Legends & Memories
The Bonegilla Festival

Bonegilla Festival

Young Greek dancers with their mothers at the 1997 Bonagilla Festival

If there's one thing they can do well in Victoria's North East, it's to tell stories.

And what stories there are to tell. Stories from all round the world, memories of homelands long ago left, from all parts of Europe and from China.

Migration then settlement, gold then starvation, loneliness then communities, barren soil, and now lush vineyards and cheese factories.

All of this was told and re-told through music, exhibitions, theatre and food and wine festivals during the 50th Anniversary Reunion Festival at Bonegilla earlier this year.

The Bonegilla Migrant Reception Centre was the first home for 320,000 refugees, displaced persons and voluntrary immigrants between 1947 and 1971.

Amongst those families were the Schmidts who came in 1956 from Germany and after a lot of very hard work and some false starts were able to buy land at Allans Flat, not far from Wodonga, and to establish the Schmidt's Strawberry Winery, the only one of its kind in the southern hemisphere.

Things had never been the same in Bavaria after the war for the Schmidt family. Life had changed irrevocably and John had the opportunity as a prisoner of war taken to America to experience life in the new world. Even harvesting peanuts alongside negroes in Alabama, John realised that life for his family could be better out of Europe.

But it took 18 months before he could find work and security for his family out of Bonegilla. Conditions at the centre and the lack of work for many of the migrants caused a lot of unrest culminating in riots in 1952 and in 1961. But even more important than lack of job prospects seemed to be the food. Bill Marchetti (Marchetti's Latin) still groans when he recalls, from his arrival there in 1968, the smell of mutton fat and the "disgusting army mess food" and Steve Manfredi (belmondo, Sydney) " cubes of pastel coloured vegetables floating in water."

Darby Schmidt says this is all nonsense, " I think it's totally unjustified. I think that most Europeans that came out wouldn't have eaten as well as they did at Bonegilla". His family had been innkeepers in Bavaria and so his father, John, who spoke no English and had no immediate job prospects, was put to work in the kitchen.

Eventually he was able to survive on dairy farm work and after saving and borrowing, to purchase some land. After several years of mixed farming John Schmidt was finally able to fulfill his dream -- to plant strawberries and to make wine as he had done before in Bavaria.

The winery was licensed in 1975 and its wines have won international awards.The Schmidts' story is one of thousands of successful re-settlements in this area. If many bad memories of Bonegilla are about the food then so too abound the success stories in the food and wine industry for these same refugees.

Lutz Peters' father was a Master Butcher in Germany and was fortunate in being placed in work almost immediately on arrival at Bonegilla. Lutz who came to Australia aged two, now continues his father's successful business and finds trade very brisk from the many Austrians and Germans settled in the area. The German Austrian Club (of which his father was the founding President) cooked heaps of his sausages during the Albury Wodonga Food Festival. The cakes made by the local German and Austrian ladies were amazing. I have not seen such a collection of strudels (of all flavours and shapes) nut cakes, gingerbread hearts, dense chocolate creations, apple cakes galore, kugelhopf, tortes etc. And all served by elderly women in dirndl. There was not much English to be heard in the area over the Bonegilla weekend. Reminiscences and stories and music were all from afar.

And today the stories will be flowing along with the wine when the wine makers of Rutherglen come together to celebrate the 30th Anniversary of Victoria's first Wine Festival. Some of the organisers of that first festival will be there to talk and to swap stories such as when the hay bales caught alight or when the chandelier fell from the ceiling amid the dancers at the Festival.

I wonder if Ross and Peter Brown will act as wine waiters as they did that first year or if the first Festival Queen (the Queen of Port, who defeated the Queen of Riesling and Queen of Claret) will pay a return visit to the Festival??

That festival was dreamt up as a means of raising funds for a caravan park to give the town a boost. It was a hit, some 15,000 visitors came to Rutherglen in 1967 and a new industry was born - that of wine tourism. There are now wine festivals in just about every wine growing region around Australia.

But to get back to the stories of the north east, George Sutherland Smith (president of the first Rutherglen Wine Festival) recalls that when the hay bales caught alight, " because of the huge numbers it was impossible for the fire truck to get through so we used a tanker of wine to put out the fire."

