Monday 21st May 2012
We left our Corryong B&B hostess after a splendid breakfast, sincerely wishing her well in her somewhat uncertain future. I can see from an Internet search that the business was sold in due course, so we can only hope that her trials and tribulations are well behind her now.
It was still quite bleak and misty on the road, even at 9.30 when this was taken:
Half an hour down the road, the B400, Murray Valley Highway, and we were still deep in a magic landscape of shrouded secrets:
Two hours later, and we were crossing the Tallangatta Bridge in bright sunshine. Tallangatta and surrounding areas are primarily farming country, concentrating on beef and dairy cattle.
Shortly afterwards, we parked at the Hume Dam complex. The dam’s purpose includes flood mitigation, hydro-power, irrigation, water supply, and conservation.
It is not a bad picnic and recreation area either, and visitors are allowed to walk across the dam wall. The lake created by the dam, Lake Hume (innovative?) is estimated to hold approximately six times the amount of water in Sydney Harbour.
A short distance from the dam, along the shores of Lake Hume, lies the Bonegilla Migrant Experience. During the Second World War, Bonegilla was built as an army camp. After the war, in 1947, it was converted to a Migrant Reception and Training Centre. For more than 300,000 post-war migrants and war displaced persons, it was their first home in Australia. People from more than 50 countries were transferred through its modest wooden accommodation huts and kitchen messes, waiting to hear where they would be allocated work or resettlement locations.
My own father arrived here in 1952 (not that I met him until 1980 – but that is another story altogether). In July of 1952, the 3,000 strong Italian community rioted over poor living conditions, and the lack of promised work. They had been enticed to Australia by government policies instigated a couple of years before (Populate or Perish). By the time they arrived, the economy had collapsed and Australia was experiencing a recession. People who were used to hard work found themselves hanging around with too much time on their hands, and worrying about the income that they had promised to dependent family members left back home. Well, that is probably a simplification by correct historical standards, but it does give an idea of what happened. I can remember my father making reference to the riot, but I think he arrived shortly after the outbreak.
Can you imagine being a European immigrant, perhaps from one of the great cities of that continent, boarding a vessel for the long passage to the land down under, being put on to a train in Sydney, and then hours and hours later, being off-loaded at the lonely Bonegilla railway siding? Being met there by army personnel who provided transport to the camp, security and catering services. Jolting in the back of a truck, one or two suitcases in hand, the newly arrived would have looked out on open pastures and a vista of grey-green half dead eucalyptus – nothing like a verdant beech or pine European forest. Welcome to your new life!
If you can get hold of an old (1984) Australian film called Silver City, you can glimpse the experience through the eyes of the central character, Nina, a Polish immigrant, played by Gosia Dobrowolska, who was actually a Polish immigrant, albeit three decades later than the film’s setting. I particularly remember a scene involving the trees 🙂
The nearest town to Bonegilla was Albury (NSW) or Wodonga (Vic) each about fifteen-twenty kilometres away from the camp. The influx of homeless, displaced and migrants brought profound cultural change to Australia, the biggest demographic shift since the Gold Rush a hundred years earlier. The population of the twin towns of Albury-Wodonga, straddling either border of the great Murray River, were amongst the first “true-blues” to feel the effect.
A trip to what is now the living, outdoor museum of Bonegilla is highly recommended for any Aussie with migrant links, regardless of whether their ancestor passed through this camp.
Now, if that is not your cup of tea, you could continue along the Murray Valley Highway, which crosses over to the Victorian side of the river, and spend some time in the wineries of Rutherglen. We skipped that option on this trip, and headed to Yarrawonga, in search of a bed for the night. More of that in the next post.
Next Destination: Echuca