When 14-year-old Julia Kralik arrived at the Bonegilla Migrant Camp with her parents and sisters on a cold morning 52 years ago, she was less than impressed.
Her father’s decision to bring the family to Australia to escape the communist regime in Croatia proved to be a good one, but the teenaged Julia found that hard to appreciate when she saw the Spartan conditions at Bonegilla for the first time.
“Oh my God! I was looking at it – our cabin was in Block G (now Block 13) – and they (camp staff) brought out all our information but it really was a shock, I was crying every day,” she said this week.
The shock began to ease and Julia made friends at the camp, but the family’s stay there was short, and not long after arriving, they moved to Melbourne.
Julia, now Julia Cesar, recently returned to the Bonegilla Migrant Experience, coincidentally 52 years to the day since she first arrived.
“When I saw the barracks it really was emotional but the ladies (BME staff) were lovely and I was crying, and I was still emotional when I got home (to Melbourne),” she said.
Her return left a more positive impression than her original arrival, but Julia remains ever-grateful that her stay at the camp heralded the beginning of a new life in Australia.
Soon after leaving Bonegilla for Melbourne, she got a job in the team room of a cake factory and was then offered a job by a Polish grocer, who was thrilled that his new young employee could speak Slovenian.
Julia later married and had two children and eventually, two grandchildren.
She still misses Croatia and has returned four times but Australia is now home.
“I feel I am very blessed that I came to this country. I have everything I ever wanted and everything I needed,” she said.
“Compared to how people live (in Croatia), we live here like millionaires, even if we are not millionaires, and I’m very, very glad we came here.”