Event Review: Border History Teachers Network dinner forum – Keynote address by Dr Bruce Pennay

BY LISA TUCK AND MARTIN DICKENS.

Lisa Tuck & Martin Dickens

Keynote Address: Dr Bruce Pennay, OAM – Taking in Strangers: The Reception of Post-war Immigrants, Revisited.

Date: Friday 11th November 2011.

Venue: Crown Lounge, New Albury Hotel.

Review by Lisa Tuck

The Third Annual Dinner Forum of the Border History Teacher’s Network proved to be a fantastic success. Held at the New Albury Hotel’s Crown Lounge, the night was aimed at creating a networking experience for community members, local educators and students as well as generating interest regarding issues surrounding our local history.

The night’s keynote speaker Dr Bruce Pennay delivered an engaging address entitled Taking in strangers: ‘The reception of post-war immigrants, revisited’ dealing specifically with Bonegilla, the former Migrant Reception Camp located in North East Victoria. Dr Bruce Pennay OAM is an Adjunct Associate Professor at Charles Sturt University and recently completed seven years on the History Advisory Panel of the NSW Planning Department’s heritage branch. In 2007, Dr Pennay’s request for Bonegilla to be placed on the national heritage list was accepted.

Dr Pennay discussed the former Migrant Reception Camp Bonegilla as a site of national and local significance. He revisited the stories and experiences of post war immigrants and their reception upon arrival to Australia. In particular, the address was focused around how immigrants were accepted (or in many cases) not accepted into Australian society. Dr Pennay outlined the government’s policy on immigration at the time and discussed how the notion of ‘assimilation’ was encouraged through the use of propaganda.

Dr Pennay illustrated how many immigrants coming from large European cities felt quite isolated upon arrival to the migration reception camps and were often treated with a lack of respect by Australian locals. Despite this, the aim of the post war Australian government was to ensure that immigration experience was seen as favourable by both parties in order to stimulate the economy and strengthen its diplomatic relations with parts of Europe.

Altogether, a fantastic time was had by all who attended the event and as a student, I found the night an excellent opportunity to socialise with other border history enthusiasts.

Review by Martin Dickens

The Border History Teachers’ Network successfully hosted its’ third Dinner Forum on Friday 11th November 2011.  The keynote address entitled Taking in Strangers: The Reception of Post-War Immigrants was delivered by Dr Bruce Pennay from Charles Sturt University.  Dr Pennay, a historian with specific research interests in Australian post-war immigration, was responsible in 2007 for the nomination of Bonegilla Migrant Centre gaining accreditation on the National Heritage List.  He used this accomplishment to deliberate on the importance of re-visiting the issue immigration in a twenty-first century context.

To begin the discussion, Dr Pennay first introduced other memorials located around Australia that pay respect and mark the rich history of immigration recorded by Australia.  These memorials were predominantly man-made and created years after the migration schemes were in effect.  Whilst these relics prove important in reminding Australians of the “Lost Generation”, Dr Pennay reiterated that post-war immigration centres such as Bonegilla are significant as they mark not only surviving memorials of the nation’s war effort, but also the beginnings of multiculturalism for the state.

For Bonegilla in particular, Dr Pennay shared stories of love, hardship and endurance that he has gained from interviews with migrants at the camp and from historical documents.  Importantly, Dr Pennay was successful in demonstrating the sense of alienation and isolation experienced by those at the reception centre as many arrivals continued to practice their traditional customs and were in turn excluded from mainstream Australian life.

A highlight of the presentation however included Dr Pennay’s in depth focus on propaganda efforts used by the Australian Government to encourage migrants to come to Australia and also for the nation’s population to accept those who decided to start a new life in Australia.  The migrants, often they would encounter a significant culture shock when they arrived at centres such as Bonegilla given the contrast reality presented from the photographs used and their own lifestyles in their home lands.  On a national front, propaganda campaigns used what can simply be described as “sex appeal” to encourage young men and women to accept the new migrants.  Their supposed mastery of English and relatively good looks would make them suitable candidates for not only marriage, but to fuel Australia’s growing economy.

Dr Pennay concluded his address by stating that Bonegilla deserves recognition as a location of national significance.  Furthermore, the link between the migrant experiences at Bonegilla to global movements calls for, in his opinion, greater research into why Bonegilla should be considered for world heritage listing.

Overall, the dinner forum proved again to be a successful event for history enthusiasts of the border region to come together and discuss issues related to the subject.

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Photos from the BHTN Dinner Forum

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Bruce Pennay: Bio

Bruce Pennay is an Adjunct Associate Professor at Charles Sturt University. He has for several years been exploring and pondering the meanings of the former Bonegilla Reception Centre and was pleased in 2007 when his nomination of the site to the National Heritage List was accepted. He will explain why the site is of national significance and why the experiences of the post-war immigrants and the host society are worth revisiting nearly three quarters of a century later. Bruce came to Albury-Wodonga in 1983 and was initially involved in teaching Australian history and heritage prior to being recruited into university administration. Even though the university stopped paying him when he retired in 1999, he attends his university office daily to pursue his research interests, principally in border district history and heritage. He recently completed a seven-year stint on the History Advisory Panel of the NSW Planning Department’s heritage branch.

About the Authors

Lisa Tuck is a second year Bachelor of Arts (Humanities and Social Sciences) student who is concerned about international relations as well as local political issues.  She is currently the Vice President of the Political Awareness Club and is a contributor to Our Voice: Albury Wodonga.  Lisa is passionate about climate change politics and holds a particular interest in policy matters in the field of education.

Martin Dickens is a second year Bachelor of Arts student studying at La Trobe University’s Albury Wodonga Campus. He is currently a member of the Political Awareness Club and holds a strong interest in both Australian politics and international affairs. He has served as an acting delegate for the United Nations Regional Youth Summits and was recently awarded the Deans Prize First Year for the most outstanding student in the Bachelor of Arts. Martin is also interested in education policy and regional development in terms of infrastructure and service delivery.

About the Border History Teachers’ Network

The Border History Teachers’ Network is an organisation affiliated with the Sydney-based, NSW History Teachers’ Association. Its members are History teachers and retired History teachers from government and non-government schools. The BHTN’s goals are to firstly improve the standard of history teaching on the border by presenting HSC Study Days in Modern and Ancient History with strong academic presenters from universities and academia.

Another goal is to establish a collegial network of educators from all levels of education to meet in social and academic occasions, with the aim of inspiring the sharing of ideas and assist one another in the learning process.

Thirdly, the BHTN feels there is also a need to recognise history educators who have worked hard in their profession and to encourage ‘New Scheme Teachers’ in their history teaching profession by giving them a social and academic forum to enjoy.  Finally, the BHTN reaches out the broader community who are interested in history. The general public are encouraged to join the social events like the ‘Dinner Forum’ where all three of the above goals come together in a great night of entertainment, academic excellence and a great social event.

The views in this story are those of the author and not necessarily those of Our Voice: Politics Albury-Wodonga.

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