To some, Scheyville National Park's Migrant Heritage Walk might seem like little more than an abandoned ghost town beside remnants of the once mighty Cumberland Plain Woodlands. But this unobtrusive trail takes you down Australia's memory lane of migrant history, guiding you wistfully from just before the turn of the century up until the early 1970's.
Silos used for storing grain, built just after 1900 - then and now
Embarking on the Migrant Heritage Walk is like being surrounded by echoes of the past. The area it guides you through has had many faces during its varied history, including serving in 1893 as a co-operative farm for unemployed workers and afterwards in various forms as an agricultural training facility. An example of this early agricultural focus was its involvement in the Dreadnought scheme, where British teenage boys were brought over to learn how to work on Australian farms.
Information boards teach you of the past - while you stand where it used to
Perhaps the best years of the site were spent as a camp for European immigrants. In fact, it was one of the largest migrant accommodation centres in Australia. In its secluded location the camp had its own church and school, and families grew and found a new life here.
Looking at the historical footage of the migrant center on the NSW Parks and Wildlife site, you get a real sense of the place as it was; bustling community, children playing and golden fields. There is no doubt that a happy, and fulfilling life was to be had here. Many former residents have the dearest memories of their time here in the rural setting of the camp. It provided a wondrous freedom from oppression after the horrendous experiences that many of them faced during the war.
But there is also a feeling of melancholy. It stems perhaps from a disappointment that the place is not still utilised to this day. Many of the remaining 300 were sad to go when the place finally closed to migrants in 1964. Without doubt the site holds great significance in Australian history. It was to this humble centre in the country that so many migrants first came, and from whom such a large number of Australians are now descended. In light of this, the site has been placed on the NSW State Heritage Register.
The place is also remarkable in that it is home to some of the largest areas of remaining Cumberland Plain Woodland. Find yourself walking through grasslands and beside scattered shrubbery and woodland trees. According to the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities you can expect to see Grey Box Eucalypts, Forest Red Gums, Narrow-Leaved Ironbarks and Spotted Gums - all tree species distinctive to Cumberland Plain Woodland areas.
Picnic benches await you up on the hill after you return from your explorations, but failing that, settle yourself down anywhere beside the path and enjoy your lunch. And getting there is easy with a lazy drive down the quiet Scheyville road and ample parking once you arrive.
Wander and pause for thought at the remaining pieces of history to be found here. Consider the skills migrants were taught here that went on to ultimately fuel agriculture in Australia. Contemplate the war-torn lives that were renewed again in the quiet countryside, and experience fully the richness of heritage that has made us the country we are today.