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Remember the Migrant Hostels of Adelaide?

Recently on Adelaide Remember When Facebook website, famous Adelaide singer and songwriter Beeb Birtles (Zoot and LRB) posted a photo and shared some of his early memories of time spent with his high school friend and fellow band member of Zoot, John D’arcy at the Glenelg Migrant Hostel.

Thousands of newly arrived migrants passed through these migrant hostels, situated around Adelaide from the late 1940s to the 1980s, including such well-known figures as former Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Lt Governor Hieu Van Le, LRB’s Glen Shorrock and rock singer Jimmy Barnes, to mention but a few.

Photo from the Migration Museum SA. The Glenelg Migrant Hostel where John D'Arcy first arrived in Adelaide

Photo from the Migration Museum SA. The Glenelg Migrant Hostel where John D’arcy first arrived in Adelaide

In South Australia there were migrant hostels at Elder Park, Gawler, Gepps Cross, Glenelg, Hendon, Mallala, Pennington/Finsbury, Rosewater, Salisbury, Semaphore, Smithfield, Woodside and Woodville. The hostels were temporary homes for a wide range of people, some escaping from a war devastated Europe, refugees and right through to “Ten Pound Poms”, all looking for a new beginning in Australia.

Some of the comments from those who viewed Beeb’s post and photographs showed that life was not always easy in the hostels. Many consisted of clusters of World War 2 Nissen Huts or vacant government buildings, once used for other purposes (e.g. former army barracks and ‘Cheer Up’ entertainment huts from the World Wars). Sometimes the hostels were located in cheaper industrial suburbs or on the very outskirts of the city and the Federal Government considered that it was not bound by State health inspection and pricing regulations. Living conditions were basic with no heating or cooling and at times caused a great deal of dissatisfaction.

One poster recalled “My parents, two sisters and I lived in the Glenelg Migrant Hostel from mid to late 1963. My family emigrated from Spain and moved to the Glenelg Hostel from the Bonegilla Migrant Hostel in Victoria”.

She wrote about the vivid memories of her time there. “My younger sister and I walked to Our Lady of Fatima School and our lunches were made in the canteen and carried in a brown paper bag. Our English was minimal then and I remember ordering a “honey” sandwich thinking I had ordered meat. Got a big surprise at lunch time and I guess the lady in the canteen must have thought the order was strange too”.

She also remembered her father taking photos to send back to the family in Spain, “I remember there was an empty fountain with a kangaroo in the middle which we girls climbed on to be photographed, just to confirm that we were indeed in Australia! Great memories!”

Photo from the Migration Museum SA. Pennington Hostel at Finsbury

Photo from the Migration Museum SA. Pennington Hostel at Finsbury

Others did not have such pleasant memories though, as one poster recalled; “Pennington Migrant Hostel (Finsbury) 1964, ‘Come to Finsbury, come to Finsbury it’s a place of misery. There is a sign that bids you welcome, so welcome unto thee. Don’t believe it, don’t believe it it’s a pack of dirty lies, there’s cockroaches in the bathrooms and the rooms are full of flies’ That little ditty was commonly sung”. He concluded “However, I am sincerely grateful for the opportunities I found in Australia and to the wonderful people I know as my wonderful fellow Australians. There is no better country!”

26 Responses to Remember the Migrant Hostels of Adelaide?

  1. Peter H December 14, 2014 at 3:55 am #

    When my mum’s family emigrated from England in 1959 they were originally put in the Rosewater hostel.

  2. Helen Szafer January 6, 2015 at 6:11 am #

    I have researched and blogged about a number of Victorian drinking fountains in Australia and several in the Adelaide Area.
    http://memorialdrinkingfountains.wordpress.com/

  3. Pamela King September 25, 2015 at 9:28 am #

    I stayed at Pennington Hostel in 1973 after paying a £10 passage from the UK. I remember taking a little bucket with cutlery everyday to the communal canteen, dreading having a shower as there were always spiders, moths and a variety of insects hanging around in there. The food was so bad that our main diet was jelly! Even the bread never seemed fresh and one day it was closed because of a cockroach infestation, they were literally running all over the floor and crawling up onto your body as you sat eating your breakfast! The rooms were very small and I would liken them to a Nissan hut for war prisoners. I became terribly depressed in there, but looking back the Australian government were keeping me and my husband until we found work and could afford to stand on our own feet as we arrived with virtually nothing. Our one crate of belongings were in transit and we had £100 between us. It was certainly an experience I will never forget but it did not do me any harm.

