Greta Army Camp and Greta Migrant Camp anniversary weekend
I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, the Wonnarua People, and pay my respects to their elders, past and present, emerging leaders and all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders gathered here today.
Good morning, everyone.
Linda and I are pleased to be back in Greta for this weekend’s activities marking the 80th and 70th anniversaries respectively of the Greta Army and Migrant camps.
When we last visited 12 months ago, we launched the Branxton-Greta Memorial Cycleway and paid our respects to the 60 World War I servicemen from Greta and Branxton who didn’t return home.
Today, we are acknowledging the contribution of Greta and the surrounding region to two significant periods in Australia’s history.
This is the site of one of the Army’s largest training facilities in the country during World War II. Sixty thousand men were prepared for combat here. But the significance of this site doesn’t end there.
The men who trained here fought for our nation, for democracy and for freedom. As a dividend of their efforts, tens of thousands of people were able to come to Australia through the Greta Migrant Camp after the war.
As we approach Remembrance Day, our focus rightly turns to those who bravely fought for our country, especially those who paid the ultimate sacrifice. As you walk among these fields today and take in the exhibits, it is perhaps hard to imagine that 80 years ago this site was a flurry of activity and anticipation.
Thousands of young men were descending upon Greta. The locals and especially local industry was abuzz with the prospect of increased economic activity. A large camp was constructed and its occupants had to be fed and watered.
From past experience I can tell you that the military has a fondness for nicknames. At Greta, the brown weatherboard buildings were affectionately known as ‘Chocolate City’ and the corrugated iron huts as ‘Silver City’ — some of the remnants of which are still around to this day. The camp site, for all intents and purposes, was a town in its own right.
The majority of the soldiers who trained here served in the 6th Division and were deployed primarily to our North, especially New Guinea. After the war, the camp was used to train soldiers who were to serve in the British Commonwealth Occupation Force in Japan. But the story of Greta and its place in our history didn’t end with the end of the war.
Between 1947 and 1953, Australia received more than 170,000 migrants under the Displaced Persons program. As part of this program of migration, in 1949 the former Army camp site at Greta received its first wave of migrants.
The site was a logical choice as the infrastructure was already in place, albeit with a little fine-tuning required. The barracks-style buildings, for example, were refitted to provide accommodation for migrants.
It is estimated that about 100,000 migrants passed through the Greta Migrant Camp between 1949 and 1960. There were people from the Baltic countries, along with the Ukraine, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia. There were also intakes from Poland, Italy, Greece, Macedonia, Hungary, Austria, Germany and Russia .
Many of you here today will have ties to that generation which arrived in Australia. If you were a child in the camp at the time, you could not have realised how important a role your parents played in shaping post-war Australia.
With the influx of migrants, came a ready-made workforce with a burgeoning skill set — especially in the steel and mining industries and on the Snowy Mountains Scheme which began construction in 1949.
In closing, I commend the Central Hunter Business Chamber and all those associated with the weekend activities for organising an event that recognises the important role played by Greta between 1939 and 1960.
Greta Camp symbolises two significant eras in Australia’s history — the fight for freedom in the Second World War and the amazing endeavour to create a new nation in the aftermath of the war.
It is now my great pleasure to declare the Greta Army Camp and Greta Migrant Camp anniversary weekend open.