Benalla Migrant Camp 1949-1967

Jokabs and Zenija Kulbars

KULBARS Jokabs and Zenija

Latvia 1949

Kulbars Story

From notes written by Zigie to Sabine in 2012

As a 16 year old, Zigie and his parents, brother and sister lived in Hut 43 at the Migrant Centre in Benalla. It was their first home in Australia. The family migrated from Latvia in 1949 and arrived in Benalla via Cowra in NSW. The Kulbars family stayed in the camp until 1960. Zigie worked in the Camp Stores from 1955 to 1957 and his father was employed as a patrol man for the Immigration Department.

Zigie always believed that the migrant camp site has special significance for Benalla and should be preserved.

There is a media release with a photo of Zigie and detailing his failed appeal to save the camp, published around the time of the camp being dismantled/demolished in the 1990s.

Zigie who arrived at the camp in 1949 told me when he visited the exhibition in March 2014:

“There was a dance every fortnight, and a ball with a proper band once a month. The Migrant Camp hall was a fabulous venue. The band that came to the balls was the German Camp Band from Bonegilla. They played waltzes, tangos, even 'oompa' music."


After Zigie passed away, the following Eulogy was passed onto me via The Ensign (12th January 2023). I have posted it, unedited below:


Vale Zigie Kulbars

Zigie Kulbars was born on June 14, 1934 in Latvia to Zenija (Jenny) Kulbars and Jekabs (Jake) Kulbars. Zigie had a sister lrena and a brother lke. His early childhood was disrupted by the outbreak of the Second World War in Europe.

To escape the Iron Curtain they had to flee their home in Riga, Latvia’s capital city, leaving all their possessions.

The family ended up in Germany in the Latvian Displaced Persons Camp.

Zigie’s schooling was disrupted as a consequence of the war. He used to lie on his back staring up at the sky watching the American aircraft. He was lucky that during an air raid.A bomb had landed next to him, and his mum, as they were running to a shelter. It did not detonate.

Zigie spent some time with the Latvian Boy Scouts which he enjoyed. Unfortunately Germany was making some changes to the organisation during the war. He did not like this and at one time ran away to be confronted with some soldiers saying that he was now in Belgium. He remained in Scouts until 1948.

Zigie’s family listened to a presentation and visit from Arthur Calwell in Germany encouraging them to come to Australia.

Zigie and his family immigrated to Australia on July 30, 1949 on the SS Skaugum.

On arrival he was 15 years old. The family was sent to the Cowra Migrant Camp then to Bonegilla (Albury/Wodonga), and finally to the Benalla Migrant Camp.

Zigie attended classes in Benalla to learn English and became an interpreter for his family early on.

His first job was at Harrisons hardware as a storeman in January 1951 where he remained for three years.

Zigie did a year of National Service where he enjoyed driving tanks.

He was very proud of the fact that he guarded Queen Elizabeth on her 1954 Tour of Australia at Goorambat, overnight on March 4, 1954.

His next job was for the Department of immigration at the Benalla Migrant Centre where he was employed as a storeman.

His would also chauffeur the Camp Director to functions. He would later get a job at Reynolds Chains in Benalla in 1957, working as a storeman and forklift driver.

At Christmas he would carry Santa on the front of his forklift in a large basket filled with presents.

Local children would delightfully wait to Santa arriving and many great photos were taken.

Zigie also enjoyed socials at Renolds and would take to the floor with sawdust on it doing the Foxtrot. He also assisted doing first aid for all employees.

While living in Benalla he sould meet Margaret Whinray on a date organised by friends.

They fell in love and were married on August 26, 1961 at the Tungamah Church of England. Laurie Whinray was their Page Boy.

Their son Philip was born on August 1, 1963 followed by Dean on June 11, 1967.

Zigie was very social and liked to go fishing with his father Jake. He enjoyed playing bowls in Benalla, and also when he went to the Sunshine Coast.

He loved a good party, attending many at work and the Migrant Camp.

Zigie also enjoyed going on hunting and fishing trips with his son Dean.

Zigie joined St Johns Ambulance as a volunteer in the Brigade.

He enjoyed many years service assisting in first aid, which unfortunately included the Southern Aurora Crash on February 7, 1969.

Sadly Margaret lost her Best Friend’s husband in this crash as the Goods Train Driver. Zigie was unaware of this until later.

Zigie would go on to work as a labourer for a short time and at Active Tyre Service, after Reynolds Chains closed. Later he would work in several roles at the Benalla and District Memorial Hospital.

Zigie was at the forefront of promoting the Benalla Migrant Camp. He was disgusted that the camp fell into disrepair after the Army left.

He had lived there, at hut no 43 until 1960, and felt its the history was forgotten.

He was also keen to see a museum exhibition created which now exists at the former camp site.

Margaret and Zigie moved from Benalla early in 2000 to Sippy Downs at the Hibiscus Retirement Resort. Here they spent nearly 20 happy years.

In 2011 Margaret and Zigie celebrated their 50th Wedding Anniversary. Zigie’s mother, Jenny, celebrated her 100th Birthday March 1, 2014 and lived to 101.

Zigie went into care for dementia at St Vincents Care Services, Maroochydore, where he was beautifully cared for by staff. He sadly passed on November 13, 2022.

This world is a better place for all that he has done and is remembered for.


Jokabs and Zenija KULBARS
Jokabs and Zenija Kulbars - Latvia

Benalla Migrant Camp School Pupil Register

Name Date of Birth Parent Camp Date
Irena Kulbars Monday 9th December 1935 Zenja 16/11/1949
Ivars Kulbars Tuesday 6th October 1942 Zenija 28/11/1949

Records in Benalla Cemetery for KULBARS

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

Name Died Age Burial Location
Jekabs KULBARS 1978 LAWN External Link

Other families from Latvia

Bruns, Gravitis, Klopsteins, Meiers, Sleinis, Taurins.