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Commemorating migrant camps: vernacular memories in official spaces

journal contribution
posted on 2015-01-01, 00:00 authored by Alexandra Dellios
Bonegilla, Australia's largest post-war migrant processing and reception centre, re-emerged in the public sphere from the late 1980s. A reunion festival was staged on the grounds of the former centre in 1987. Widely attended by former residents, it was considered a success by its organisers, a grass-roots committee of former residents. Another reunion was held ten years later, this time by a committee led by local council members. Both these reunions are important moments in the formation of Bonegilla's public history and its orientation to a narrative of progress and Australian multiculturalism. Analysing them highlights wider changes in heritage discourses and management, and in the evolution of multiculturalism in Australia. Many recent studies of public commemorations in Australia have argued that vernacular or participatory commemorations can be, and almost inevitably are, overtaken and dominated by state-sanctioned narratives. In this article, I will focus on these two reunions in order to argue that despite the progressive dominance of official or institutional powers over Bonegilla's public history, participants’ voices endure within or alongside official frameworks. Despite the obvious differences between the 1987 and 1997 reunions, collective and individual recollections from ex-residents and their families creatively operate within established and seemingly official narrative frameworks. These are not restrictive, nor do they silence alternative articulations. Some ex-residents actively draw on the narrative frameworks available to them to attribute new significance to their experiences, whether melancholy or fond, and consequently include alternative stories that add further to Bonegilla's public multi-vocality.

History

Journal

Journal of Australian studies

Volume

39

Issue

2

Pagination

252 - 271

Publisher

Routledge

Location

Abingdon, Eng.

ISSN

1444-3058

eISSN

1835-6419

Language

eng

Publication classification

C1.1 Refereed article in a scholarly journal

Copyright notice

2015, International Australian Studies Association

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