Benalla Migrant Camp 1949-1967

Emma Klopsteins


Latvia 1950-1955

The Klopsteins Family (Latvia)

Emma Gotleib Klopsteins (nee Bruvers) arrived in Freemantle, Western Australia with her two sons, Harijs (Harry) and Elmars (Jim) on 5th January 1950 aboard the Skaugum. Residents of the Latvian capital Riga, Emma and 6 year old Harijs had fled Latvia in 1944, making their way across Poland, into Germany and eventually into a British managed Displaced Persons’ Camp in Germany, where Elmars was later born. The family spent five years there before migrating to Australia.

At this time the Australian Government had agreed to assist with the resettlement of Europe’s Displaced Persons. At the same time, for the security of the country, the Government had adopted a policy of increasing Australia’s population. The Government was happy to accept entire families as well as widowed or single women with children. The war had torn families apart and many of the women who came to Australia with children had little information about the fate of their husbands. Emma was one of these.

The Klopsteins’ voyage to Australia started from Naples on the Anna Salen but this ship broke down in the Indian Ocean and all passengers were taken to Aden. They were subsequently collected by the Skaugum, empty on a return voyage from Australia, which was diverted to Aden. When the Skaugum docked in Freemantle it was carrying 1,543 displaced persons, of whom 477 were children. The newspapers reported that 56 of the children had been treated for measles and 30 children were hospitalised for other health issues, but that generally the health of the passengers was good. The other newsworthy issue had been the concern of customs officers who had to gather up cigarettes thrown from the ship by exuberant passengers, excited at their arrival in this new land.

Emma Klopsteins and her two sons, together with 1400 other passengers, were taken by train to Northam and then by bus to Northam Migrant Camp. An insight into camp life comes from The West Australian, Friday January 6 1950

“From the time the first train is due a continuous meal will be available at the camp. This will consist of cold meats and salads, mashed potatoes, fruit, bread and jam. Iced tea and coffee will be provided to the adults and the children will be given equal parts of iced milk and water. Scrambled eggs and bread and butter will be prepared for children under three years.”

Emma, Harijs and Elmars lived at Northam and later at Cunderdin Migrant Camp until, after two years in WA, they were moved to Benalla Migrant camp. The reason for the move to Benalla is interesting. A condition of migration to Australia had been an agreement by Emma to work for two years in whatever job was found for her. “Unsupported mothers” as they were referred to posed problems for implementing this practice because childcare was an issue. Benalla Camp, with its two factories in close proximity, offered a solution. Schooling and childcare was provided in the Camp and mothers were placed in jobs at the factories.

Emma worked at the Latoof & Callil factory for several years and then in private service. She remained a resident of “the camp” until shortly before its closure in 1967. Emma passed away in Benalla in 2000, aged 88.

Harry made his life in Benalla, marrying local girl Andree Arnott and raising his 4 children there. Harry passed away in 2012 aged 74.

Elmars (Jim) initially worked with the State Electricity Commission in Benalla but then moved away to Melbourne, married and raised 3 children. The family moved around Australia with Jim’s work, eventually settling in NSW. Jim now lives in Sawtell, NSW.

Emma never again saw her family in Latvia. It was many years before she could correspond with them. Whilst this loss was great she felt safe in Australia and considered herself lucky.

Emma Klopsteins - Latvia

Benalla Migrant Camp School Pupil Register

Name Date of Birth Parent Camp Date
Elmars Klopsteins Sunday 1st June 1947 Emma 03/02/1953

Records in Benalla Cemetery for KLOPSTEINS

Please note that the records retrieved from Benalla Cemetery do not mean that the individuals listed were camp residents, they merely share the surname.
They are presented in that they may be of assistance for genealogical purposes.

Name Died Age Burial Location
Emma Gotliebe KLOPSTEINS 2000 88YRS LAWN External Link
Harry KLOPSTEINS 2012 74YRS LAWN External Link

Other families from Latvia

Bruns, Gravitis, Kulbars, Meiers, Sleinis, Taurins.