The Tail of Two CitiesExcerpts from a story written by Janina Sulikowska for the bi-centennial celebration 20/8/1988, “Greta the Camp revisited.”
Australia’s post-war immigrants scheme had an effect on Australia Society and on National Development. Greta Migrant Camp played a major part in this scheme as it was one of the largest camps in Australia.
The camp was located about 3 kms from the township of Greta. It was built for the Australian Army in 1939. The army occupied the site until early 1949 when Australia’s agreement with the International Refugee organization (IRO) to bring Displaced Persons from Europe, was put into action.
The army barrack style buildings were promptly altered to accommodate migrants. The camp was ready to receive the first draft of migrants in June 1949.
It is estimated that some 100,000 migrants passed through the camp between 1949 and 1960. The largest number of people at the camp at one time was in 1950, when some 9,000 people gathered for Christmas.
A change in Australia’s Migrant Policy in 1955 saw the camp slowly close from 1956. The camp officially closed on 15th January 1960.
Most of the IRO migrants came from the Baltic countries (of Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia), Ukraine, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia. During the 1950s, agreements were signed with other European nations. There were intakes from Poland, Italy, Greece, Macedonia, Hungry, Austria, Germany and Russia. Passage to Australia was free for migrants. However, men were required to fulfill a 2-year contract once they arrived in Australia.
The first 600 migrants to inhabit Greta were from other Australia migrant camps. They were soon joined by a large group of new arrivals on board the “Fairsea”. These migrants were the first draft of Displaced Persons to be landed outside a capital city. 1096 migrants disembarked at Newcastle harbour on the 19th August 1949 and were transported directly to Greta Migrant Camp by steam train.
These migrants suffered hardships before they arrived in our country and the shock of arriving at a camp in the middle of nowhere, at most times in the heat of summer when everything was brown. The accommodation was basic — huts had no lining, no heating in winter and no internal doors to connect the rooms. Living in the camp was also not easy for most families. Mothers and children lived in Great Camp while their husbands and fathers worked away, in Sydney, Cairns, and the Snowy River. The luckier families had fathers who worked at BHP and came home weekends. Mostly people socialised even though they came from different nationalities and different backgrounds. They were happy. There was plenty food and lots of space for the children to play.
The camp was divided into two separate sections: Silver City and Chocolate City. Silver City was so named because of the galvanised iron sheeting used in the construction of its huts and the brown coloured oiled timber clad huts in Chocolate City which nestled at the foot of Mount Molly Morgan.
Both camps were administered separately with a director or commander at the top and several government executives or assistants. Teachers were provided by the Education Department and an Employment office was opened. The bunk huts measured 20 metres by meters and were divided into ten units, each fitted with a door and lined with thin masonite. Both camps were run along army lines by army men and names such as mess and recreation hall were used. Both Silver City and Chocolate City had their own school, cinema, canteen and chapels. The main hospital was in Silver City. This was one of the largest migrant camps in Australia with a population made up of many nations. At one stage there were 17 different nationalities at the camp. The rental charged at the camp initially was 35 shillings per week for adults and twelve shillings and sixpence for children.