Benalla Migrant Camp 1949-1967

Migrant Stories

Lemega Story Collection items belonging to the Lemegas are Mr Lemega's original suitcase and Irene Lemega’s little sewing basket: Irene wrote the story of the basket in January 2014: "On my first Christmas in the camp, there was great excitement amongst the children that Santa was coming. We all gathered down near the Boys' Club behind the mess hall and then Santa came with his cut-out sleigh and his cut-out reindeer being pulled by an old tractor - it was wonderful! Myself and my friend Velta each received one of these beautiful sewing baskets and over the years it has always been a reminder of that first wonderful Christmas at the camp." Sabine Smyth interviewed Anna Lemega at her home in Benalla in 2015. The following was written from notes after that visit:Anna Lemega originated from the German “Sudetenland”, today’s Czechoslovakia. In 1946 she was displaced from her home and had to go to Bavaria. She said there were no jobs, huge queues in front of the employment offices, and lots of refugees. Refugee accommodation was basic: beds were crowded into a pub’s dance hall, so tightly, that “to get to your bed you had to walk over other people’s beds.” Anna remembers that she decided to go to England because there was work. “I was not sad to leave because we were not liked in Bavaria, we were treated like ‘gypsies’. She stayed for 8 years and got married to a Ukranian man, Michael Lemega. They returned to Germany with two kids, Irene and Roman. Anna remembers reading about Bonegilla in the ‘Stern’ (well-known German Magazine). We decided to take a risk and go. The Australian Foreign Office was very interested in us because we spoke English. We departed from Bremen on the Castel Felice. On 27th December 1960 we arrived at Station Pier. We were only allowed to debark a full day later, then travelled to Bonegilla by train, via Seymour. “In Bonegilla I had a job on Day 10. First they asked me to help serve lunch at the camp, and then I got lessons on how to give injections and became a nurse at the camp hospital. I thought that was funny because as a small child I dreamt I was going to be a nurse, or a bee keeper, or a nun. “ “Because we spoke English well, Michael was then employed in the camp management at Benalla as administrator. We arrived there in September 1962. As an administrator Michael dealt with complaints, registrations and so on. I relieved other staff when they went on leave, such as Val Zintschenko at the hospital. “I also worked at Latoof and Calill. I felt sorry for the women that worked at Latoof and Calill who spoke no English, the Australian bosses used to yell at them to work harder. They were often in tears. I could at least help myself and speak up.” “People from town used to come to the camp for social functions, they were always very popular.”

The Mackowski Story (sent in by mail by Wendy Gray nee Mackowski early 2018)


Sometime during the Spring/Summer of 1948, Cecylia Kazmareck aged 25 took her five year old son Aleksandr and boarded a train which was traveling to the border between Poland and the American sector of occupied Germany. They were fleeing the advancing Russian Army.

When the train stopped at the border, some people disembarked and started to run across the border. Cecylia joined them. Darkness was falling and the shooting started. They were told to keep running and not to stop no matter what happened, even though people were falling around them, shot by the Russian border guards.

They arrived at a former German Army Barracks which was being run by the American Red Cross as a centre for Displaced Persons. Here they were clothed, fed and kept safe. Shortly after their arrival, Aleksandr’s appendix ruptured and after an operation he was hospitalized for a few days.

France, England, the US, Canada and Australia were some of the countries which offered refugee status to these people Cecylia chose Australia. After a long  train trip through Italy they arrived in Naples where they boarded the MS Fairsea bound for Australia.

The ship went through the Suez Canal and headed South. When they crossed the Equator there was a mock ceremony to mark the occasion (enclosed is a copy of the certificate that was handed out at the time).

Passport photos were taken on board.

The adults attended English classes on board of the ship and were coached in order to pass the obligatory dictation test (taken in English) before being allowed to disembark in Australia.

Included is  the English/Polish dictionary used by Cecylia.

Passengers left the ship at Freemantle and Adelaide. When they arrived in Melbourne, Cecylia and Aleksandr boarded a train at Station Pier bound for Bonegilla. On the afternoon of their arrival at Bonegilla, they were put on one of two busses and taken to Benalla Migrant Camp.

