Situated near Wodonga, in north-eastern Victoria, Bonegilla was the first and largest of 23 such centres across Australia. 

The camp opened in 1947 and, between then and its closure in 1971, it housed over 300,000 European displaced people and migrants hoping to start a new life in Australia.

It’s estimated that one in 20 Australians is a descendant of migrants who did a stint at Bonegilla.

During the years in which Bonegilla operated, over 350,000 Italian migrants came to Australia, about 42,000 of them under the Assisted Passage Scheme signed by the two governments. 

The annual Discover Bonegilla reunion allows guests to visit the site and explore its history while immersing themselves in the sights, sounds, flavours and surrounds of the centre.

Set to take place on November 2 and 3, this year’s reunion features a range of activities, from writing your family history to guided tours and long lunches.

The annual event attracts past Bonegilla camp residents and their families from across the country, as well as general members of the public to enjoy tours, displays, exhibitions, family history writing sessions, food and music.

On this year’s program are historians Bruce Pennay and Howard Jones, who will facilitate a discussion about how people write or record their family stories of the migrant experience.

The pair will examine some of the many ways people have traced their migration stories.

Stick around for Investigating Bonegilla, where Dr Pennay, author of the resource kit that accompanies the Investigating Bonegilla virtual tour, will explain how he went about unearthing stories about Bonegilla and the migrant experience at large.

There will also be an introduction to writing your family history with the granddaughter of Belgian immigrants, Melissa Justice.

A former Wodonga resident, Justice has an associate degree in creative writing.

The session will include information on how to research and format your family history and how to develop your story into a narrative.

Staff will be running a pop-up booth on both days to collect stories of Bonegilla from visitors.

Guided bus tours will visit the original site of the rail siding where guests can explore the area before visiting the Bonegilla Hall, then enter the now Latchford Army Barracks through where the original main entrance to the migrant centre once was, before being guided through the old block locations.

Children’s activities such as games, face-painting and colouring-in will also be offered in honour of all those children who called Bonegilla their first home in Australia.

The Bonegilla site will be open from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm on November 2 and 3.

The program will continue on November 4 with several events taking place off site, including the launch of an online 3D virtual tour of Block 19 at The Cube Wodonga.

View the full program here. For more information, visit Bonegilla Migrant Experience’s website.