Greta Army Camp – Greta Mining Camp

On 9 and 10 November—just last weekend—in the small country town of Greta located in the Cessnock electorate, celebrations were held to commemorate the eightieth anniversary of the founding of the Greta Army Camp and the seventieth anniversary of the founding of the Greta Migrant Camp on that same site. In November 1939, 2,930 acres were compulsorily acquired to create one of the Australian Army’s largest training camps. The outbreak of World War II had been declared only months earlier. The camp was built for the training of the Sixth Division of the Second Australian Imperial Force.

Initially under the command of Lieutenant General Thomas Blamey, the first troops arrived on 15 December 1939 and over the next 10 years over 60,000 service personnel were trained on the site, often arriving by train, just a short walk down the road. They would arrive in their civvies and leave in their service dress. The 6th Division 2nd AIF fought in battles such as Tobruk, Kokoda, Buna-Gona and Aitape-Wewak, to name a few. Men who volunteered to fight did so not only to defend a nation, but also to stand up to tyranny and oppression. They fought for the rights and freedom of people whose names they had never heard and faces they had never seen from countries they never knew existed. These were our Australian soldiers training at the Greta Army Camp. At the end of World War II, Greta was tasked to train the British Commonwealth Occupation Force, the military garrison that was to serve under General Douglas MacArthur. Primarily they were dispatched to Japan to oversee the rebuild and re-establishment of some Japanese cities after the terrible bombing that brought about an end to World War II.

From 1949 to 1960 the site became Greta Migrant Camp—home to migrants fleeing Europe after World War II to seek a new life. The camp offered a new start in life for over 100,000 migrants from 18 countries. They had arrived in Australia seeking a chance to live free and to raise their families. They took a leap of faith and travelled for many months, in some cases halfway around the world, and put their trust in Australia. Migrants brought with them skills that a growing country needed. They worked in our steel mills and helped to build one of the largest projects of its time, the Snowy Mountains Scheme.

The camp and its uses as both an army training camp and a migrant camp is part of our nation’s history and should never be forgotten, but only the future will tell if this is the case. That is why I want to give a shout out to those people who organised the wonderful celebration last weekend. Primarily, the celebrations were organised by Brett Wild, himself a former member of the armed services, and now a local business owner and resident. Brett started planning the event in 2018. He enlisted help from far and wide, and gained some funding from Cessnock City Council, and various interested organisations and individuals. Brett gave not only a large amount of his time and organisational skills, but also his own money to ensure the celebrations acknowledged and commemorated these anniversaries, because this site had accommodated, at different points on the historical timeline, the armed services that would go off to fight in other countries and the migrants who were fleeing those countries to come to this beautiful place that we call home.

Brett’s work was supported by the local Branxton-Greta Business Chamber, the returned services men and women of the Greta and Branxton RSL branches as well as an army of volunteers and local identities who always seem to stick up their hands. Unfortunately on Sunday afternoon proceedings were called off just a little earlier than expected because the Rural Fire Service personnel had to turn on lights and sirens and head off to do their important work. I congratulate everybody involved in this significant celebration and remind everyone that we can do better in Australia for our migrants.