Post war migrants return to Greta 70 years on

EMOTIONAL RETURN: Lithuanian born Stasia 'Stella' Rossi (nee Savaciute) returns to the remains of the Greta Army and Migrant Camp 70 years to the day after she first called the site home. She is pictured with her proud son Carlo.
EMOTIONAL RETURN: Lithuanian born Stasia 'Stella' Rossi (nee Savaciute) returns to the remains of the Greta Army and Migrant Camp 70 years to the day after she first called the site home. She is pictured with her proud son Carlo.

An impressive crowd of 8000 people flocked to the region on Saturday and Sunday to celebrate this year's Silky Oak festival at the former Greta Army and Migrant Camp.

Yet this occasion proved far more than a weekend getaway for most in attendance.

The weekend itself signified the 80th anniversary of the Army Camp; a significant milestone marked with aerial displays, re-enactments and a powerful address by the Governor-General of Australia David Hurley.

"The service personnel who trained here fought for the freedoms of others," co-organiser Mr Brett Wild (Central Hunter Business Chamber) explained.

TRAINING BASE: Australian soldiers pictured training at the site in the late 1930s. (PHOTO SUPPLIED)

TRAINING BASE: Australian soldiers pictured training at the site in the late 1930s. (PHOTO SUPPLIED)

More notably, the event also recognised the 70th anniversary of the site's transformation to the Migrant Camp which saw over 100,000 immigrants pass through from 1949-60.

Lithuanian born Stasia 'Stella' Rossi (nee Savaciute) fondly recalled her time at the well-known centre as a child.

On Sunday the Newcastle based grandmother utilised the event to share her story alongside her son Carlo and daughter in law Wendy.

"Today marks 70 years to the day I arrived here as a nine-year-old girl," Mrs Rossi told the Singleton Argus.

Born in Kedainai, outside of Lithuania's (then) capital city of Kaunas, the Migrant Camp served as safe haven for her family.

Less than half a decade earlier they had survived the sinking of the MV Goya which had been attacked by a Soviet submarine in the Baltic Sea.

PERFORMANCE READY: Oliver and Chloe De Fraine pictured moments before their performance with the Polish school's dance group.

PERFORMANCE READY: Oliver and Chloe De Fraine pictured moments before their performance with the Polish school's dance group.

The death toll exceeded 6000, making the sinking one of the worst disasters by number of casualties in maritime history (she was one of the estimated 183 survivors).

"I still have the marks from where my mother was holding me on the ship," she added.

After three years of living in a displacement camp in Denmark, followed by a year in Italy, it was time to call Australia home in November, 1949.

"As a little girl I remember the grass was very long at the camp," she recalled.

"I remember the bus would take us to Lochinvar to school and my mother was even remarried here in Greta.

FROM THE ARCHIVES: The Greta Army and Migrant Camp pictured in the 1950s. (PHOTO SUPPLIED)

FROM THE ARCHIVES: The Greta Army and Migrant Camp pictured in the 1950s. (PHOTO SUPPLIED)

"We would hang out with our own nationalities but the main language spoken by those immigrants in the camp was German because of all the displacement camps we had all come from.

"But the children still mixed (socially).

"We had our own Lithuanian dances and little concerts within the school area in the camp and I also remember the teachers said we weren't allowed to cross the fence.

"But the main gate was always open and many people would walk there towards the train station to get to Cessnock or Maitland or Newcastle."

Toronto based George Boyko was born in the camp's hospital during his Ukrainian family's 12 months of residence the following year in 1950.

REUNITED AT GRETA: Toronto based George Boyko (Ukrainian heritage) was born in the Greta Army and Migrant Camp in 1950, the same time Newcastle based Stasia Rossi (born Stasia Savaciute in Kedainai, Lithuania) called the camp home at age 10.

REUNITED AT GRETA: Toronto based George Boyko (Ukrainian heritage) was born in the Greta Army and Migrant Camp in 1950, the same time Newcastle based Stasia Rossi (born Stasia Savaciute in Kedainai, Lithuania) called the camp home at age 10.

"I had a lot of friends from the camp including my Godparents who I kept in contact with for 10 or 15 years later when we moved to Barnsley," he explained.

"I never heard any bad things; it was always about the friendships that were formed in the camp because Australia was a safe haven.

"If my family returned to Ukraine, which by that stage was controlled by the Russians, their future would have been very uncertain.

"As for this weekend, it is surprising just how many people we've come across who were also born here.

"I have probably come across 10-15 myself."

Many are familiar with the campaign work of author Alek Schulha.

The former Newcastle Herald journalist has petitioned Hunter MP Joel Fitzgibbon to ask the Federal government to build a monument at the camp site using bricks from the former buildings.

He was also born at the site in 1951 to a Ukrainian father and Yugoslavian mother.

THE CAMPAIGNER: Author Alek Schulha has petitioned Hunter MP Joel Fitzgibbon to ask the Federal government to build a monument at the camp site using bricks from the former buildings.

THE CAMPAIGNER: Author Alek Schulha has petitioned Hunter MP Joel Fitzgibbon to ask the Federal government to build a monument at the camp site using bricks from the former buildings.

"My father drove the free bus that went around the camp and my mother worked as an interpreter in the hospital," he explained.

"They were also the first couple to be married in the Russian Orthodox Church here which was then located in the Silver City by Father (Ivan) John Lupish.

"I was then christened by the same priest at the same church.

"This past weekend I have come across hundreds who were born here.

"There have also been around 12 people who lived here around 1949-50 and never returned until this weekend 70 years later because they are now living in Sydney or even Queensland."

Mr Fitzgibbon congratulated all those who worked hard to ensure the Greta Army and Migrant Camp Anniversaries were celebrated in an appropriate way.

DISTINGUISHED GUEST: Governor-General of Australia David Hurley pictured in Saturday's opening ceremony. Picture: Marina Neil.

DISTINGUISHED GUEST: Governor-General of Australia David Hurley pictured in Saturday's opening ceremony. Picture: Marina Neil.

"The decisions to establish first the Army Camp and then the Migrant Camp were momentous and they shaped Australia," he declared on Saturday.

"The fact that the Governor General, so many local elected representatives, and so many people from around Australia have joined us demonstrates both the significance of the Anniversaries and how widely their importance is understood."