Bonegilla is a rural locality on the western shore of Lake Hume in north-eastern Victoria. The nearest large township is Wodonga, 12 km to the west. Much of the Parish of Bonegilla lies beneath the waters of Lake Hume (1936).
In 1835 Charles Ebden took up the Bonegilla pastoral run. The name is thought to be derived from an Aboriginal word meaning deep water hole or big cattle camp. (The locality of Ebden is south-east of Bonegilla.)
A primary school was opened in Bonegilla in 1876 and by 1910 it also had two hotels and a railway connection (1889) to Wodonga.
During World War II a military camp was established at Bonegilla for the training of infantry and bomb disposal personnel. Some Italian prisoners-of-war were also held there, and after the war some Australian and American prisoners-of-war from Japanese prisons were brought there. In 1947 the military camp was acquired for a reception centre for migrants, mostly from Europe. There were 24 camp blocks, comprised of over 800 buildings.
The reception centre was temporary home for over 320,000 migrants. Up to 5000 lived there on some occasions. Some had short stays, but others remained there for a year or more, often because of non-recognition of their overseas qualifications. Disturbances in 1961, mainly caused by unemployed migrants who expected better food, climate and job prospects 15 years after the war, resulted in police action which fizzled out and migrants were transferred to hostels in metropolitan Melbourne. During that time a primary school (1952-71) struggled with erratic school populations and over 40 nationalities. The migrant reception centre closed in 1971. Some migrants settled in Albury-Wodonga.
On 5 December 1987, a Back-to-Bonegilla day was held to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the opening of the migrant reception centre. A second Back-to-Bonegilla was held in 1997. Numerous published histories and reminiscences have ensued. Block 19 is heritage listed and is found on the east side of Bonegilla Road, north of the Murray Valley Highway.
Bonegilla has a hall, camping facilities and boat ramps on Lake Hume and the Latchford Barracks, Department of Defence, mainly concerned with armaments and vehicles.
Bonegilla's census populations have been:
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The nearest schools are at Bandiana and Baranduda.
Ann Tundern-Smith, Bonegilla’s beginnings, Wagga Wagga, 2007
Bruce Pennay, Receiving Europe’s displaced: Bonegilla reception and training centre, 1947-53, Wodonga, 2010
Bruce Pennay, Albury-Wodonga’s Bonegilla: a provincial centre’s experience of postwar immigration, 1947-1971, Albury, 2001
Bruce Pennay, Sharing Bonegilla stories, Albury, 2012