  4. Stefan November 30, 2015 at 1:21 pm #

    I arrived at Glenelg Hostel in December, 1969 at the age of 16 with my parents. We had migrated from England and stayed in the hostel for 12 months before moving to Sydney. I have some very fond memories of my stay there but long ago lost contact with the friends I made at the hostel.
    We often went to the local beach and into Glenelg. Because at 16 I could drive I would borrow my dad’s car and my friends and I would explore further afield.

  5. Denise scriven May 10, 2016 at 6:51 am #

    my parents and my brother and I arrived in finsbury park when we emigrated from Scotland in 1959. I remember the Nissan huts and the toilet block. Also the dining room which was a huge Nissan hut. We went to finsbury park school and we all sang the song come to finsbury. It went come to finsbury come to finsbury when you get there there’s a signpost saying welcome unto thee. Don’t believe it don’t believe it, it’s a place of misery …… We were there for a year and then moved to Queensland where we still are. Australia is a great country but mum hated the heat.

  6. Jeanette Keen June 23, 2016 at 10:22 pm #

    We arrived in Adelaide on December the 8th 1971 and were taken to Glenelg Hostel, It was very Basic but I guess as an 8 year old It was more of an adventure for me. I remember the Deli, the Canteen where they always served fish and Chips on a friday for dinner, there was a shower/toilet block which is similar to when you go camping. I remember the Laundry block where you washed your clothes and the ironing room where my teenage brother hung out and smoked with his new friends. The lounge room had one settee which turned into a bed for mum and dad, my room came off that, and then my brothers room led off of my room, so it was just one room connected to another, and only one way out. There was a reck room where they would hold a disco sometimes 🙂 we were 10 pound poms. Oh I nearly forgot, we rented our TV from the Deli, where we could also change our Pounds we received from English relatives for Chrismas for Au$ would love to hear from anyone lived there around the same time

    • George Edwards October 24, 2017 at 1:06 pm #

      I was there with my wife Elaine and son Lucas in January 1971. Not sure of my hut number though. We made friends with Sam & Eileen Hutchison. Not sure if we ever met.

      • Sonia April 15, 2018 at 7:38 pm #

        We arrived there on 21st February 1971. We came from Jersey Channel Islands but we went to England to immigrate. I was 6 my brother 7 my parents Sonia and Ken Bouchere were in their mid 20s.. i remember everything about Pennington we eventually bought a house at Prospect. My brother and I went to the school they provided. It was very clean in the little huts. We stayed there 12 months till my parent got their deposit for our house. I loved it but i did suffer with nightmares..

  7. Joy August 19, 2016 at 2:09 pm #

    I didn’t live in a hostel (I was born in Australia) however I have fond memories of being at school with “hostel kids” from Pennington. As students at Mansfield Park Primary and Angle Park High it was an honour to be chosen to be a ‘helper” for a friend from overseas, helping some to learn English and show them around etc. Sadly the friendships came and went as these children moved to housing in other areas. I think the experience shaped my life as I have always been interested in other cultures.

    • Deb June 23, 2017 at 11:32 pm #

      🙂

  8. Richard Hamm February 20, 2017 at 4:53 am #

    Our family arrived in Finsbury in May 1961 and my parents spent the next 2 years saving to return to England. My Dad made some of the money by making boomerangs and painting them with primitive designs -selling boomerangs to the Aussies was his greatest achievement! I’m now 60 and taking my mother’s weekly letters and recording her stories (she’s an active 90). watch this space

    Richard Hamm

    • Andy January 21, 2018 at 8:48 pm #

      Hahaha! selling boomerangs to the Aussies, that’s great!
      Did you stay in Oz Richard?
      We stayed at Glenelg hostel for a while in 1965. It was good to get out of the place. I don’t think it was meant to be luxurious or nobody would have left. As soon as mum and dad and my brother got jobs and we could afford to leave, we moved to Clearview which was like paradise.
      Being only 12, it was all a big adventure for me.