The last photo, taken about 1950, at the camp in Benalla, shows Cecylia seated in the foreground and Leon Mackowski is sitting behind her to the left. Cecylia married Leon on the 19th of August 1950. He adopted Aleksandr and the moved out of the camp to live in the town.

Enclosed are the certificates from that time granting them Permanent Residency in Australia. They became Naturalised Australians in 1956. Their daughter Wendy (me) was born on September 24th 1952.

Leon and Cecylia built a house in Benalla where they lived happily for the rest of their lives.

Submitted via email to Sabine Smyth Dec 27th, 2019

Benalla Migrants Camp, MEIERS  time there, 1950-1955

I Freda, the youngest in the Meiers family write this.
My mother Hilda with her three young children, Gaisma, Ausma, and Ted (Teodors) fled from their native country of Latvia when the Russians invaded their country during the latter part of WW2.  Karlis their father was killed fighting against the Russians.

It was only after my mother, sisters and brother arrived in Germany as ‘Displaced Person’ that I was born.  At that time we had been placed in the American Zoned DP Camp at Wurzburg.

I was 4 years old when the family set sail for Australia on the ship ‘Nelly’ in hope of a better life.

We arrived in June 1950 and after a short stay at the Bonegilla Migrant Camp, not far from Albury, the family was settled into the Benalla Migrant Camp along with many other Displaced Persons.  At that time Gaisma was 12, Ausma 10, Ted 8 and Freda nearly 5.

Our family was given two small rooms in one of the Nissen Huts.  They were very hot in summer and cold in winter.  Life was not easy for the adults but as far as I can remember I had a happy childhood at the camp as there were lots of kids to play with and school to attend.  My saddest memory was when our ‘Lassie’ dog was shot along with other strays at the camp.

I enjoyed the country life and much spare time was spent at a popular swimming spot by the Broken River and then there was the fun of catching yabbies.

Under the resettlement scheme immigrants of working age had to work for two years wherever directed by the government. My mother went to work as a machinist at the Latoof and Callil clothing factory and she worked there until we were able to leave the camp and head for a new adventure  in Melbourne in 1956.

The Benalla Migrants Camp and its history should never be forgotten. 
Thank you Sabine for caring and for all your hard work; well done!

7/1/2013 via email Story on former BENALLA MIGRANT ACCOMMODATION CENTRE: Hello, my name is Irene Van Rooyen (nee Michel) and I was born at the former Benalla Migrant Accommodation Centre, in September, 1954. My parents were Jan and Jadwiga Michel and they were post-war immigrants from Poland. They arrived in Melbourne in March, 1949. They were sent to Bandiana first, where they got married. They had a meager Wedding reception, which consisted of a can of pineapple pieces and a bottle of champagne. That’s all they could afford. They were then transferred to the Migrant Accommodation Centre at Benalla, (known by the residents as the Migrant Camp), where my father worked in the kitchen as a Chef. I remember finding a Recipe book once for vegetable soup, with ingredients listed as for “100 Men.” A member of each family would usually go to the communal kitchen with their aluminium or tin containers to get their food rations. Because my father worked there, we would get extra rye bread or soup, if there were leftovers. The immigrants at the Centre lived in humble accommodation – tin Huts, which used to house Australian troops during WW11 – with either tin or cement sheet? roofs, which probably contained asbestos. It would’ve been unbearable inside during the extreme 40 degree heat of an inland Australian summer. There was no airconditioning, no indoor toilets and no-one had heard of television or computers, yet. There were communal toilets and communal laundries, where the women would congregate to talk and do their washing, using wooden washboards. The women mostly stayed at home and looked after their families. Some (like my mother) worked at the SPC Cannery or picked Hops or worked at the local Benalla Hospital. The men also, either worked away, or worked in the kitchen or at the local Reynold’s Chain factory (where my father later worked). I remember being happy there as a child and Life was very simple. My earliest memories were of going to the Director’s Office at Easter time and him giving me a bag of chocolate Easter eggs. We would also often go to the Canteen, situated near the entrance to the Camp, which sold everything from exercise books and pencils to polish kabana and german rye bread, to smoked herrings (in jars marked as “Rollmops.”)There was also a dining room, where there were often Dances held, where the residents would go to smoke, drink and eat and just have a great time. I also remember riding my tricycle along the roads, as there were very few cars. I would often play in the park with the other children whose parents came from various backgrounds and nationalities – such as Poland, Russia, Ukraine, Latvia, Lithuania and Austria – but we were like one big family. It was here that I first heard different languages spoken and I am sure that it was due to that reason that I have gained an affinity for Languages and grew up to be a language teacher, today. We moved out after my sister, Annie, was born in 1957. I will never forget my time and experiences at the Centre – it helped to lay the foundations for who I am today. Sadly, most of the older past-residents have passed on now. Irene Van Rooyen 31/12/12 Irene’s sister Annie McNeill (nee Michel) writes: " At Easter, even when we moved out of the camp, we prepared everything that we would eat on Sunday morning breakfast (to be eaten after mass) and put it in a basket, decorated with palm leaves and I used to ride my bike to the camp and the Priest would bless the food for us to eat the next day.  This included Kranskys, coloured boiled eggs, salt and pepper, mustard, bread and butter. "I feel it was good to have this Centre for the Migrants, as they were able to support one another, have a sense of belonging and adjust to a new country, life and be a stepping stone to a new future. It must of been so hard for them - especially those with young families." Sent via email December 2012

