Gepps Cross

The distinctive rows of Nissen huts at Gepps Cross provided the image that springs to mind for many South Australians at the mention of migrant hostels. Gepps Cross featured frequently in the press and government promotional material, and is still remembered by many today.

Location: Grand Junction Road, at the corner of Main North Road and Port Wakefield Road (then Gawler Road)

Years operated: 1951 - c.1965

Administered by: Commonwealth Government (1951 – 1952) State Government (1952 – c.1965) 

Place: At the time it operated, Gepps Cross hostel was called a 'miniature suburb'. It was ‘purpose built’ using Nissen huts, with some Quonsett huts and other buildings. The hostel was built in two stages, with a third planned stage never built. Each Nissen hut was divided into two self-contained four room flats. Staff had separate accommodation. There were communal toilets, showers, laundry and dining facilities.

The kitchens were designed to feed large numbers and built with the latest appliances, including steam-heated soup cookers, pressure cookers, electric mixers, gas ovens and a heated servery. There were crèche facilities, kindergartens, a grocery shop, post office and banking facilities. There was a large recreation hall and on site hospital wards.

Gepps Cross was held up as a model hostel with modern facilities and was described in The Advertiser as a 'luxury camp'. Despite this, there were complaints, and Gepps Cross residents joined Finsbury migrants in the rent strikes of 1952. Following this, and the transfer of administration to the state government, there were meetings to discuss installing kitchenettes in the Nissen huts. Residents voted overwhelmingly for the kitchenettes and installation soon began, with the first opening in 1953. Disputes over extra charges, however, continued until1954.

There was a very good community spirit, I do remember that. There was a hall there where they would have dances and they’d have talent competitions. It was probably the dining hall, when I think about it. They’d have pictures, I remember the early cartoons and that sort of stuff, Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse. I do remember that it was a very good social life.  
James Lamb, Gepps Cross 1951, interviewed 2012

People: Gepps Cross residents were predominantly British, although former residents report people from a diverse range of cultures living at the hostel. In the first year a number of British migrants were transferred from Rosewater, Finsbury and Smithfield, many in response to complaints about accommodation at those sites. By the end of 1951 Gepps Cross was recorded as having a capacity of 1,200 people.

Gepps Cross residents were part of an active, social community. As well as dances and films there were jumble sales, excursions, sporting events with hostel teams competing regularly in local competitions, and celebrations for special occasions such as Christmas and Guy Fawkes night. Residents formed a social committee which published newsletters for hostel residents, keeping them up to date with activities and changes in staff. 

There were many famous visitors during the life of the hostel, including Prime Minister Menzies and Governor Norrie. Many former residents remember the day Queen Elizabeth passed by the hostel.

When plans began in 1963 to close the hostel it was estimated that 2,000 families had passed through Gepps Cross. A group of former residents recorded their stories in the 2006 book Tin Huts and Memories

 

 

The following is a starting point for material related to the Gepps Cross hostel. Much of the information that appears on this webpage is based on archival research undertaken by Dr Karen Agutter and from interviews with Gepps Cross hostel residents. The oral history interviews will be available at the State Library of South Australia once the Hostel Stories project is completed.Turner, Victor Thomas et al. Tin Huts and Memories (Norwood: Peacock Publications, 2006)The Advertiser, 22 June 1951, 'New hostel ready soon'The Advocate, 14 August 1951, 'Migrant Camp '' Wonderful'''The Advocate, 9 December 1952, 'Migrant quiz bias denied by minister'The Advertiser, 6 February 1953, 'Migrants' Move On Evictions'The Advertiser, 23 July 1953, 'Complaint by migrant denied'

Comments

In the 'Advertiser' on Dec 30th Page 40 was a picture of a man with two children and a sand castle. He was the mayor of Port Adelade and he was also the owner of the shop at Gepps Cross hostel. His name is P.W. (Bill) Whicker. My mother (May) used to work in the shop. She is still alive (99yrs) and remembers it well.
Thanks for that Carl, I'll look up the article. Did your mother work in the shop when the Yates family owned it (http://migration.historysa.com.au/content/yates-family) or at a different time?

