Bonegilla Migrant Experience just keeps getting better

From new sculptures to refurbishment works and famous visitors, Bonegilla Migrant Experience is constantly evolving and has established its place as a cultural tourism attraction.

Back in September 2018, Border artist Ken Raff unveiled his large sculpture along the High country Rail Trail at the Mahers Rd crossing, marking the start of the Bonegilla journey.

Titled Welcome, the sculpture features silhouettes of migrants arriving at the camp and meeting with Colonel Guinn, Director of the Bonegilla Migrant Camp.

The project serves as a memorial to the integral role that Army personnel played in settling and caring for families and individuals who arrived in Australia seeking a new start in peacetime.

Its location on the rail trail signals the movement of thousands of people along Victoria’s rail system and to the Bonegilla siding.

Artist Ken Raff worked on the sculpture between eight and ten hours a day for just over a month.

Made from steel and corrugated iron sheeting, the sculpture ties in with four other sculptural pieces by the artist including three at Bonegilla itself and one at Gateway Island.

Several months later, In July 2018, BME got word that the national heritage listed site would receive $534,177 funding from the federal government’s Building Better Regions Fund and $100,000 from VicRoads.

Wodonga Council contributed $434,177 in funding for the project that went towards the refurbishment works as well as outdoor infrastructure enhancements, interpretive and wayfinding signage and connections to prominent regional rail trails.

In August 2018, popular micro-bakery The Bicycle Baker found its new home at BME, nestled among some magnificent gum trees and adjacent to Bonegilla’s Block 19.

Set up in the commercial kitchen adjoining the function centre at Bonegilla Migrant Experience, the aroma of freshly baked bread now wafts through the place.

The Bicycle Baker continues selling its bread to businesses and at the BME when the site is open.

July 2020 saw the installation of two silhouette huts built over old foundations of Block 17.

The huts stand out as you enter the site and look to the right.

Block 17 was used when the Bonegilla Reception and Training Centre first opened in 1947 as an accommodation block along with Block 18 and 19 before 24 blocks were taken over for accommodation.

The idea of having the huts in Block 17 is to highlight another block of the reception centre and assist staff when talking to visitors about the scale of the site from the Welcome Centre.

BME had an exciting visitor to the site in January 2019.

Renowned contemporary artist Charles Billich, who is married to Real Housewives of Melbourne star Christa, visited the site with a film crew to take footage for a documentary.

The feature documentary highlighted Billich’s colourful lifestyle and his time spent as a 21-year-old employment officer at the Bonegilla camp in 1956.

The documentary screened at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival.

* Over the coming weeks, we will share a series of news stories, interesting facts, photos, and Facebook posts to acknowledge 50 years since the Bonegilla Migrant Reception and Training Centre stopped operating as a migrant camp.

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