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Monday, 17 September 2018
Page: 9212


Ms SWANSON (Paterson) (11:06): I rise today to second the member for Hunter's motion to commemorate the anniversaries of the establishment of the Greta Army Camp in 1939 and the Greta Migrant Camp in 1949.

Driving towards Greta in New South Wales along Camp Road you would be forgiven for not knowing that in 1949 the Greta Migrant Camp was the biggest of its kind, housing 100,000 refugees. June 2019 marks the 70th anniversary of the first draft of migrants to arrive—refugees escaping war-torn Europe. Today there is little or no trace on the site of the Greta Migrant camp and the lives of those refugee families who stayed until changes to the Migration Act of 1955 saw the camp finally dissolve in 1960.

At one point in time there were 19 different nationalities living in cramped quarters, sharing accommodation and facilities. People came from the Ukraine, Slovenia, Czechoslovakia, Germany, Poland, Estonia, Lithuania, Italy, Austria and Hungary, with many arriving at the camp in the middle of summer. Their first sight of the shining nissen huts lined up in the field, surrounded by the Australian bush, must have come as such a shock, especially on a 40-degree-plus day. Many people thought they would die from the heat, and, of course, a corrugated iron hut was not ideal in Australia's bush conditions. However, the camp, as happens in adversity, over time became a truly thriving community. Its residents adapted to Australia's heat and started to rebuild their lives. Migrants arriving in Greta brought with them skills and resilience. Over time they got jobs, learned the language and even started businesses. Their families grew up and were educated, and while some of them moved away many stayed to build their lives in Greta and the Hunter region.

Living in the camp was not a free ride, and families were expected to pay rent. Some men were lucky and secured work at BHP in Newcastle. Most men, however, travelled to work on the Snowy Mountains Scheme and in sugarcane fields in Queensland. They travelled to wherever they could find secure work, something many workers today can relate to if they are fly in, fly out workers. Perhaps these were among our first FIFOs in Australia. Sunday afternoons would see family groups head to the Greta Railway Station to farewell loved ones who they may not see for months at a time.

Elizabeth Lodo, now Liz Matt, was three years old when her family travelled from Germany and arrived in Australia in 1950. But their journey was far from over. After moving from camps in Bathurst to Parkes and then Cowra, Liz and her family finally arrived in Greta in 1952 when Liz was just five years old. Liz remembers the early days as being very hard, but she also has many fond memories of that camp. Her school years were fantastic, because of a woman called Mrs Rose.

Mrs Rose, of course, had no experience teaching children who spoke little or no English and who came from such diverse backgrounds, and every day she'd ask the children a question. Gradually, their English improved and with that their understanding of the Australian way of life. Mrs Rose recalls those years as the best of her teaching career.

When the camp closed in 1960, Liz's family moved towards the township of Greta, a town that I share with the member for Hunter. Orient Street in Greta is in fact our boundary. Sadly, Liz's father, Joseph, passed away shortly after moving from the camp to Greta, leaving Maria, his wife, to raise their large family alone. As was a reflection of the time, the community rallied behind the Matt family and helped them through those very tough years. Liz's mother, Maria, lived in Greta until she passed away at the age of 93. Liz and her family still call Greta home.

There is a part of the camp's history that many people might not know about. The Greta Army Camp was initially the site of one Australia's largest army camps and provided a great deal of training during the Second World War. It was one of several initially built for the concentration and training of the 6th Division of the AIF, because existing military facilities were already occupied by militia units. The first unit to move into the camp was the 2/11th Battalion, who arrived on 15 December 1939, and they were later joined by the 2/10th Battalion. Eventually the facilities were improved.

When it was a migrant camp, it was known as 'Chocolate City' and 'Silver City' because of the brown-coloured weatherboard buildings and the Nissen huts. Those Nissen huts can still be found in my home town of Kurri Kurri as you drive around, although, thankfully, many have been renovated.

It is so important that we mark this anniversary. Australia prides itself on its multicultural background, and Greta can be proud of what it's contributed.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Laundy ): There being no further speakers, the debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.