Exhibition remembers Greta Migrant Camp

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A network that “spreads out and connects people of different generations”.

This is how Maitland Regional Museum vice president, Julie O’Donohue, describes the Greta Migrant Camp’s impact amid the commemoration of its 70th anniversary.

In June 1949, a group of 600 refugees, many of them families displaced by World War II, arrived at a disused army camp in Greta.

It was the beginning of their new life in Australia.

The Greta camp played a central role in what is regarded as the country’s boldest post-war experiment – the introduction of millions of European migrants, a plan that changed the face of Australian society.

An exhibition at Maitland Regional Museum, which will go until 24 June, seeks to highlight the social, economic and cultural contribution these people, and many subsequent migrants, made to the area.

Old Worlds: New Beginnings includes oral histories, micro-documentaries, and artefacts contributed by former Greta residents.

“Most of them came with the philosophy that this was their new home and they were going to make the best life they could for them and their children,” Ms Donohue says.

“They set up businesses in the area, contributed a lot to local manufacturing, and opened up a whole culinary world that Australians hadn’t been aware of.

“I think this exhibition has brought together a lot of people of different nationalities, as well as highlighted what happened in the camp for members of the community who didn’t know about it.”

The exhibition was created through the hard work of volunteers and supported by the donations of personal memorabilia, which included bags, dolls, and a trench coat.

“They’ve kept these things because they are attached to them, they wanted to keep that memory alive of when they first came to Australia and moved into the Greta camp, which somebody said was like hell,” Ms O’Donohue says.

“Some families just wanted to embrace the country, but it wasn’t all positive for them either.

“When they were in the camp, there was a lot of opposition to different people from different cultures.

“People didn’t understand what they were talking about, what their life had been like before they came here.

“We didn’t have that pressure, that devastation, so how do we even acknowledge that really, other than having these sorts of events where people can see that it was a terrible thing, and this is what’s become of the people who lived there.”

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