Alf Besford, who was officer in charge of Bonegilla Police Station, formed the 1st Bonegilla Scout Troop at the Bonegilla Migrant Centre in 1959 to give the young people something to do. Tom Mitchell, former Attorney-General of Victoria was then Scout Commissioner.
In his five years at Bonegilla Alf had a huge impact on the migrant boys who came from about 12 different nationalities. The Scout Troop included children of staff and some were sons of local farmers, immersing the migrants into local life and language.
Apart from Scouts, Alf also started Life Saving and Learn to Swim Classes, allowing about 600 people to learn to swim and get their Herald Learn to Swim certificates and Bronze Medals.
After providing training and instructions Alf would take the Scouts camping in his panel van to the camp site. Tents had been donated by the Immigration authorities, as were the uniforms. The boys would be left to fend without an adult in attendance, but Alf’s visits were frequent and unscheduled. The boys had to make their own shelters out of bush materials and find their own food. There were plenty of rabbits and the boys shot them with bows and arrows. Their food was cooked over an open fire. Damper was a frequent addition to the rabbits.
To appoint Patrol Leaders, Alf asked the Scouts to solve the competition in the regular Migrant Camp newsletter. The question was “What is the bird that comes from Siberia to Australia every year on the wind and doesn’t fly?” Those with the right answer, mutton bird, were appointed.
A newspaper once reported “A group of 20 Bonegilla Scouts is at present undergoing a tough bush survival test. Constable Besford, who visited the camp site regularly, said the boys had built bridges over a creek, a dam to supply their camps with running water, a bush mess, stone cellar, steps leading into the creek, and a life raft to paddle down the river.”
A very successful reunion weekend in 2007 saw 20 of those original scouts come together to reminisce. The ex-Scouts came from many parts of Australia to attend.