Greek City Times is proud to present a weekly historical snapshot
from the archives of the national project “In Their Own Image: Greek Australians”
by photographer Effy Alexakis and historian Leonard Janiszewski.
“MIGRANT CAMPS” – TWO PERSONAL PERSPECTIVES ON EARLY ARRIVALS
In the early 1950s, there were two types of immigration centers in Australia: reception centers and detention centres. The main reception centers were Bonegilla (Vic.), Bathurst (NSW), Woodside (SA) and Northam (WA). Newcomers were sent to these centers before being sent to work with a designated employer. Families were sent to detention centers until their husbands were given housing and jobs. The Scheyville and Greta “migrant camps” in New South Wales were both reception and detention centres.
Born in Florina in northern Greece in 1928, Helen Piechocki (née Rakopoulou) [seated first on the right] arrived in Australia in 1952 with her first husband Peter Batin and their daughter Rosa Maria. Helen had met Peter, who was Russian, in Vienna, the capital of Austria, after the war (World War II). She had left Greece in 1943 and stayed with an aunt in the Austrian capital until 1945. As “displaced persons”, Helen and Peter initially wanted to emigrate to Canada, but according to Helen, the authorities “only allowed Catholics there”. They saw Australia as their only chance to leave Europe and were relieved when they finally left aboard the “Nelly” for a fresh start in a new country.
After six months at Bonegilla Immigration Center in Victoria (on the Victoria/New South Wales border, just east of Wodonga), they were moved to Scheyville (near Windsor, north- west of Sydney). Helen got work as an interpreter and nurse’s aide in the hospital at the Migrant Hostel – Greece having signed a major migration deal with Australia in 1952 through the Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration (ICEM), Scheyville was home to a number of Greek families. Peter found work at the BHP (Broken Hill Proprietary Limited) steelworks in Port Kembla (near Wollongong on the south coast of New South Wales). However, he had to live close to the factory, which meant he was separated from his family. Tragically, Peter was killed in a motorbike accident at Cringila in Wollongong just a year after arriving in Australia.
The inscription on the back of the photograph is, in hindsight, an apt prelude to today’s multicultural Australia.
“I was in Scheyville three and a half years. I worked with the hospital nurses. I could speak a few languages, including some English. I had the day off when they took this photo. They came to fetch me, that’s why I don’t wear a uniform… My husband had been dead for six months by then.
The Andreou family was made up of Greeks from Romania. They arrived in Australia by air in 1950 as “political refugees”.
Helen’s husband Andreas was hired to work for two years (an agreement required by all ‘assisted passage’ migrants) and was sent from Greta, northwest of Newcastle, to Goomeri, near Gympie in Queensland. He worked in a government pine plantation for six months, clearing brush and planting trees. The family separation was difficult for both of them to bear. For Andreas, “it was the most difficult thing to do”.
This photograph was sent by Helen to her husband at this time. The baby chair had been built by Andreas from scraps of wood and old nails he had found at the migrant camp before he left for Queensland. Without her husband’s safety in camp, Helen recalls: “Drunks [from Newcastle and district] used to come to the camps, we [the children and myself] were scared at night.
Andreas also found work at a fruit market in Goomeri, then at the BHP (Broken Hill Proprietary Limited) and Commonwealth Steel works in Newcastle – a few years running a cafe in Dungog, just north of Newcastle, proved fruitless . He then worked in a joint venture in Mayfield, a north-west suburb of Newcastle.
Andreas is very grateful to have moved to Australia, given his experiences in Europe: “I’m not going to starve in this country, not like in Greece. I will never suffer in this country. I came here and I will die here. The hardest part was with Greta… I had to be separated from my young family for months…”
Photos: Effy Alexakis
Historical research: Leonard Janiszewski
© In Their Image: Greek-Australian National Project Archives
Since the early 1980s, photographer Effy Alexakis and historian researcher Leonard Janiszewski have traveled across Australia to photograph and collect stories. They have also photographed Greek-Australians in Greece and documented amazing stories. Images and text provide personal, diverse and powerfully moving insights into opportunities, hopes and challenges. Collectively, these stories offer personal perspectives of a diasporic Hellenic identity. Their archive encompasses photography, both historical and contemporary, recorded interviews and literary documents.
They have published 3 books and numerous articles, and their projects are ongoing. The photographs have been widely exhibited throughout Australia and Greece.
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