Mohren Story Manfred Mohren wrote to me in 2013: "I can tell you that my parents migrated from West Germany with three children (my sister, my brother and me) in 1960. I was seven years old at the time. We landed at Station Pier and boarded a train that took us to Bonegilla (stopping at Seymour). We only stayed in Bonegilla for a number of days as my father was desperate to obtain work and none seemed to be available (as far as I can recollect my parents telling me). So we were transported to the Benalla Migrant Accommodation Centre, where we stayed until it closed in 1967. During our stay there my father was able to secure a job as Supply Officer and he was, in fact, appointed caretaker for the period 11 Dec 67 - 15 Jan 68 (after the camp closed).

I spoke with Stanny Niedzwiedzki about his time at the camp and these are his recollections.

Maria and Wladyslaw Niedzwiedzki and their 2 sons, Stanislaw and Kazimierz, sailed to Australia on the Fairsea 5, arriving November 1950.  Soon another son, Joseph, was born.  All their possessions were held in a wooden trunk which the family have now donated to the Benalla Migrant Camp Exhibition. Tragically Wladyslaw died in a motor bike accident in March 1951. Sometime later Maria and her children were moved to Benalla Migrant Camp where Maria remarried Tadeusz Fita. The family expanded with the addition of Zbigniew, Janetta and John. The family settled in Benalla after moving from the camp.

Camp conditions consisted of a single room for the family, toilet and showers block and a main kitchen and dining room where the camp residents would eat together. Stanny remembers eventually having a “primus” gas heater in the room which was used both for heating and basic cooking. He said they bought an ice chest after they moved into a house in Benalla.

Stanny remembers life at the camp being full of mischief and adventure. Young boys banded together like brothers, protected each other and played together. They created their own fun playing “puski” (with empty cans and old tennis balls) “klimki” (played with 2 sticks) “eggs” (5 a side lining up stones on the football field) as well as traditional games like marbles and hide & seek.

He recalls a hole in the wire fence which surrounded the camp and the boys took advantage of this to sneak out and back in without being seen at the front entrance checkpoint.

For many years after moving from the camp, Stanny and many other migrant children would return to see their friends and continue to play these games. The Fita family, like many past residents, also returned for Mass on Sunday and Holy Days and for camp dances/concerts.

Stanny served as an altar boy in the camp chapel. He remembers Mass being celebrated in Latin and can still recall passages from his childhood days, he even quoted a few lines to me on the phone. It was also here he and the other altar boys would taste the wine after Mass and carefully had to move the mark on the bottle so as not to alert the priest some was missing.

The Migrant camp was where Stanny became involved with the soccer club. He started hanging around with the grownups as a young boy, cleaning their shoes, collecting shirts, he then started playing the game at around 16yrs of age. He played close to 400 games for Benalla Soccer Club and was made a life member of the North Eastern Soccer League for his contribution to the game.

