Migrant Reception and Training Centre, Bonegilla

Migrants seated at benches in the dining shed
Meals area at Bonegilla (A12111, 1/1949/22/9)

The Migrant Reception and Training Centre in Bonegilla, northern Victoria, was the first home in Australia for some 300,000 migrants from over 50 countries who arrived between 1947 and 1971. The site of a former military camp, the Commonwealth Immigration Centre at Bonegilla opened in December 1947 following a decision by Arthur Calwell, Minister for Immigration, to reuse military camps to house the huge wave of migrants coming from war-torn Europe, known as displaced persons.

Of the 170,000 displaced persons who came to Australia in the immediate postwar period, nearly half lived at Bonegilla for their first weeks or months in the country. They learned to speak English and adapt to life in Australia at the centre, before being moved to areas where there were labour shortages to find employment, helping boost Australia’s population and economy in the process.

From the 1950s until its closure in 1971, the main occupants of Bonegilla were people who came to Australia seeking employment on government-assisted migration schemes. Some migrants only stayed for a short time before being moved to other migrant reception centres or finding employment. In 1952 and 1961 Bonegilla residents were involved in riots, protesting over their prolonged wait for work – work they had been promised under the terms of their assisted migration.

The Albury-Wodonga region around Bonegilla benefitted from the economic boost and social changes brought by the many migrants who chose to stay in the region permanently, a legacy which continues today.

The Archives has a large collection of records about Bonegilla. The series A2567, as well as other Department of Immigration correspondence series, reveals much about the administration of the centre. Name index cards, or registration cards, are held in series A2571 and A2572 for all of the migrants who stayed at Bonegilla, and usually include a physical description of the person as well as a photograph. Photographs of the centre can be found in series A12111 and AA1971/666. These records provide a fascinating insight into life at Bonegilla for the hundreds of thousands of people who passed through its dining halls, played in its grounds and learned English in its classrooms.

Photographs from A12111 are also available on Destination: Australia – sharing our post-war migrant stories.

    Records relating to the Migrant Reception and Training Centre, Bonegilla

     Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
    SeriesImmigration Photographic Archive1946–A12111
    SeriesName index cards1947–56A2571
    SeriesVarious migrant documents and other records (includes photographs)1949–71AA1971/666
    SeriesCorrespondence files1950–71A2567
    SeriesName index cards1957–71A2572

    Further reading

    Migration and citizenship

    Migrant accommodation

    Making Australia Home – your family migration records

    Cabinet records – Events and issues that made the news in 1952

    Fact sheets

    Research guides

    • Finding Families: The Guide to the National Archives of Australia for Genealogists, compiled by Margaret Chambers, National Archives of Australia in association with Hale and Iremonger, 1998, 344pp.

    Books

    Memento articles

    Snapshots of the collection

    From Europe to Australia – records of a postwar migrant family

    Websites

    Destination: Australia – sharing our post-war migrant stories

    The Bonegilla Migrant Experience

    Copyright National Archives of Australia 2017