came to our region under the Post War Immigration Scheme.

The Bonegilla Migrant Reception and Training Centre was the first home in Australia for up to 320,000 migrants from more than 30 nations. Operating between 1947 and 1971, it was the first, the largest and the longest lived migration reception centre in Australia.

During the 24 years when Bonegilla was open, hundreds of thousands of people passed through its gates. Each of them has a special story to tell.

The experiences of Bonegilla migrants span the range of human emotions. People often talk of isolation, fear, discomfort and broken promises but they also remember the warmth of the people they met, the friendships they developed and the opportunities that became theirs.

The first migrants were ‘displaced persons’ (DPs) whose lives had been disrupted by the horrors of World War II. Later migrants were attracted to Australia by advertisements displayed in Europe. Bonegilla was a staging camp - temporary accommodation - for new migrants who had exchanged free or assisted passage to Australia for two years of labour of the Australian government’s choice. After this service, migrants were free to make their own way.

Bonegilla housed people from 41 different ethnic groups. Conditions were basic, with accommodation in fibro and corrugated iron huts. The food was bland but plentiful; while unfamiliar to many migrants, it was typical of Australian food at the time.

The dominating feature of the Bonegilla exhibition display is a cabinet made from post World War II suitcases. The suitcases can be opened and pulled out to view a wonderful array of two- and three-dimensional Bonegilla artefacts. Each suitcase tells a different story about Bonegilla and the people who lived there.

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