Smithfield, when the migrant hostel opened, was an isolated rural area. It took about an hour by train to get to Adelaide city centre. Apart from the migrant hostel there were some railway cottages and farm buildings and not much else.

Location: The former army ordnance depot near the Smithfield Railway Station, between Coventry Road and the railway line

Years operated: 1949-1971

Administered by: Commonwealth Government

Place: Army buildings of wood and corrugated iron were converted to sleeping huts. Six of the buildings with verandahs over a metre off the ground posed safety concerns for families with children living at Smithfield. The verandahs were supported on brick piers with wooden steps at each end. In 1950 some improvements were made, including replacing tar paper lining in huts and installing better doors. There were at least 11 sleeping huts by 1956. Families were allocated huts or sections with up to three bedrooms and a sitting room. Separate 'ablution huts' provided communal showers and toilets. Dining and laundry facilities were also communal. Staff had separate quarters. Other buildings on site were used for administration and storage.


After we’d been there a while Mum and Dad dug one or two little flower beds, they must have been quite narrow, and I remember they planted carnations. I guess carnations were about the only plant they thought would be hardy enough to survive there … it would have been poor soil.  And then when it came to a community dance, I think [it was] arranged through the school … I was able to take in a couple of large bunches of carnations and that really surprised the staff. 

Helene Mole (formerly Trejtnar) Smithfield hostel, early 1950s


People: In early 1949 Smithfield housed between 40 and 50 Displaced Persons from Europe. It appears that initially the residents were all men, working at places including  Holden's Woodville Plant and the Perry Engineering Works. The Advertiser described Smithfield as a 'Camp for Balts' and reported improvements underway to expand the capacity so that the hostel would hold 800 people. It is not clear from the records whether numbers ever reached this level, but by late 1949 there were between 300 and 480 people living at the site. Rent was £2/12/6 a week. By this time residents included women and married couples.

By 1951 there were reports of British migrants living at Smithfield. During this time there was an active association with the Gawler Caledonian society. Also in 1951 the Gawler Girl Guides started a company at Smithfield hostel. Smithfield residents joined the rent strikes in June 1951. At the end of 1952 about 200 British migrants were moved to Gepps Cross, Rosewater and Finsbury. In 1953 the site was returned to the Department of the Army, however in 1955 British migrants were again housed at Smithfield. Children attended the Smithfield primary school. A social committee of British migrants was formed at Smithfield in July 1955. The Salisbury Good Neighbour Council and Christian Women's Association welcomed migrants, visited and arranged social activities. These and other groups, including the religious organisation Toc H, were active at Smithfield until the early 1970s when numbers dropped. The hostel officially closed in 1971.


Dad, Mum, my two sisters and I stayed at Smithfield in 1962 when we arrived from England on SS Stratheden. We didn't stay long, fortunately. We were allocated a room for Mum and the girls, while Dad was allocated a share room with some other men. We took meals in the canteen. One of the other families in a neighboring hut had been there for much longer than us. They were having a worse time than us, and the husband couldn't get a job. It was the first time I had ever seen a man cry. I was 12, my sisters were 9 and 3.
Thanks for sharing your memories Angela. We've heard some amazing stories as part of this research. If you'd like to share more we're still collecting information via our registration forms which include a short questionnaire:
we came to australia in 1961 mum dad myself 2 sisters and a brother,we went straight to Smithfield hostel and stayed for about 8 months.Seeing these pictures bring back lots of memories.We were allocated 2 rooms,I remember my parents making 1 room into a lounge room where they also slept and us 4 kids had the other room,you had to walk out of one room into the hall way of the building to get into the other room.being kids we thought it was great,like a big adventure,we would have to walk a distance to get to the dinning room where every one sat  for their meals ,and on school days us kids had to walk to the dining room to collect a lunch in a paper bag to take to school i could go on for ever with all the experiences we had in the hostel. i do remember we went to a school called Broadmedows and we had to walk across a railway line to get there.Dad eventually got a job in Woomera and we all moved to Port Pirie where we have been till this day 

We arrived to Australia on a ship called Fairsky and moved into Smithfield Hostel in 1965. My Dad had joined the Royal Australian Airforce. Practically every woman that arrived burst out crying when they realized how basic everything was. The communial showers and toilets were very basic,i remember that the tap water came out brown and if you let it settle for a minute there would be brown mud at the bottom of the glass.