He remembers the camp being a fun, safe place where he was taught respect for his elders and developed a “work hard, play hard” attitude to life.

Stephanie Merry nee Swist (former Camp Child)

April 2020

Family gathers for special visit to Benalla in mother's memory It would have been Margaret Nikolsky's 100th Birthday on January 31st 2014 and all but one of her five children, and one grandchild came back to Benalla to joyfully celebrate this special occasion in her honour. Like many post-war migrants, Mrs Nikolsky came to Benalla in 1950 with her husband Peter, two small children, no English and not much more. The Nikolskys were housed at the former Benalla Migrant Camp where it took them six years to save up for their first own home in Dunn Street. And then Benalla is where they stayed, for the rest of their productive lives. Margaret Nikolsky was best known for her piano accompaniment of the performances of the Polish Dancing Group. The Polish Dancing Group began at the former Benalla Migrant Camp in the early 1950s and kept going for many years afterwards, proudly participating in the Benalla Festival Parade and countless local celebrations. Mrs Nikolsky and her husband Peter also played an important role in the early years of the migrant camp, helping arrange many music and theatre performances. These were held at the former Benalla Migrant Camp Hall and involved the children at the camp. Sabine Smyth, who recently re-launched an extended photographic exhibition featuring over 200 photos of life at the Benalla Migrant Camp, said that "If I were to name the five most well regarded people in the camp during its 18 years of operation, Mrs Nikolsky's name would be amongst them. Many migrant families have at least one precious photo taken of their child, with Mrs Nikolsky, after she had helped to coordinate or direct a performance or play. Her work over many years, in preserving Polish music and culture would have been such solace to so many people who were mourning the loss of their culture and homeland. She continued with this work in the camp even after her own family had moved out." Mrs Nikolsky was Polish and her husband Peter was Russian. Both were well-educated, and Mr Nikolsky's profession in Russia was as a lawyer and ballet master, however in Australia they both started all over again, because they had no or very little English to begin with. Mr Nikolsky worked at Renold's Chains and Mrs Nikolsky at Latoof and Calill, two factories prominent in the 1950-1960s who no longer exist today. Margaret's son George Nikolsky recalled : "On weekends we would fish and hunt rabbits like most people, to supplement our food and survive. We also picked hops and tobacco at Myrhee and we cut firewood, for extra money. Life was hard, but simple." "I have memories of us mostly having to rely on canned food because we had no fridges. Spam, canned spaghetti - I reckon tons of it." To conclude their visit, which began with a family pilgrimage to the Nikolsky graves at Benalla Cemetery, everyone had a special tour of the Benalla Migrant Camp Exhibition which they found very joyful and moving. Mrs Nikolsky's son Victor commented that " It is important to remember this time in our family's history but also Australia's history. Migrants made such an important and enriching contribution to Benalla. We love coming back and realising through the stories in this exhibition how fondly our mother is remembered and how her story is interwoven with this community'. Photo Caption: The Nikolsky Family, Left to right Grandson Brenton Nikolsky , Irene (Nikki) Cotter nee Nikolsky from Hope Island Queensland, Sandra (Ursula) Steven nee Nikolsky from Geelong West, George Nikolsky from Mackay (wife Robyn was held up by the cyclone) , Victor Nikolsky and his wife Sarah from Elwood, Brenton's wife Jessica. Not pictured is Rita Nikolsky also from Queensland, who was unable to come.

We came to Australia on the 13 April 1950 and went to Bonegilla, from there on to Rushworth camp and then to Benalla. My mother, father, sister Janina and I. My mother worked in the hospital dining room. It was called the Bush Nursing Hospital then, and my father worked on the railway, as did many of the men in the camp. They would go off Monday morning and come back Friday afternoon.

They would have movies in the cinema hall every Friday night so after dinner we would all go to the movies. My father would give my sister and me some coins for a Violet crumble bar which I would enjoy while watching the movie in the camp cinema.

My brother Janek and younger sister Anna were both born in the Benalla Camp hospital and I remember the Midwife visiting my mother while she was pregnant and ushering me out of the room.

