It was a safe haven, a place of peace and a home that could not be further removed from war torn Europe.
Greta Migrant Camp was where the lives of thousands of European men, women and children changed forever.
Today, all that is left of the camp are few old bricks which once formed part of the many structures on the aptly named Camp Road site. And it’s that pile of rubble that has upset Alek Schulha who was born there.
“There’s nothing on the site to say this was Greta Migrant Camp,” Mr Schulha said. “Nothing to indicate what went on there and how it was home to tens of thousands of people.
“ Some of the old residents have come back trying to find it but they leave disappointed because there’s just nothing on the site to say what it was. For many, it has been well over 50 years since they were there.”
Mr Schulha said younger family members of camp dwellers have also made the trek hoping to see where their Australian story began, but also leave disappointed.
Mr Schulha has petitioned Member for Hunter Joel Fitzgibbon calling for government support to erect a monument on the site, made from the bricks that remain there. Mr Fitzgibbon has thrown his support behind the monument proposal.
“There is a small monument but it is three kilometres away in the Greta township,” Mr Schulha said. “People don’t want to go into town to see it, they want to be on the same site where it all began for them.”
Next year marks the 70th anniversary of the landing of the Fairsea, the first migrant shop to dock in Newcastle, carrying 1800 people.
It will also mark the launch of Mr Schulha’s book, a powerful publication lifting the lid on what really went on in the camp. Four years of research for the book took Mr Schulha overseas and across Australia in search of former camp residents, more than 100 sharing their stories.
Both the book and the erection of a monument are two projects 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.
“Between 1949 and 1960 100,000 people representing 18 nationalities called Greta camp home,” Mr Schulha said. “Other migrant camps at Cowra, Bathurst, Bonegilla all boast significant memorials on the actual camp sites.
Greta camp was Australia’s second largest, housing 9000 people at any one time. It played a significant role in the development of our society as we know it today.”
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