Recently I wrote to about my early childhood in a street where a number of migrants from Europe lived and how they enriched our lives. (Click here to read my blog.)
Spurred on by the book I was reading, I asked if anyone had experienced life in a migrant camp. I was contacted by a member of our Starts at 60 family who had not only spent time in a camp but in the very one, I was reading about. So I’m so thrilled to share with you a true story of one migrant’s early life in Australia. Our author is Doris Schmid.Doris Schmid came to Australia as a migrant and like many others, lived at The Bonegilla Migrant Camp in Victoria, this is her story. Image provided by Doris
Late in 1959, my Parents received some brochures of Australia and after reading and discussions decided to apply to migrate to give us a better future.
The application was accepted and we were told that our ship would leave on the 23rd of April.
My sister and I were excited but I am sure my parents had lots of questions and worries.
Then came the very sad goodbyes to our grandparents and friends who couldn’t understand why we were leaving.
On the 22nd April, we were taken to Bremerhaven to board the Flaminia, we were very lucky to get a family cabin as lots of families were separated. Lots of people were crying as we went on our way. We cruised from Bremerhaven to Messina in Italy, then to Port Said, Aden, Fremantle and Melbourne. It took 6 weeks and we were happy and relieved to get back on land and to get our first look at Melbourne.
On the 1st of June we said goodbye to friends we made on the ship and promised to keep in touch but not sure how as some stayed in Melbourne. We were taken to a train that would take us to Bonegilla Hostel.
Along the journey, the train stopped at a Station where a Band was playing and we were given sandwiches, pies, cakes, tea and coffee. I’m not sure what the town was called; maybe someone in the group will know. It was a lovely welcome.
Then on to Bonegilla, it was dark and very cold, we were again welcomed and given our accommodation. We had two rooms; the beds were made up with lovely blankets. There were tables, chairs and a couch and dishes for our meals. We settled in and then we were called for dinner, which was different to what we were used to, but very nice.
After the meal, we checked out the bathrooms and laundry, and then to bed – our first night in our new country.
We were called for breakfast in many different languages as no one spoke much English. We had English lessons every day and there were lots of things to keep us busy. There was a cinema and we could walk to a lake so we enjoyed our days.
Lots of people were complaining about the food and accommodation but Dad always told us to be grateful that we had a place to stay and food to eat.
After a while Dad was ready to find some work; he and others were taken to Melbourne for job interviews. He managed to get a place in a paint factory and also found us a Place to live. Dad was a painter and decorator and also a commercial artist.
So it was another goodbye to Bonegilla and the friends we made. We always think of our time there with fond memories. We soon moved again to a flat in Queens Road and Mum found work at the Kraft Cheese factory.
In 1962 Dad paid the deposit to build our home in Ferntree Gully and three months later we moved in. Dad got his driver’s licence and bought his first ever car.
And so our life in Australia began. We became Aussies soon after and love our life here.”
Thank you so much, Doris, for telling us your story and for making Australia your home.
If you have a similar story to tell, please email me at [email protected] – I’d love to hear from you.
The Last of the Bonegilla Girls by Victoria Purman (#mybonegillastory) is available in print and digital editions from the publisher HQ Fiction. Click here for details