Friday, January 20, 2012

Smithfield Migrant Hostel

The Smithfield Migrant Hostel 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 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 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.

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