      • Cynthea August 11, 2018 at 1:05 pm #

        What year did you leave glenelg andy

  9. allan kempster September 8, 2017 at 3:44 pm #

    Hi
    My name is Allan Kempster
    I was 4 years old when we arrived in Australia (1st of January 1951) and were then housed in Rosewater Hostel .
    I have vivid memories of the place .

    We were assigned a ‘room’ for the 4 of us in the family , my elder brother Carl, myself, and my parents May and Alf

    We could watch the tide rise and fall through the slatted floor. There was a basic ‘shop’ in one corner where limited basics could be purchased, ( if you dropped your change , chances are it was retrieved later by my brother when nobody was looking and he went for a crawl under the floor)

    We were housed in wool storage sheds, (not to be found in any records at the housing trust on my last investigation).

    For us kids , it was a great adventure, but i have distinct memories of many disgruntled adults wishing that they had never met the place.

    Our second abode was D30b Gepps Cross Hostel.
    .
    The hostel shop was owned and run by William P. Wicker who later became my mothers( May) employer.
    He made us very welcome in our new country, as did his business partner Alan Maddock who ran the post office .
    We enjoyed many outings with our new found family.

    We were some of the second or third wave of ‘boat people’ and many of us embrace the arrival of later arrivals, and are sympathetic to the fact that the current accommodation is not up to certain standards. e.g. the air conditioning may not be the latest! wear a damp towel around your neck or put on an extra jumper.
    The t.v. set has too small a screen!take a walk outside and look at the relatively unpolluted air .and breathe the free air .The jobs i am qualified to do are not available here. try a change of vocation etc. etc………..

    We arrived in a fantastic country which has so many opportunities .
    grab them with both hands and don’t let go if you don’t succeed at your first attempt.there are more out there.

    Allan Kempster .
    08/09/2017

    • bev bates January 17, 2018 at 7:01 pm #

      hi allan just read about you being in the same hostels came to australia in 1951 with my mum and dad then next hostel was gepps cross

    • Patricia Smith June 7, 2018 at 8:12 pm #

      Hi allan … Just found this site … I arrived from UK with my family as a 6 year old New years eve 1951.. We were placed in Finsbury Hostel in 1952 … We were lucky we got 2 rooms .. There was my parents, my older sister & my younger brother … I remember the trouble of men coming into the camp angry & accusing the adults of stealing their work .. My father sat outside with a large piece of wood .. There were some violent times .. One young Maltese or Greek man was beaten to death & left in one of the ditches … Scary days .. As you said .. no air conditioning for us either but plenty of flies .. No heating in winter .. TV ?? .. Never heard of it in those days .. My mother worked in the kitchen & we used to get our brown paper bags of sandwiches for lunch at school … ( Called cribs ) … Dad made friends with an Aussie family while working in the building trade . We never looked back as we were introduced to cream puffs, lamingtons & BBQs … These days are long gone but the memories are still there … We thought we had struck gold when the Government housed us in a brand new 3 bedroom semi- detached housing trust house with a large closed in garden … … So much to tell …

  10. Sean S November 25, 2017 at 12:02 am #

    My parent immigrated to Adelaide from the UK in October 1971. We were housed in an an immigration hostel in Clovercrest. We were there for a few months until our house was built in Para Hills East. Great memories of exploring the empty paddocks, creeks, and the new construction of the suburb in the hot Adelaide summer.

  11. malcolm nicholls January 30, 2018 at 6:30 am #

    We arrived from England in 1964 to FINSBURY HOSTEL. ( I was 10 years old, my brother 6). The whole experience was surreal for a lad from London, but I liked the hostel. My Dad, still going strong 92 yrs young, thought he’d been given a fair dinkum chance . No government here was giving anyone an opportunity to accommodate their family ‘ till they could get set up. We moved to Semaphore Park and rented a nice new bungalow. We didn’t stay long enough,3 years, I guess my dad had itchy feet. I would like to say that he thought the Australians were straight talking and honest, and that he was treated very fairly. He liked the fact that they would ask your first name at work, and not judge you by which school you attended. We should have stayed!