If you were sick you went to the camp hospital. I had the mumps once and was isolated from the rest of the kids which was a very lonely time for me. When I got out of hospital the Polish community were putting on a play and were holding auditions for “Snow White”. I went and auditioned – I don’t remember why? I got the part of Snow White. Very exciting time it was, with rehearsals and then the actual play. There were also several dance numbers: a sailors' dance, a ballet dance and the Krakowiak. I was also in all the dances. Mr Gregory (my teacher at the camp) got everyone in class involved in making me a crown to wear for the play.

Christmas time was a great time of year as we got ice cream for dinner and chicken. Also the Polish community would send around an angel and devil to check on all the children to see if they were good. I always dreaded their visit. My mother always threatened me by saying she would say I was bad. When asked if I was good I would say yes, then look at my mother and she would nod. Yah! Saved for another year.

In winter we would go mushrooming around the country side and you would have to go early as some else could beat you to the spot. My mother would boil the stuffings out of those mushrooms, drain them, and then fry them – delicious.

I remember on hot summer days waiting for the sun to go down then pouring buckets of water onto the hut to try and cool it off. And going to the canteen and buying a bottle of cold lemonade and having a glass – just the best drink ever.

Bathing, washing clothes, doing dishes, were all very interesting experiences. I have lots of stories, happy and sad stories to tell. Sad like when the pubs would close at 6pm and all the men would come staggering home. One in particular would always have a fight with his wife and the police would come and haul him off into jail – every Friday just like clockwork. And the culling of cats when they would overrun the camp. At first they would give a warning of the event and to stay inside then walk around the camp shooting them, we would sit in our huts and listen to the sound of gunfire. That must have bought in a lot of complains because after that they would just walk around and catch the cats and take them off and gas them. You can imagine as kids what sort of images that would bring to us.

I have lots of camp school memories, religious memories, summer days, the camp food as so on.

Regards, Maria Zintschenko – sent to Sabine Smyth originally by email October 2013 and edited/approved for the website Dec 2019


Added Footnote: Name: Dymitr Omielczuk. Died: October 2000 Burial Location: Berwick Cemetery



Migrant Centre Memories:


How did the local people interact with the migrants?

Margot Paez: The locals didn’t “fully embrace” what the migrants had to offer. There seemed to be a distinct “divide” between the migrants and the locals – perhaps even mistrust of them driven by a lack of understanding as to how they came to be here? Also the generational divide may have been a problem for the locals (that they’d fought in First/Second World Wars and distrusted these “foreigners”. Ie. Who were these people? Where exactly did they come from? Were they allies or enemies? etc). This lack of understanding was based on ignorance mostly, that the locals just didn’t really know much about the situation in Europe during and after the war. They had little comprehension of these people’s experiences.

The migrant women didn’t have time to socialize with local women, they were either working in factories/hospital etc or spending a lot of time growing/producing food. Nor did they necessarily have the language (their kids would often do the translation), so their involvement in tennis clubs, bridge clubs, “school mothers’ clubs” etc, was probably limited, therefore they never really got the chance to get to know other local women on a social level.

Food production and preparation was so different to typical “anglo” ways of doing things. The Paez family, for example, were surrounded by migrant families and benefitted from their diligence in producing fruit and vegetables. These vegetables, (many of the varieties never having been seen by the locals before) were given to the Paez’s by throwing zucchinis, capsicums, etc over the back fence! Many generous offerings were given to the Paez’s, including delicious “preserves” such as dill pickles in glass jars.

What kinds of activities/functions/events were shared by both groups?

Cabarets? Dances? “Good Neighbour Council” (Who were they? Did they organize social events? Not sure about this organization……..)

Ralph and Margaret Paez attended many cabarets at the Migrant centre but there weren’t many other “locals” there. Margaret was always so impressed by how beautifully dressed the women of the migrant camp were. Their clothes were so elegant, beautiful shoes, hair etc (European “style” and flair).

Renold Christmas parties were a yearly social highlight for kids especially.

How were the migrants “viewed” by the local people (in terms of their employment at Renold Chains)?

