Commemorating migrant camps: vernacular memories in official spaces

Alexandra Dellios*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


Bonegilla, Australia's largest post-war migrant processing and reception centre, re-emerged in the public sphere from the late 1980s. A reunion festival was staged on the grounds of the former centre in 1987. Widely attended by former residents, it was considered a success by its organisers, a grass-roots committee of former residents. Another reunion was held ten years later, this time by a committee led by local council members. Both these reunions are important moments in the formation of Bonegilla's public history and its orientation to a narrative of progress and Australian multiculturalism. Analysing them highlights wider changes in heritage discourses and management, and in the evolution of multiculturalism in Australia. Many recent studies of public commemorations in Australia have argued that vernacular or participatory commemorations can be, and almost inevitably are, overtaken and dominated by state-sanctioned narratives. In this article, I will focus on these two reunions in order to argue that despite the progressive dominance of official or institutional powers over Bonegilla's public history, participants’ voices endure within or alongside official frameworks. Despite the obvious differences between the 1987 and 1997 reunions, collective and individual recollections from ex-residents and their families creatively operate within established and seemingly official narrative frameworks. These are not restrictive, nor do they silence alternative articulations. Some ex-residents actively draw on the narrative frameworks available to them to attribute new significance to their experiences, whether melancholy or fond, and consequently include alternative stories that add further to Bonegilla's public multi-vocality.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)252-271
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Australian Studies
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 3 Apr 2015
Externally publishedYes


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