The Smithfield Migrant Hostel (South Australia) was situated in a former army camp adjacent to the railway yards at Smithfield. The camp had been set up as a Military Supply Depot for country areas north of Smithfield in early 1941. Seven large stores constructed of wood and iron, together with the administration and other buildings were in use until the camp was closed after the war.
The Smithfield Migrant Hostel was one of several hostels around Adelaide (South Australia) that were set up to accommodate the new arrivals on a temporary basis. At Smithfield plans were made to convert the former army storage buildings into living quarters for 100 people by the end of January 1949. The long term aim was to provide accommodation for 800 people, but between 250 and 300 was the maximum realized at any one time over the next 20 years.
Mr. Griffith, who arrived in Adelaide (South Australia) on January 17th, 1949, was appointed the first Manager and the hostel opened in March that year. Two of the large buildings offered dormitory accommodation for single people, while families were allocated a section in the building, usually consisting of a sitting room and two or three bedrooms. No cooking was allowed in the living quarters and all meals were served in a communal dining hall. Shared bathing and toilet facilities were provided in an ablution block attached to each building.
Most families who were unaccustomed to this partly institutionalized lifestyle, made the best of the situation, although night shift workers, found it difficult to sleep during the day with noisy children at play nearby. Some former migrants have described how they turned up the noise level on the wireless so they could hold a private conversation, as the walls between the rooms were so thin. If several people did this at the same time, the noise in the building was deafening.
Accommodation was not charged for until the family’s breadwinner found a job and started work. The tariff was based on the number of people in the family and the wages earned. The length of stay in the hotel varied between three and twelve months while people looked for more permanent housing. Residents were not encouraged to stay longer than twelve months and few wanted to do so, but people who could not find work or housing easily readily could apply for an extended period.
The need for hostel accommodation passed its peak by 1971 as immigration numbers lessened. By August of that year only five families were still in residence when the hostel closed.
Memories of Smithfield Hostel from an unpublished history of Playford:
Mr. H. Wright who arrived at Port Adelaide in August 1958 on board the P. & O. ship “Straithhaird” with his wife and two year old son recollected that from Port Adelaide.
We were taken by bus (Bulls Hire Coaches) on what seemed a journey to nowhere, for after we passed Gepps Cross there was nothing but paddocks until we reached the Hostel at Smithfield. Our first impressions of Smithfield Hostel was that of a displaced persons camp. Rows of Nissen huts, set in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by a wire fence, it even had gates at the entrance. Our first thoughts were “what have we come to?”
Mrs. D. Scales of Elizabeth West writes that:
We came over by air in 1965. It cost us 10 pound each, children free. Most of the information we received was very misleading. My husband and brother-in-law had the idea that they would be able to build a house of wood which would be laying around. We expected to see wild animals running around. All we saw were fields full of thistles. We came over to Adelaide from Melbourne in a tiny old plane and were so disappointed to see tin roofs. It was stinking hot. The Good Neighbour people met us at Adelaide and welcomed us. There we were put on a bus bound for Elizabeth. Half way here it broke down so we had to take all the cases off and wait for a relief bus to be sent. More fields of thistles also some dirty brown sheep. English sheep are white. We looked everywhere for a tap to get a drink of water. It was 108 degrees in the shade and my husband wanted to go home. He didn’t like the thistles. We were all wearing our winter woollies. I didn’t think I’d be able to breathe. When we reached the hostel it was evening. But we straight away found a meal.
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.
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.
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Thousands of migrants passed through South Australia’s migrant hostels, reception centres and camps – including Elder Park, Gepps Cross, Glenelg, Rosewater, Pennington/Finsbury, Smithfield, Willaston and Woodside – from the 1940s to the 1980s. The hostels were temporary homes to a wide range of migrants, from Displaced Persons and refugees, through to Ten Pound Poms.
The majority of people had lived in the hostel for varying periods of time, and some had been local children at the time who played with the children at the hostel. Some great photographs were produced and alot of reminiscing happened. One lady told of her first day in the hostel, when her new neighbour knocked on her room door and invited her to have a cup of tea with her. To this day over 40 years later they are the best of friends.
Smithfield Migrant hostel was a converted military supply depot, initially opened as a hostel to house DP labourers from the Baltic, who worked in the Smithfield Railway yards (South Australia). Very quickly family migrants came to stay from different countries. The huts were three feet off the ground with no fencing, this became a problem when families with young children lived there.
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 (South Australia), 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.
Migrant hostels of South Australia — are hostels where thousands of migrants passed from the 1940s to the 1980s. In South Australia these included Elder Park, Gawler, Gepps Cross, Glenelg, Hendon, Mallala, Pennington/Finsbury, Peterborough, Rosewater, Salisbury, Semaphore, Smithfield, Willaston, Whyalla, Woodside and Woodville. The hostels were temporary homes to a wide range of migrants, from Displaced Persons and refugees, through to “Ten Pound Poms”.
Post war immigration to Australia contributed significantly to the population of South Australia. This was the era of ‘populate or perish’ and the Federal Government sought to increase the population of Australia by campaigns to encourage, through ‘assisted passage’ schemes, migrants from the United Kingdom. However insufficient Britons took up the opportunity and so Australia opened its doors to more migrants from non-British sources.
A war-devastated Europe provided a huge source of migrants. However Australians, accustomed to pro-British and ‘White Australia’ policies were initially wary of non-British looking migrants. When these barriers had been overcome to some degree, the ‘New Australians’ arrived in large numbers. Many migrants came to South Australia.
All the migrants, no matter where they came from, needed to be temporarily accommodated until they obtained employment and accommodation. Hence migrant hostels were created. These sometimes consisted of clusters of World War 2 Nissen huts. Others may have been vacant government buildings once used for other purposes (e.g. former army barracks, ‘Cheer Up’ entertainment huts from the World Wars).
Sometimes these hostels were located in cheaper industrial suburbs. The Federal Government considered that it was not bound by State health inspection and pricing regulations. Living conditions in the hostels were basic and the cause of dissatisfaction at times. For example, a rent strike and protest occurred at the Finsbury Hostel in Adelaide in 1952. This strike spread to hotels in other states.
From the 1950s until the 1970s Smithfield Migrant Hostel was home to many migrants. Situated on Section 3163, in the Hundred of Munno Para, the hostel accommodated up to 300 people at one time. Accommodation was provided free of charge until the breadwinner of the family found work and then there would be a charge. After twelve months a special application was required if the family wished to stay on. The hostel closed when the Commonwealth Migration Programme slowed and new migrants could be given accommodation at Pennington.
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 Smithfield Migrant Hostel officially closed in 1971.
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