Story of Ralph Paez in local pub being confronted by a disgruntled Benalla local who was upset by Renold’s employment of migrants over locals. Ralph was given a “boot up the arse” as described by his brother-in-law who was with him at the time (probably a symbolic action of “you should be looking after your own kind and not those “I–ties” and “shame on you”) as he was leaving the bar by a local man who felt that the chain factory bosses were more interested in employing migrants than the locals. Ralph’s brother-in-law, Jim Redpath, decided to take it up with the bloke who dared kick Ralph. A bit of a tussle between Ralph’s “minder”, Jim and the “arse kicker” ensued….. Nothing too serious, however, it probably signified underlying resentment by some community members.

How did the local Benalla children interact with migrant children?

The migrant and local kids somehow sorted out their own “arrangements”– often playing/fighting in a single session!

Margot Bright (nee Paez) – As a child, Margot lived in the same neighbourhood as many migrant families (who were living in both Commission housing and a few in private housing). She remembers playing with those children in the street – many of them went to the Catholic school, whereas Margot and her siblings went to Benalla East State School, so that she played with them after school and on weekends. She remembers being mates with the Pryslipski (Ukraine ?) kids who lived across the road, but were former residents of the Migrant Camp. Margot and Lasha (Lee?) would get on Margot’s bike (Lasha standing on the back parcel seat), go down to the Migrant Camp, and tear around the camp shouting insults at the kids there. Often there were rock or “clod” throwing fights where the Anglo kids, often just siblings, in this case Margot and her sister Deborah, forming an alliance, “warring” against the “Balts” across the street (in this case Meadows Ave). Alliances would chop and change depending on the day or mood of the participants. Insults would be shouted at one another as “clods”/rocks were thrown. The street was the main playground for the kids and it was only when their Mum called out for them to come in because it was tea time, would they stop their “play”. (Often it was the migrant kids who would be the ones preparing food so perhaps they had to go in earlier).



Deborah Paez: We lived at 12 Meadows Ave until we moved to the company house in Samaria Rd when Dad was promoted to General Manager of Renold Chains in about 1963.

In those days (the mid-1950s), Meadows Ave was divided in 2 by the old Tatong railway line. The north side was comprised entirely of council houses: the south side (our end) were all private houses. Migrant families lived on both sides, but most lived in the council houses. All had lived in the Migrant Centre upon arriving in Benalla.

Our neighbours on both sides and across the street were migrant families (the Pryslipski family (parents, children son Miklos(?)known as Mick, daughters Danutia and Lasha (not sure of spelling), the Nesser family (kids Bogdan or Bobby, and Maria), and the Hesky family (2 daughters, very reclusive), and Mr. Olivera down the street.

The Tatong railway line fell into disuse late 40s/early 50s (?) and when the rails were torn up soon after, the whole stretch became a playground for ALL the kids. 'Battles' were certainly fought, but I remember them as being more between the 'north' and the 'south'. The ones between us and our neighbours were mere skirmishes. As often, we were 'allies' (eg. Margot's and Lasha's sortie into the migrant camp). So it was less about anglos vs bolts (that's how we thought 'Balts' was spelt. We had no idea what it meant but knew it was an insult) than it was about territory.

To put things into perspective though, you were just as likely to see kids playing together (allies, tiggy, brandy, hidey, skippy, queenie, poison ball, etc) as you were to see them fighting. It was the nature of childhood then; a glorious lack of adult interference for a considerable part of the day - as long as you were home for 'tea' and before dark.


The migrant kids certainly lived different lives from us anglos. They didn't have nearly as much freedom as we did. They all had 'real' jobs and responsibilities in the home; not just, as for us, a matter of putting away your toys or tidying your bedroom; they tended vegetable gardens, cleaned toilets, prepared meals, washed, ironed, scrubbed. Both parents worked full-time, often over-time and on weekends.

I remember being absolutely astonished by the fact that kids had to do hard work ... every day! I can also remember how the Pryslipski kids dropped everything and ran home instantly when their parents called them inside. Their parents were scarily strict compared to ours, in our eyes!

