Centre resurrects migrant memories

RICARDO Grubissa paces the creaking wooden floor of a building that might once have been his home.

Decades have passed since he has seen this place, but the 66-year-old’s eyes are alive with memories.

Photos adorn the walls of one of the leftover P1 huts from the Benalla Migrant Accommodation Centre, a relic of Benalla history left untouched until November last year.

Mr Grubissa delighted in recognising faces and names, remembering the shenanigans he and many other migrant children got up to in the camp.

“I can still remember all the important things,” Mr Grubissa said.

“But time has shown me that while I had a great time, my mother and many other parents did it very tough.”

Mr Grubissa was one of 60,000 people to live in the migrant camp in Benalla, which operated between 1949 and 1966.

Sabine Smyth, who came to Australia from Germany in 1984, is the driving force behind the Benalla Migrant Centre Exhibition.

She couldn’t believe there was nothing to commemorate what she believed was a vital piece of the town’s history.

“Large portions of the camp had been removed by the council over the years, and now there is only one building still in its original position,” Mrs Smyth said.

“I saw one last chance to do something meaningful with the remaining buildings; for many this was an important period in their lives.”

Mrs Smyth, working on the project as part of Benalla’s Australia Day festivities, started with a list of eight names who had lived in the camp, which then rapidly expanded to 80.

Many were able to contribute photos and documents to the exhibition.

“This place still matters emotionally to so many people,” Mrs Smyth said.

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