I went to Elizabeth Boys Technical High School. Dad completed his six month basic traing and he got posted to Perth were we moved into another Hostel, Graylands, which was much nicer.

We moved back to the UK in 1968

Steve, should you read this, FB group for EBTHS...

FB Ten Pound Poms site...

We arrived in Australia from Scotland in 1965 we flew to Australia as my father didn't want the long passage on a ship. My father joined the RAAF and we stayed in the hostel for three months, Mum, Dad my sister and I, Dad was away a fair bit doing his training, it was very basic and I can stil remeber going to the Mess Hall for meals and from memory the meal weren't much good. I remember the trains going past and I think there was a shop close by I was only five at the time I do remember  we had two rooms one across from our living area.

I forgot to add, my father served in Vietnam and had a good career in the RAAF my parents never went back to Scotland not even on a holiday, they have both passed away but they always said Australia was good to them, I am grateful Dad made the call to immigrate to Australia.

Corinne Ball's picture

Thankyou for those vivid memories, Craig, other people have also reported that the trains came very close by! It sounds like it was an exciting adventure for a little fellow like you - I'm glad your parents were pleased with their choice.

Corinne Ball's picture

Thanks for those memories, Steve, Adelaide water cewrtainly had a reputation!

I was about four when we stayed in Smithfield Hostel. I remember the dusty earth and thinking that the place was quite interesting .. I couldn't understand why our mum didn't like it. 

Corinne Ball's picture

Thanks for your memories, poor mum! 

My family arrived in Australia in 1964 on the Orcades and found ourselves in the Smithfield Hostel.  My mum thought we'd come to the ends of the earth (there was quite a lot of bare earth).  Apparently we were given a choice of accommodation blocks: next to the railway line or the sewerage pond (lagoon).  We opted for the railway side and got an early introduction to SA Railways 'Red Hens' rumbling past as regular as an alarm clock.

We stayed there about 3 months until we got a Housing Trust place in shiny new Elizabeth.  Luckily for us it was autumn/winter time and while it got a bit bleak weather-wise, I'm glad we weren't there over summer time - our lilywhite Pommy skin wouldn't have lasted long!

I was only 7 years old at the time, so it was all a bit of an adventure for my brother and sisters and I, but I don't think Mum ever forgave Dad for taking us there.

Corinne Ball's picture

Thanks for those memories, Tim, they're great.  A lot of our respondents commented that their mothers found the transition particularly hard, but many children also had a ball and regarded it as a big adventure - I think in summer it was a lot harder, as you say.

I arrived in Smithfield Hostel in 1955 as a 2 and a 1/2 yo from England with my parents Derrick and Anne. Dad worked for a short time with SA Railways but then 'went bush' with a few blokes to build shearing sheds. One man was called Jock McInnes, I don't know the other. They went in somebody's Chrysler Straight Eaight buckboard car I believe and went as far as Willcania and cobar. Dad always said he marvelled at just how big the country was after England. I used to love standing on one of the verandahs overlooking the railway line waiting for the inspection cars to go past ..ordinary road cars with steel railway wheels. Dad moved to Whyalla and got a job in BHP and Mum and I followed in 1956 when my sister was born shortly after in Whyalla Hospital.

Corinne Ball's picture

Thankyou for those memories David, it sounds like your Dad developed a real love of the bush!

We arrived at Smithfield July 1951 via SS  Cameronia, mum Lily, dad George and 17 y/o brother Roger. I attended Smithfield Primary as a five y/o. We were later moved to the Gepps Cross hostel, and while there dad built our house (bricklayer) with my brother (carpenter) at Camden Park. He had to use Mount Gambier stone as bricks were in short supply after the war. Mum and dad lived there until they passed away. They made friends with several other hostel families, and saw them for many years after. I still have photo's from both hostels. I developed polio at Gepps Cross and was in leg braces for a while. Fortunately, it did not affect me badly.

Corinne Ball's picture

Thanks for your memories, Ken. We're in contact with a researcher who is investigating migrants' experiences of health - if you contact me at the museum I can put you in touch with her, as I'm sure she'd be interested to hear about your polio.

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