 I got to see inside the houses of our neighbours only a few times (kids didn't play inside much in those days, unless it was raining or really cold), but I remember them being much darker than ours, windows heavily-curtained, with cold lino floors in every room, no rugs or carpets (although there were usually one or two tapestry rugs hung on walls), sparsely furnished (no comfy furniture), meticulously clean, with strange religious icons and pictures on the walls. And the houses smelled different to us kids, because of the  'strange and mysterious' foods cooked in them. 

(She has promised more to come…….)


Pandik Story

(e-mailed to Sabine SMTH on 10th April 2020)

Aleksandr Pandik born in 1926 to Evgenin and Anna (Tupalova) Pandik in Konstantinovka, Ukraine.  His brother Nikolai was twelve years younger, born in 1938.   In 1941 dad was walking in the street when, without warning, a German convoy forced him onto a vehicle for transportation to Germany.  He was only 15 years of age.  (He never saw his parents and brother again).  There he worked on the trains as a fireman along the Rhine River between Koblenz and Mainz.   At the end of the war (between 1948 to 1950) he was moved to different camps: Frankfurt, Ludwigsburg then Pforzheim receiving vocational training through the IRO (International Refugee Organization) as an auto mechanic.   They also conducted English lessons for everyone. 

He met Luba Wysocka, who was also receiving vocational training as a seamstress, living in the camp with her parents, Mykola and Aleksandr Wysocki.  They married in 1950 in Pforzheim and through the Resettlement Program the four of them received paperwork for emigration to Australia. Aleksandr chose Australia as he wanted to get as far away from Europe as possible.

The departure was via Genoa, Italy on the S.S. "Castelbianco" sailing to Melbourne, their final destination being the Benalla Migrant Camp.  I was born in the camp hospital and christened in the non-denominational chapel.  Michael arrived four years later.   Our address was Hut 36/7.   As youngsters we would have been oblivious to the fact these huts had thin walls, no running water, heating or cooling but it was a home.

Everyone had a role to play in this community:  whether rostered for kitchen duty in preparing or cooking meals, the hospital, laundry and toilet blocks maintained as well the required gardening.  The largest building was the community centre which not only served as a dining hall but for various entertainments.  Amongst the huts kids attended various birthday parties.   One recreational activity involved walking to the nearby Broken River where the adults would swim and picnic in the cool shade of the trees.  

A story told by mum was that apparently I was partial to onions and made a habit of knocking on hut doors asking if they had ’boolki’ (an abbreviated version of the word tsiboolki: onions).  One memory was a Christmas pageant with Saint Nicholas dressed realistically in European style costume, however the character known as Black Peter looked absolutely evil fully dressed in black trousers overlaid with a black and grey tunic.  His head was covered in a black cap (horns added) and protruding from his mouth was a long black/grey tongue. In one hand he held a pitchfork.  Poor mum did her best to calm down a very upset child …

Eventually a house was purchased close to the town centre where a huge vegetable garden was established along with a decent sized chook pen.  Grandma, for many years, would walk to the camp pushing our old pram containing two large enamel buckets filled with her home-grown 'ohirki' or ogorki - cucumbers set in a brine added with garlic and dill - which she went on to sell.  On every occasion she would return home, naturally, with two empty buckets.  I think quite a few people will remember the" little lady with the cucumbers".

One year a dinner dance was held at the camp and mum wore a distinct chocolate-coloured chiffon ball gown.  The fabric had shots of burgundy and green which caught the light and shiny beads centered on the bodice. A pair of soft apple green suede stilettos set off the gown.  The shoes no longer exist but the gown together with an embroidered white blouse and a mushroom coloured crepe dress with bolero I have donated to the Benalla Migrant Camp historical collection created by Sabine Smyth (Benalla Migrant Camp Inc.).  

We think that the right decision had been made in choosing to settle in Australia.  Throughout her life our mother from time to time would maintain that, "Australia is the best country in the world", and state: "You'll never go hungry here".


Sabine, memory of camp life is tiny because of my early age (some photos are proof).  If you need to condense please feel free to do so.  The dress colour I may not be so clear with so please correct where necessary.  Also, the embroidered blouse you have, judging by its size, was a blouse made by mum for me to wear.