The triumphs and tragedies, the racism and persecution, the everyday life in Greta Migrant Camp will be documented in a book set to be released later this year.
Former Fairfax journalist Alek Schulha has almost completed three years of interviews set to be printed in a powerful publication lifting the lid on what really went on in the camp.
This month marks the 67th anniversary of the opening of the camp. It closed in 1960 after more than 100,000 refugees passed through it escaping war torn Europe after World War II.
Mr Schulha’s research has taken him overseas and across Australia in search of former camp residents, more than 100 of them telling their personal stories.
“Unless these stories are told now they will be lost forever,” Mr Schulha said.
This is a project close to Mr Schulha’s heart. He was born and raised at the camp. His parents Nada, who died in 2006, and father Peter arrived at the camp in 1949.
Mrs Schulha worked at the camp hospital as an interpreter and his father a bus driver. His mother was Yugoslav and his father Ukranian.
They were the first couple married in the Russian Orthodox Church at the camp and Mr Schulha was also christened there.
“The grandkids started asking questions so I did a family history and that started the bug,” Mr Schulha said.
“This is not a history book about the camp. It is a book about the people who made the camp telling their stories in their words.”
He said some women who lived at the camp told Mr Schulha they saw their first naked man after looking through the peepholes in the camp shower block.
Mr Schulha has spoken to teachers, truck and bus drivers, cafe owners, artists, a first grade footballer, even the editor of Time Magazine, all who lived at Greta Migrant Camp.
“I really hope to have all this wrapped up this year because a lot of these people are dying off.”
Mr Schulha has managed to track down some of the buildings that were relocated after the camp closed. “They’re in bits and pieces across the Hunter Valley and some are still being used today,” he said.
While a few mounds of bricks are left on the camp site, Mr Schulha’s research has uncovered that a special “Greta brick” that was made to hasten the building process. The brick was two bricks in one which made construction much quicker.
“I’ve found out things about Maitland that are amazing and you wouldn’t even know it happened but it did. I’m learning something new every day about the camp, just from interviewing these people. It’s never ending and fascinating.”