Benalla Migrant Camp 1949-1967

Horst and Margaret Arendt-Leskie

ARENDT-LESKIE Horst and Margaret


Horst and Margot ARENDT

Written by Doris Arendt who interviewed her mum Margot on March 31st 2020.

(Sent in as email to Sabine Smyth 2/2/2020)

Both Horst 23 and Margot 20 hated the cold in Germany and they wanted an adventure – Horst’s brother Lothar saw an advertisement about moving to Australia in a local newspaper and he, Horst and Margot decided they would go.  The advertisement asked for people to migrate to Australia where the “sun shone for 13 months of the year”.

Horst, Margot and Harald left Germany 13th March 1960 on the Castel Felice from Cuxhaven, Germany. Lothar remained behind at this stage and was to travel to Australia later.

The cost was 250 marks – the Australian government subsidised the rest. They wanted young families to come to Australia – when the boat left the harbour they played a Freddy Quinn song called “Faehrt ein weisses Schiff nach Hong Kong” which translated means “A white ship is sailing to Hong Kong” which Margot remembers to this day.

The Castel Felice docked in Melbourne, Australia 23rd April 1960 .

They travelled to Bonegilla from Melbourne by “choo choo” train as they all referred to it.

First stop was in Benalla and they were fed a meal of mashed potatoes, mashed pumpkin and sausages and white bread and coffee– no one knew what the food really was – but everyone ate it as they were hungry.

From Benalla they travelled on to Bonegilla – arriving at night time. The train stopped in the middle of nowhere there was no platform. All the men disembarked first and helped women and children. 

First stop was the canteen to be fed, from there they were allocated barracks – they had one room with three beds – with the heavy grey army blankets. April was cold and raining – and they put two beds together and put Harald in with them to keep warm.

They stayed at Bonegilla for 3 weeks and then they were sent to Benalla as there was work for cleaners at the Benalla Migrant Camp – Horst worked as a cleaner and Margot also obtained work at Renolds Chain Factory.  

They stayed at Benalla Migrant Camp from May 1960 to January 1961.  The Camp was very full – food wasn’t too bad. It had a hospital, kindergarten and school. Margot had her 21st birthday at the camp – the accommodation was very basic but at least the showers had doors – unlike Bonegilla where there were no doors on the showers.

Horst (not enjoying working as a cleaner) then went to work on the Snowy Mountain Scheme – with Bruno Bonin where he stayed for 4 months.  Meanwhile Margot and Harald stayed in the camp.

Horst did not enjoy being apart from his family so he then applied for work in Shepparton where they moved with the Bonin family and all worked as tomato pickers in Undera for 4 months.

When tomato picking finished Horst and Margot and Harald  moved out of the house they shared with the Bonin family and rented a garage for about 6 months – Lothar had by this time arrived in Australia and also joined them in Shepparton.  Horst worked at Mooroopna Water Works and also got Lothar a job there. Their second son Eddy was born at this time in September. Eventually the water works project finished and Horst got a job at Campbells soups.

Horst, Margot, Harald and Eddy and Lothar moved to Benalla in 1962 and both bought land in Witt St. Horst then bought 4 huts from Les Plum which interestingly were from the Khancobin Snowy Scheme and he fashioned together a house which miraculously is still standing today.

Horst worked various jobs over the years including working for Terrets Timber Mill, State Rivers building Lake Nillachootie, and Lake Mokoan. When Lake Mokoan was completed he found work at Thomas Carr (later Benalla Spinners). They needed someone who could speak German and English as they had a german engineer coming to set up the machines.

Margot also worked at Cleckheaton during this time.

Horst and Margot went on to have three more children, Ron, Doris and Andrew.


Horst and Margaret ARENDT-LESKIE
Horst and Margaret Arendt-Leskie - Germany