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Published November 1st 2013
Are they memories blowing on the breeze?
A Sculpture Depicting the Commonwealth Canteens Utensils From the Finsbury Hostel
At the end of the Second World War Australia had a great fear of invasion, and a prominent politician of the time conceived a slogan which was adopted by the government - populate or perish.
After first turning to the United Kingdom as a source for migrants, the search subsequently broadened to other non-English speaking countries in Europe including Greece and Italy. Migrants were offered subsidised passages to Australia, earning those from England the name ten pound Poms.
Eight migrant hostels were established in Adelaide and country areas of South Australia to house the new arrivals for periods of up to five years until they could be re-housed. An area of 40 acres on Grand Junction Road at Pennington formerly used to house workers for the Finsbury munitions factory was co-opted for use as the huge Finsbury Hostel in 1950, and the New Australians lived in uninsulated galvanised iron Nissen huts. It must have been like living in an oven in summer time.
Part of the Original Glenelg Hostel Still Stands Today
There is believed to be only one building still standing from all the original hostels in South Australia, a Nissen hut once used in the Glenelg Migrant Hostel. It is in private ownership and not open to the public, but can still be seen from the road. You can see photographs of what the hostels originally looked like in the State Records Flickr set Migrant Hostels in South Australia.
The huts continued to be used by new migrants from other areas including former Prime Minister Julia Gillard until 1985, when the hostel was finally closed. Thankfully some of our more recent migrants and asylum seekers now receive a better welcome to the country.
Today Pennington is a very different place, and there is no trace of Finsbury hostel. But it lives on in the minds of thousands of former residents, and the City of Charles Sturt has now landscaped Pennington Garden Reserve into an attractive park and installed art works to commemorate the lives of all those who once lived in the area.
The Migration Museum has also worked with the City of Charles Sturt as part of its Hostels Stories Project.
Pavers engraved with the names of some staff and residents meander through large hoops, which are engraved with recollections of former residents. One hoop reads The laundry block was a good meeting place for housewives while another recalls Rain, mud, deep ditches, high wire fences, a feeling of being trapped.
A garden of memories in Pennington Gardens Reserve contains touching simple stories from a selected few people who lived at the hostel, including some from Chile, Hungary, Pakistan, Russia and Scotland.
In the park garden I found a native Pigface plant, which has healing properties and indigenous people once used to relieve pain. I wondered if the choice of plant was intentional - it seems highly appropriate for this place which brings mixed emotions to many people.
When I lived at Finsbury Hostel (1954-57) I knew residents who had come from UK, South Africa (maybe via UK), Germany, Holland, Poland, France (only 1 single woman) & maybe Yugoslavia. To my knowledge there were no migrants from Greece or Italy, rather surprusing in so far as there was a significant Itslian population at Mt Csrmel, the local Catholic girls' school then situated at the end of Helen St (off Addison Rd away from The Hostel). My understanding was that Greeks & Italians could migrate to Australia but were given no assistance: a family in the home country would allocate all available resources to one family member to enable that one person's migration. That person would then work and save until they could afford bring another, and then another, family member (as often happens in asylum seeker/refugee families today).
This is interesting. I drove past this a few months ago and wondered what it was all about. I wasn't able to stop and enter the reserve to see if there was any information boards. I have often thought about it, so am glad to now know. Thanks.
I lived in the Glenelg hostel when we came from England in October 1965 . As a nine year old it was great . So many kids to play with , it was like a big holiday camp . My older siblings and parents probably saw it much differently but as a young girl it was an adventure . And the beach was just over the road. Even the mass dining hall in my child's mind was like going on a camping trip . I have only good memories .
I lived in this hostel briefly in the early 80's (I was about 2 at the time). My first memories of Australia - my parents were political refugees from Central Europe. Recently I heard some other former immigrants remembering the former hostel, and their recollections were not as rosy as mine - rapes in the female toilet blocks and such like. I think at least one of the housing blocks should have been preserved as it means a lot (for better or worse) for thousands of people who have since become Australians.
I lived with my parents and 5 brothers at the Finsbury Hostel from July 1954 but only for a number of weeks. We disembarked from the 'SS New Australia' at Melbourne and originally were to be sent to Bonegilla. At short notice, we were all sent by the Overland to Adelaide so became South Aussies instead of Vics! My father found a job in a country township with a house supplied. We were happier away from the hostel, made Aussie friends and enjoyed a warm Australian hospitality, friendships and furtherance of our own career aspirations. All good now; the 6 became 11 and their offspring's offspring have currently yielded almost 40 more South Aussies, now spread all over this great country - and still counting - 62 years after that first welcome.