    • gale arnold August 19, 2018 at 6:11 am #

      HI MALCOLM , our family was in finsbury in 1964 , i will ask my mother if she remembers a nicholls family , we was the arnold family , len was my dads name and audrey my mother , my sister and i was 2 and 4 years old at the time and ended up living in northcote drive , para hills west , then back to the uk early 1970s …. gale

  12. Susan James March 15, 2018 at 3:07 am #

    My parents emigrated with me aged 10 in 1971. We went to Pennington Hostel first and then moved on to Glenelg Hostel. I went to St Leonards school and loved it and everything about Australia! We moved to Seacliff for a while. Great memories.

  13. Sonia April 15, 2018 at 7:51 pm #

    My family arrived at Pennington February 1971. My brother 7 me 6… we stayed their 12 months prior to my parents buying a house at Prospect. I use to rollerskate at Sinclair’s roller rink then i skated for Elizabeth rink.. we had great swimming days at Semaphore beach. I loved the house my parent bought back then.. done lots of travelling since then but live in Sydney now…

  14. Jess July 19, 2018 at 4:45 pm #

    In family history some distant relatives may have been at a hostel. I have the address, is there a way to search which on it was? It now looks like a vacant building in Adelaide I believe

  15. Christopher J. Barnes August 18, 2018 at 9:41 pm #

    Our Family arrived as Ten Pound Poms at Adelaide in late December 1964 and stayed at a Migrant Hostel for one week until my father secured employment and a home in Williamstown with Jumbuck Pastoral as a farm worker. We happily lived in Williamstown and Adelaide for the next ten years until the threat of The Vietnam War forced my father to take us on a holiday back to the UK. He was a UK Army Reservist who had experienced war and death in Suez as an Army RAMC Medic and ambulance driver. He did not wish to be conscripted again. We had every intention to return to Australia by 1979 because we found that the UK was heading into the insanity of the Ted Heath government and the blackouts, food shortages, corruption, three day weeks. Returning to Australia was an obvious choice. I migrated back to Australia and have a life and family with a lifestyle that competes with modern Europe, but without the long dark winters.

  16. Jacqueline Smart September 16, 2018 at 3:52 am #

    We’re looking for relatives who left Portsmouth, UK aboard the ship ‘Castel Felice’ in 1969/70. They stayed in a migrant hostel in Adelaide for a time, but no idea what happened to them after that. They were George Ernest Watson aged 37years, his wife Patricia Ann Watson aged 31years, Karen Elaine Watson aged 7years, and Gary Watson aged 4years.
    Any news of them, if anyone remembers them, would be greatly appreciated.

  17. Janet Thornley October 14, 2018 at 6:03 pm #

    My family arrived in Adelaide in May 1955, after sailing on S S Strathaird, we lived at the Finsbury Hostel for, i think about 6 to 9 months. I can remember queuing up in the playground of Pennington primary school to have the polio injection, i was terrified.
    .Dad found a job as a mechanic and there was a home supplied with the job.
    We then moved to Brown St on the edge of the city then i with my brother attended Sturt St school, until we came back.to the uk in July 1958

    My name was Janet Morley i was 8 yrs old and my younger brother Stephen was 5Yrs
    when we arrived on oz.
    They were happy days

  18. Anja de Ruijter (nee de Wilde) October 27, 2018 at 11:48 am #

    we arrived in Pennington hostel in July 1972, I remember the food hall, the primary school where we were welcomed. the headmaster at time told my mum all of us would be fluent in English in a couple of weeks and he was right.
    I have fond memories of the nearby primary school, although cannot remember the name.
    We arrived with Mum , Dad and four children aged 14, 10, 6, and 2 years old.

    A young boy in my class told me he knew the Dutch word for sleeping, I remember feeling very welcomed and excited.
    I also remember suddenly understanding the words at assembly.
    the first sentence I really understood was not wearing “gym shoes to school”

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