Anniversary marks 75 years of migration history

Australians across the country will return to Bonegilla next month to commemorate the 75e anniversary of the opening of the migrant center that changed Australia.

Just generations after the first arrivals reached Bonegilla migrant camp, around one in 20 Australians can now claim a connection to the site, which temporarily hosted some 320,000 people between 1947 and 1971.

A week of activities to mark the event will take place from November 21-28, culminating in the official opening of the Bonegilla Identity Card Exhibit.

Other activities will include guided tours of the site, the first screening of Bonegilla Stories – short films telling the stories of five former residents – as well as historical presentations, musical performances and lunch for those connected to the site.

Historian Dr. Bruce Pennay of Charles Sturt University says that the 75e anniversary will be important in preserving and commemorating the history of the site, not only for those who were there, but also for their children and grandchildren.

“I think 75 is an interesting birthday to celebrate because it’s when things fade from living memory and it’s probably the last major anniversary event where we can call on those who were actually there to tell us what it was like to get here,” he said.

“Australia’s history as a migrant nation has evolved since the influx of post-war mass migration programs and we have welcomed people from a wide variety of lands. Newcomers today and yesterday have had a variety of migration experiences.

“We hope that by sharing their stories, we will try to better understand what it was like to move from one country to another.

While there are countless success stories of families who started their Australian adventure in Bonegilla, many others have found it extremely difficult.

Some people felt they had a successful migration experience and had a great sense of personal accomplishment, but many others remember the hardships migration brought to them and their families.

“Some weren’t sure the decision to migrate was wise and left Australia,” Dr Pennay said.

“Other people’s children remember their parents dwelling on the challenges they faced. The migration was a bittersweet experience and many people remember the bitterness more than the sweetness.

Dr. Pennay said that the 75e anniversary was a good time to remember what migration has meant for the nation and, above all, what it has meant for the people who emigrated.

On-site commemorations will begin with the launch of the ID Card exhibit at 10:15 a.m. on November 21, with the final activity being a bus tour on Monday November 28.

Some events are free and others will be chargeable. See program for details.

(Image credit: NAA)

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