Hello, Catherine...it's a while since we spoke.   I saw your comment on Mr. Yates who ran the grocery store at Gepps Cross Hostel for a while, and I'd like to give you further information on him.    I remembered him very well when I lived there and I always wondered what had happened to him.    Anyhow, I've started advertising "Tin Huts & Memories' (the two disc set) again.     You may have seen the ad in the 'Can We Help' section in The Sunday Mail recently.   It looks like people STILL want to know the history of the hostel and the migrant experience, for the sets are flying off the shelf again.  I did take a heap of flyers into your museum a few months back, but I don't know what's happened, because I haven't had a single email or phone call relating to them.   As for Mr. Yates...I had an email from someone who wanted to buy the set, who lives at Encounter Bay.   It turned out that she is Mr. Yates' daughter!!!   Her name is Jan Moore, and she'll be picking a set up in January.  It's a small world after all.  I hope that you have a great Christmas and a Happy New Year.   Regards, John McGregor. 

Corinne Ball's picture

Small world indeed, John! 

We've still got some of the flyers left, but we'll be in touch when they run out.

From the age of two I lived in Finsbury camp and Gepps Cross what memories. We made up a song in Finsbury and it went like this. Down in Finsbury Camp,it was awfully cold and damp, good fried kippers for your tea,best fried eggs you'll ever see,that's the way they treated me,down in Finsbury Camp. 
Love the song Norm! I'd like to hear the tune, will you be coming to our hostel reunion? http://migration.historysa.com.au/events/2014/migrant-hostel-reunionsPerhaps you can give us a performance. 

The slum they put us in certainly didnt look like the flower bedecked picture here. 
when we came here we lived in the hostel, in those tin Nissan huts in 45c with no flyscreens on the windows, no stove and no beds to sleep on, so we slept on a second hand mattress on the floor. Shared toilets and showers, a food hall that thought a man working in a foundry could eat 1 vegemite sandwich for lunch and that children really didn't need a proper dinner. This is nicely sugar coated for history I guess

Corinne Ball's picture

Thanks for those memories Sally, we have found that people have many different recollections of the hostels, depending on when and how long they were there.  Your experience sounds very unpleasant, we'd love it if you felt able to share your views with the research team?  If you contact us here at the museum we can put you in touch with them.

Corinne

Is there anywhere listing all the migrants who lived at Gepps Cross?

Corinne Ball's picture

I'm afraid we don't have any lists, but you could contact the National Archives, who hold some of the sign in books from the hostels, which do list many names.

Good luck in your research,

Corinne 

I was in the camp from berth until age 5 covering the years 1957-1962. My father was an Orangeman involved in the troubles in Ireland, consequently we were contained in the inner camp with guards and barb wire. Whilst there at age 4, I got meningitis from the bad water, I was in the hospital for 3 months and would have to go back regularly for the next year. We were released into the general population in 1962 the first time I got to walk freely outside.

Corinne Ball's picture

That is an amazing story Robbie, thankyou for sharing it :-)

My family was housed in Gepps Cross in 1963 while we were waiting for a Housing Trust house. I was doing Year 7 at the time and made a number of friends. A couple of people in my class also lived at the hostel. I was not a fan of the shared ablution block and laundry, but we knew it was only temporary so didn't mind too much.

Corinne Ball's picture

Thankyou for those memories, Rene

My Family lived at the Gepps Cross Migrant Hostel from late 1950;s til 1964. My brother Robyn was hit and killed by a quarry truck crossing Grand Junction Road in July 1962. My father Carl ran a fish and chip shop acroos from the hostels. My mothers name was Val

Corinne Ball's picture

Thankyou for those memories Sonya, it sounds like your family has good reason to have mixed feelings about the hostel. 

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