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Memento : Issue 24
September 2003 MEMENTO 9 Hilja and Paul Öpik with Riina Netliv, Hilja's god-daughter, at the 1957 Citizenship Convention. Photograph by D. Edwards From the Steps of Bonegilla is on display in our Canberra gallery until 26 October 2003. Paul Öpik was employed as a cane cutter not long after he arrived at Bonegilla, 1948. Private collection The Vilumets family at Osnabruck displaced persons camp, Germany. Left to right: Hilja's mother, Alvina; her brother, Hugo; Hilja and her father, Gustav. Private collection freedom 'It was like the wild west. Pubs with swinging doors, rough looking people. When we arrived, the farmer took us for a drink. There we were in the pub, eight of us young Estonians, pale like a piece of paper. We took our hats off. They all stared at us.' -- Paul Öpik Many families were separated as a result of the work contract and accommodation arrangements. Those not eligible for employment, mainly women with young children, were housed in more permanent camps known as holding centres. Hilja and her mother were relieved to get work together at the Government Printing Office in Canberra. Because of his age, Hilja's father was exempt from the work contract and was sent to the Cowra Holding Centre. Eventually they all found work in Canberra, together with Hilja's brother, Hugo. Paul completed his work contract in Canberra where his parents were living and where his father, an internationally acclaimed geologist, had taken up a position with the Bureau of Mineral Resources. Surprisingly, Paul and Hilja did not meet in Bonegilla but in Canberra, where they married. They were in the first of the government's Citizenship Conventions, which aimed to promote Australian citizenship to new migrants and to the public generally. Paul and Hilja saw the conventions as an opportunity to introduce Estonia to Australians, and they continue to play an active part in the Estonian community today. Paul and Hilja have contributed their story and personal mementos to our exhibition, including the Estonian flag which Hilja's father carried wrapped around his body when the family escaped from Estonia. Since 1999 we have been sorting, repackaging and rehousing the selection documents for over 170,000 displaced persons who migrated to Australia after World War II. Information from the documents has been entered into our RecordSearch database so that you can search it more easily. Previously, if you were looking for documents relating to a family member who came to Australia under the displaced persons scheme, you needed to know the ship and date of voyage. Now a simple keyword search on the person's name will reveal whether we hold the information you seek. Some documents relating to displaced persons have also been digitised and can be viewed online. Check out RecordSearch on our website at www.naa.gov.au. DISPLACED PERSONS ONLINE