Experiences

Hostels provided temporary homes for new arrivals, and a place from which to begin a new life. The experience of migrants coming to Australia varied greatly depending on country of origin, year and type of migration scheme, and point of arrival. Here you can read about some aspects of hostel life in South Australia, and the context in which the hostels operated.

Experiences

Food glorious food

Food was an ongoing issue during the life of the hostels. Many early residents found a diet heavy in mutton difficult to stomach. Other unfamiliar foods, such as pumpkin, were often hard to get used to.

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Conditions - Tin huts

Recently converted buildings proved ill-suited to the demands of large numbers of people. In an era before air-conditioning, uninsulated huts were hot in summer and cold in winter.

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Community - I get by with a little help

While communal living could be trying at times, one of the positive aspects of hostel life was the support networks and friendships formed.

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From pillar to post

It was common for people to stay in more than one migrant hostel before moving on to a home of their own. Displaced Persons, and migrants on many of the assisted passage schemes, were subject to a two-year work contract and required to move wherever the government sent them.

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Life in the hostels

Hostels were intended as temporary accommodation for new arrivals. The emphasis was on providing the basic essentials while people found work, settled in, and looked for more permanent homes elsewhere.

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Background - Populate or Perish

In 1946, the Immigration Restriction Act ensured we were still a ‘White Australia’. Mass migration drove immigration policy after the Second World War, and while Australia still aimed to recruit the majority of our migrants from Britain it soon became clear that British migrants alone could not meet the Australian Government’s target population growth.

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Arrival - What have we done?

Migrants’ first glimpses of their new country from harbours and airports were usually followed by a long train or bus journey. Arrival at the hostels often left a strong first impression. Some welcomed a safe place to lay their heads: for others the sight of the hostels was a worrying indication of the life to come. The tin huts and makeshift accommodation that greeted many when they arrived were a shock.

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Advertising Australia

Federal and state governments actively advertised to attract people, selling Australia with sunny beaches and modern houses. The main target was British migrants. Australia also advertised in countries with which we had signed migration agreements, and posters and pamphlets were sent to the Displaced Persons camps in Europe.

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A new life

Once work had been found and people had settled in most began saving money to rent or buy a house. Those fortunate enough to arrange a job and raise the money before coming to Australia were able to move through the migrant hostels quickly. Others scrimped and saved, and some lived in the hostels for years before putting together the money to settle in South Australia, or return to their country of origin.

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Remembering the hostels

Very little remains on the sites of the former migrant hostels. A few physical structures remain, including a Nissen hut in Glenelg and buildings at Semaphore, though most were demolished or moved. At Elder Park and Mallala there is a mention of the migrant hostel on site history plaques.  Charles Sturt Council has established a memorial garden on part of the site that was the Pennington Hostel.

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