No such waste is envisaged this year. Along with the wines and the words will be the Legends Dinner tonight which features a "classic" French menu as in 1967. It was $10 then and 30 years later the four course feast including wines is $70. Bookings 060331922. Or for strawberry wine call Schmidts 060271454 and the traditional German smallgoods at Lutz Peters 060 251796.

I visited the 1997 Albury Wodonga Wine & Food Festival and recommend that you mark the first weekend of October '98 in your gastronomic diary. The Regional Wine and Food Producers Picnic offers a terrific chance to catch up with local products. From the 70 stalls, some can already be found in Melbourne such as Haeberfield (now Parmelat) Cheeses - and Butt's Smoked Trout - which we used in Mietta's North Fitzroy in 1975. Local restaurants to try are the Zilleon Food Studio (02 60218667) and the Lincoln Cottage (060411830 ) Marlene and Terry Hudson provide a comfortable home away from home at Gundowring B&B (phone 02 60414437) Marlene excellent cooked breakfasts and lots of local advice, before they converted the historic house into a B&B they ran a local restaurant for many years.

Mietta O'Donnell
Written for 29/11/97

©Mietta's 1997

Paul Peters' Family History

Paul Peters was born in Grammendorf, Germany in 1922. He was the second of four children, with two older step-sisters and a step-brother. He grew up on his parent's farm in Grammendorf. Their farm grew 'anything that was possible' - wheat, barley, oats, rye, potato, fruit, as well as raising assorted animals. Paul and the rest of the family had to help on the farm in order to keep it running efficiently. He attended school from 1928 for 8 years.

Paul started as an apprentice to a butcher in 1936, while also going to school one day a week. He completed his apprenticeship in three years, in 1939, before leaving to work in Berlin. Paul worked with two butchers in Berlin, becoming a Master Butcher, before being called back to run his brother's butchery business late in 1940 due to his brother having had an accident. On returning to Berlin at age 19, in February 1941, Paul was called to fight for Germany in World War 2. Paul spent 4 years in Russia during WW2.

Paul returned to Berlin after the war ended. He was working as a chef/butcher at the Aircraft Buildings (Truman Hall - an American mess hall), Tempelhof, Berlin, when he met Gisela Jedzig, his future wife. They married in 1947. Paul and Gisela's first son, Lutz, was born in Berlin in 1949. Paul, Gisela & Lutz, aged 2 years, migrated to Australia in November 1952, on board the ship "M.S. Johan van Oldenbarnevelt". They arrived in Melbourne, then were transported to Bonegilla by train, arriving on December 13th 1952. The family lived in the Bonegilla Migrant Camp for 2-3 months, before moving to Lavington, N.S.W. in February 1953. They moved to a house in Wodonga in September '53. Petra was born in November '53, and Glenn in September '55. Gisela's parents arrived from Germany in 1960 and lived with the family until their deaths in 1971 and 1975.

Paul and a partner, Irwin Grabbe, began a butchering and small goods making business in 1953, and named it "Peters & Grabbe". It successfully expanded into four shops in Albury and Wodonga, as well as a farm at Chiltern, then at Yackandandah. In 1973 Paul Peters & Irwin Grabbe went their separate ways, and Paul and Lutz went into partnership as "Peters & Son", keeping the shop at Lavington as a retail butchery and smallgoods factory. A few years later Glenn joined the business, and it became "Peters & Sons". In 1982 the partnership purchased a farm at Jindera on which to fatten cattle for the shop. In 1989 Glenn left the butchering business, but retained his interest in the farm. Paul had retired from work by 1989, but always remained willing to help out in the shop when it was busy, or to enable Lutz to have a holiday. Paul had more time to spare for his particular interests in water divining and natural healing, not to mention his favorite card game - skat.

Paul was proud of his German heritage, and was the founding President of the Albury/Wodonga German/Austrian Club. He maintained a close association with the club until his death. He also became of member of the Rotary Club, as a businessman. Paul died suddenly in 1991, aged 69, and is buried in the Wodonga Cemetery. He left his wife, three children and six grand children.

Information supplied by Lutz Peters