Unsettling post-war settlement: Remembering unassimilable families in the space of the migrant camp

Alexandra Dellios*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


    Migrant camps were unsettling spaces for newly arrived families in postwar Australia. Post-WWII refugees and assisted migrants arriving from 1947 to the early 1970s labelled these temporary accommodation centres run by the Department of Immigration "camps". Their ambiguity as spaces of refuge and containment persists in memory. Hundreds of thousands of assisted migrants and refugees passed through these camps, which were established from 1947 and progressively shut down from the late 1960s. This chapter will analyse memories of migrant camps by mothers, sons and daughters. They have grappled with their own contentious and contradictory family histories in the migrant camp and the ongoing legacies of being "received" and temporarily housed in a place of containment and control. As temporary and transient places, migrant camps were never intended to be long-term "homes" for migrant families. However, many families, particularly thosewith single mothers or with heads of households unable to secure ongoing and full-time work, found themselves living in camps for years. A substantial cohort of post-war migrant children grew up in centres like Benalla in Victoria or Greta in New South Wales. Family life was structured around the restrictions of communal and bureaucratised living-which had many implications for how each family member related to each other and to their new country of settlement. Constraints were also placed on their employment and movements by the Department of Immigration. This paper will tie together competing theories around migrant home-building, family memory and generational memory to argue that the place of the migrant centre has come to feature prominently in the meaning-making practice of family history, particularly for child migrants grappling with unsettled and unsettling family histories. The migrant camp is a difficult heritage place from which to build family memories, especially given the spectre of the camp-as-detention-centre. Nonetheless, many who arrived as children have seen it as their task to rescue these unsettling places of settlement from obscurity and to assert their dark heritage, their place in a more intimate and diverse history of Australian migration, which shines a light on discrimination and complicates public histories of the post-war immigration scheme and settlement.

    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationInterdisciplinary Unsettlings of Place and Space
    Subtitle of host publicationConversations, Investigations and Research
    PublisherSpringer Singapore
    Number of pages16
    ISBN (Electronic)9789811367298
    ISBN (Print)9789811367281
    Publication statusPublished - 25 Apr 2019


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