ALL ABOUT BONEGILLA
Endrius “Andrew” Jankus*
Volume 22, 2008**
The book "Bonegilla’s Beginnings" brings back many memories to the participants who are still around and provides curiosity to the participants’ offspring. But it is a true reflection of life at the time of the arrival of the war refugees, “First [Transporters]” on the “General Stuart Heintzelman". The book’s author, Ann Tündern-Smith, has described thoroughly the little known history of Bonegilla from conversion of farming land to a military training centre.
I like the book’s format and contents where a picture on each page supplements the description. I am a great believer that “a picture is worth a thousand words”.
The author mentions a Bonegilla Railway Station. When we arrived on the first train, it stopped in the middle of nowhere surrounded by hills, at a short, dirt ramp, overgrown by weeds and scrub, with no human activity in sight. Naturally, the females alighted at the ramp while the males jumped out of the carriages into the waist-high grass. For some time we just looked around at the empty landscape—wondering…
Suddenly a cloud of dust materialised rolling through the grass: it was a fleet of army trucks that would take us to the Bonegilla barracks. The girls went first. I am certain that the picture on page 52 is of the girls walking from the train to where the trucks had stopped.
The girls were treated like film stars, spoiled and pampered. That gave rise to the myth later that rich Australian station owners would come for them in their Rolls Royces and take them away as wives and they would live like princesses for ever after. A few became clerks and typists but, unfortunately, most ended up as domestics or assistant nurses in charge of the night pots.
The Camp Commandant, Major Kershaw, is portrayed as a friendly father figure, but there was another side to him. It was my unfortunate luck to be elected several times to a committee to convey complaints to the Major. Most times it ended in a confrontational manner. The last time, he twisted my ear and told me that if I were in his Unit he would have straightened me out.
It is a very informative book about the history of migration.
* Endrius Kristupas Jankus, author of many historical articles on Lithuania, is the grandson of the Patriarch of Lithuania Minor, Martynas Jankus. Endrius migrated to Australia in 1947 on the “First Transport” and via Bonegilla. He now lives near Hobart.
** Annual journal of the Lithuanian Studies Society at the University of Tasmania, PO Box 777, Sandy Bay, Tas (Australia) 7006, A.Taskunas@utas.edu.au.