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Migrant stories told in pictures

A historic photo exhibition over the Australia Day weekend will tell the stories of many migrants to Benalla.

January 25, 2013 4:55am

Memories: Children from Bihun Migrant Camp 4. Submitted by local Benalla College teacher Wasyl Bihun of his brother Henry playing with unknown friends.Henry (Slawomir) Bihun, standing in dark cardigan...with friends unknown.This photo has taken between 1952 and 1953.


The story of the post-World War II Benalla Migrant Camp will be brought to life by Sabine Smyth in a special historic photo exhibition that will get under way at BARC Hut 11 from 1pm on Saturday.

Mrs Smyth said she had been overwhelmed by the sheer number and quality of photos from the late 1940s onward that had been submitted, mostly from people of Polish and German descent.

‘‘It really is an amazing history that is worth remembering,’’ she said.

‘‘Their (the residents of the Benalla Migrant Camp) lives were so hard by today’s standards, but they were so happy to be making a new start here in Benalla.’’

A staggering 60000 post-war European migrants made their temporary home in Benalla at the Migrant Camp between 1949 and 1967 — providing a huge boost to the population, the manufacturing industry and the local economy in general.

‘‘The exhibition of personal photos, documents and memorabilia tells some of their stories and I think it’s really important that people learn about this history, because it really helped to develop and shape Benalla after the war,’’ Mrs Smyth said.

The old migrant camp is located just off Samaria Rd, behind Benalla Airport.

Appropriately, one of the old huts in which the migrants actually lived is the venue for the exhibition, making a ‘‘very authentic space’’.

‘‘They came out here with nothing,’’ Mrs Smyth said.

‘‘It was a gated community so they needed to check with the guard to get in and out.

‘‘But as a result of that they were a really tight-knit community who stuck together.

‘‘Australia was selling itself as the land of milk and honey in those days, and several countries were competing for migrants after the war.

‘‘For the migrants, it was a two-year commitment and you had to work where you were sent.

‘‘The two biggest employers at the time were chain manufacturers Reynolds Chains and clothing manufacturers Latoof and Calill.’’

The population of Benalla swelled to 20000 as a result of the influx after World War II.

Many of the migrants were from Poland, Germany, Hungary, Croatia, Italy, Holland and Lithuania.

Mrs Smyth said she wanted to thank Dawne Tonks of Benalla and District Family Research Group, Lyn Tanner and Maree Hanlon of Benalla and District Historical Society, and Jennifer Campbell of U3A Benalla.

In regard to the exhibition itself, Mrs Smyth received about 130 photos, but only has room to exhibit about 100.Exhibition opening times:

(Australia Day) Saturday, January 26 from 1pm to 3pm;

Sunday, January 27 from 10am to 2pm;

Every Sunday in February from 10am to 2pm.

Entry to the exhibition, at BARC Hut 11 in Samaria Rd, is free.

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