Camp celebration

27 Sep 2017 Benalla Ensign, Benalla VIC (General News) by Simon Ruppert The Benalla Migrant Camp is receiving grants left, right and centre ahead of its big reunion on November 10. State Member for Victoria Jaclyn Symes announced a $20 000 grant from the Victorian Government on Wednesday, September 20, to support the preparation of a Conservation Management Plan for the camp. The announcement came only days after the group was awarded $9500 from the Local History Grant Program (LHGP) to support their Digital Storytelling Project. Benalla Migrant Camp Inc. chair Sabine Smyth said the grants could not have come at a better time with the upcoming reunion attracting families with a connection to the camp from across the country. We have issued 300 tickets, which is the capacity of the airport museum, Ms Smyth said. They are for sale through BPACC, so far we have sold about half, and we havent even started promoting it. Dr Bruce Pennay who wrote the story of the migrant camp in his book Benalla Migrant Camp: A Difficult Heritage said to me that people go to historical places to feel. We believe the former migrant camp site is a place that many feel connected to, not just former residents but anyone interested in the human experience of war and making a new start through immigration. The Digital Storytelling Project, which is being financed by the history group grant will involve the filming of a series of interviews with former residents who were children of the camp. Ms Smyth said the film would not only explore the question of how migrants adapted to life in the camp after experiencing the trauma of war. It will reflect what it was like to begin a new life in Benalla and document how people who were young children at the time, remember their experience, Ms Smyth said. The other aspect of this announcement in time for the reunion is that we will be able to capture interviews with people who have just caught up with old friends from the camp, revisited the site and rekindled childhood memories. The Victorian Government grant is another big boost for Benalla Migrant Camp Inc, which wants to create a permanent exhibition on the camps site. Ms Symes said the Benalla Migrant Camp was a recent addition to the Victorian Heritage Register, demonstrating its historical importance to the state. The Benalla Migrant Camp is among our communitys most cherished assets, Ms Symes said. The Benalla Migrant Camp reflects our history and provides the stories of who we are and where we have come from. We invest in our heritage to ensure it remains for future generations. The grant is part of the state governments $36.5 million Living Heritage Program, the single biggest boost to heritage assets in Victorian history. The migrant camp reunion is a big part of the 2017 Benalla Festival and is attracting widespread attention. Author Helen Topor, a former resident of the camp, has chosen to launch her new book Outdoor Games for Todays Kids at an event held immediately before the reunion. The book launch will be on Friday, November 10, between 3 pm and 5 pm at the Benalla Public Library, entry is free and copies of the book are $30. Book launch attendees who also want to be part of the reunion might have to leave 10 minutes early to make it to the Aviation Museum for the reunion, which begins at 6 pm. Former camp resident Stephanie Swist will be travelling from northern NSW with her family to reminisce and meet old friends. The community at the camp became our extended family, a substitute for the grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins we never met, Ms Swist said. This community was the support network for new Australians as they settled in Benalla. Its now 50 years since the camp closed, but the bonds remain. The Migrant Camp Reunion is on November 10 at the Aviation Museum, Benalla Airport. To purchase a ticket, visit or phone BPACC on 5762 5515. You can purchase a copy of Benalla Migrant Camp: A Difficult Heritage, by Bruce Pennay from the Visitor information centre in Mair St, Hutt 11 at Benalla Airport or by contacting Benalla Migrant Camp Inc via facebook, benallamigrantcampexhibition/ Caption Text: Fascinating insight: Jaclyn Symes visited the Benalla Migrant Camp exhibition earlier this year.