• Bonegilla Migrant Camp - Albury Victoria
  • Bonegilla Migrant Barracks
  • Capital Hill Hostel
  • John Sirola - My Story

I was the only one on board the train that departed Albury Station that day. The train left at 6pm and seemed to stop every 100 metres or so.  It was a long slow journey, arriving into Canberra at 1.30pm the next day.  At last!  I did not even realise I had arrived.  I could only see a shed out the window, so I sat and waited.  No sign of life outside for nearly an hour. I thought “This can’t be the capital of Australia?” No big city, no anything. I thought - this is just another country stop.

I waited for over an hour until two tall men in dark blue suits arrived to pick me up. They called me by name, and I went with them.  They were driving a Holden. They took me to Capital Hill Hostel, where I walked up a wide set of stairs to the main office. A lady was there and she asked me what nationality I was. I understood and told her I was Yugoslav.  The manager came. He too was Yugoslav.  At last I could communicate in my language!

He gave me a key, told me where to go, where the kitchen was and then to come back after dinner so he could look at my paperwork. I went to the Barracks, walked down a long corridor and found my room. It was small - one bed and one small cupboard. At 6pm, I went to the kitchen and straight away I felt like I was back in Yugoslavia or Italy.  So many different nationalities, so much noise!  I felt so much better.

Before long, I became the scribe for many of the men wanting to write letters to their families back home, especially the Calabrian’s.  Then once they knew I could play the accordion, I began to play for them as well.

Story details

Country of origin: 
Share on social media: