A RETIRED university professor who has helped to establish the Bonegilla Migrant Reception Centre Heritage Park has today been awarded a Medal (OAM) of the Order of Australia in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List.
Bruce Pennay, formerly an associate professor at Charles Sturt University, has been an advocate for tourism and community history in the region.
He has been instrumental in winning public attention for Block 19 at Bonegilla and wrote the nomination for National Heritage Listing that was granted to the migrant reception centre in 2007.
“Since then the funds have begun to flow, helping what has been a volunteer group for which it has been a real struggle,” Mr Pennay said.
“I believe we are entering a new stage in its development.”
Mr Pennay has published interpretative pamphlets documenting memories and stories of migrants and refugees.
He said while there have been buildings opened to the public at Bonegilla, the focus now was on providing interpretation facilities within those buildings via noticeboards and audio visual displays.
“I want a satisfying visitor experience. We have dwelt very much in the past with the pilgrims to Bonegilla but I want ordinary people to go out there and look at what is there, in the same way they visit Eureka at Ballarat,” he said.
Mr Pennay’s interest in migration to Australia was sparked while growing up in Wollongong in the post war years.
“I was impressed with the post-war migrants who were part of an enormous social change happening in Australia,” he said.
“My doctoral thesis dealt with Albury in the war and post-war years.
“Bonegilla was home to troops first and then migrants.”
Mr Pennay said rather than looking at Bonegilla from just a migrant’s point of view he was also interested in what it was for locals to “take in strangers”.
He came to Albury from Goulburn, one of 16 staff at the fledgling university campus that grew out of the College of Advanced Education.
Mr Pennay has since published commissioned histories on the Albury-Wodonga Growth Centre experiment and the Albury Railway Station.
He also wrote histories for the Gateway Island Conservation Management Plan and both the Indigo Shire and Wodonga heritage studies.
He has been a member of both the Albury and Wodonga historical societies and was president of the Albury society in 2002.
In 2001 he received the Centenary Medal and is a life member of the History Council of NSW.