Speech - Federation Chamber - Greta Army and Migrant Camp - Monday, 17 September 2018

The year 2019 marks the 80th anniversary of the establishment of the Greta Army Camp in the Hunter electorate. It also marks the 70th anniversary of its transformation into a migrant camp.

Throughout the course of World War II, up to 60,000 soldiers of the 2nd AIF trained in Greta. It was one of the Army's largest camps. That means that Greta played a significant role in the war effort and its history is certainly worth commemorating. Then, between 1949 and 1960, 100,000 new arrivals passed through the former Army barracks.

Most were fleeing war-torn Second World War and post-Second World War Europe. They came originally from Poland, Hungary, Ukraine, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia and various Baltic states. Later, under a broader migration program, people from Italy, Greece, Macedonia, Russia and many other countries made the camp their temporary home. In all, people in the camp represented some 18 nationalities. Originally, the camp's residents were transferred from other Australian camps, but later they came directly. On 19 August 1949, more than a thousand displaced persons arrived in Newcastle Harbour on the Fairsea and were transferred to Greta by rail.

Our post-World War II migration program shaped modern Australia, and Greta played a big part in our national development. The camp's residents learned both English and our way of life while in the camp. Happily, we learned much from them too. We embraced much of their culture and, of course, their food. We are a richer country for the experience. Sadly, a visit to the site of the camp provides no hint of its national significance. Those with family links to the camp who make a pilgrimage to their place of heritage will find no marking on the site, let alone a sign signifying its previous national significance.

We are all indebted to former Newcastle Herald journalist Alek Schulha, who wants this changed. Alek was born in the camp to Yugoslav and Ukrainian parents. They were the first couple to be married in the camp's Orthodox church, and Alek was christened there. Alek is completing a book on the history of the camp and has interviewed more than 100 people with direct connections and links with the former camp. The book will be launched next year to coincide with the anniversary.

Our local communities remain enriched by the ongoing presence of many of the new arrivals, their children and their grandchildren. In addition to commemorating and celebrating the 70th anniversary, we hope to ensure that people who have an affinity with the former camp have somewhere and something prominent to visit. We must facilitate their pilgrimage and keep the memories and histories alive.

In the main street of Greta there is a small monument, which is respected and appreciated. I think next year would be a good time to enlarge that monument, to make it more visible to passing visitors. I think the camp could be a driver of significant tourism for the town as more and more people come to understand the local area's significance in our history.

I also think that Alek Schulha is right: those seeking to make the pilgrimage would easily drive past the site. These are the great-grandchildren of the camp's original residents and it is a difficult place to find on a lonely road. We do need to help them establish and find the site. One of the challenges is that it's on private land and we don't know what the land's future holds. This will largely be a matter for the council, and I'm reaching out to the council to help us work through these issues. Of course, the roadside verge—or the area between the road and the property—might be an opportunity, but, certainly, we need to mark that site so that people can find it easily.

The other key objective of my motion is to ask the national government here in Canberra to do all it can to ensure that these two very important anniversaries next year are appropriately and properly commemorated and celebrated.

MOTION:

    (a) 2019 marks the 80th anniversary of the establishment of the Greta Army Camp and the 70th anniversary of its transition to a migrant training and reception centre—Greta Migrant Camp;

    (b) around 60,000 soldiers of the Second Australian Imperial Force trained at the Camp between 1939 and 1945;

    (c) more than 100,000 new arrivals passed through the Greta Migrant Camp between 1949 and 1960;

    (d) the army training centre played a significant role in Australia’s outstanding contribution to the Second World War;

    (e) the Greta Migrant Camp played a major role in delivering on the objectives and commitments of the Government’s humanitarian and nation building programs; and

    (f) the Hunter region and Australia more generally remain enriched by the contribution of those who spent time living at the Greta Migrant Camp; and

(2) calls on the Government to ensure the 80th anniversary of the establishment of the Greta Army Camp and the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the Greta Migrant Camp are appropriately commemorated and celebrated anniversaries.


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