Greta Migrant camp's day of celebration, including the toy koala that returned home after 71 years

DELIGHTED: Alek Schulha who has campaigned to have a monument at the Greta Migrant Camp site.
DELIGHTED: Alek Schulha who has campaigned to have a monument at the Greta Migrant Camp site.

After "eight or ten years of banging my head up against a wall", local historian Alek Schulha has finally succeeded in getting a monument built at Greta Migrant Camp.

Mr Schulha has long lamented the fact that there has been no monument in place to honour the 60,000 soldiers and 100,000 migrants who passed through Greta Camp between 1939 and 1960.

"All the other migrant camps I've been to around Australia had something to honour the history of the place, but not Greta for some reason, which was the second biggest of them all," he said.

"So this is huge. For years we've had children and grandchildren of migrants who wanted to trace their family story in Australia, but they couldn't find the place where it all began because there was nothing to say here it is. Now that's going to change."

Work on the monument will start shortly, to be built at the camp entry on Camp Road, with cost shared dollar for dollar between Greta Tidy Towns Committee and Cessnock Council.

Council have approved construction and some of the original bricks from the camp will be incorporated in the monument.

The camp will be remembered at a national day of significance at Greta Museum on Saturday.

The highlight of the day will be when Maira Kalnins, originally of Latvia, hands over to Greta Museum a koala she was given in 1949 - 71 years ago this week - by the then Minister for Immigration, Mr Arthur Calwell, as recognition for being the 50,000th migrant to arrive in Australia.

The presentation took place in Fremantle as Ms Kalnins arrived as a seven year old on the migrant ship Fairsea.

Maira's five year old brother, Inars, was presented with a toy kangaroo and an Australian Rules football at the same ceremony.

"I've got to know Maira and I think it's remarkable that she's kept that koala all these years," Mr Schulha said. "Last time I saw it it had lost an arm and had clearly been well loved."

Cessnock mayor Bob Pynsent will accept the koala on behalf of the City of Cessnock at a ceremony at 11am. The koala will be on permanent display at the museum.

Later in the day Mr Schulha, who was born in the camp in 1951, will be on hand to sign copies of his newly released book about the camp 'Beneath the Shadows of Mount Molly Morgan.'

While the Fairsea arrived in Fremantle on August 12, it was another week before it docked at Newcastle with its 1896 passengers. It was the first boat load of migrants to be transported directly from Europe to Newcastle.

These migrants were then transported by steam trains to Greta Camp - their first home in Australia.

This story Greta Migrant Camp celebration: toy koala back home after 71 years first appeared on The Maitland Mercury.