Finsbury, later known as Pennington, was the longest running of South Australia's hostels. In 1985 communal living facilities were closed, Nissen huts were dismantled, and the ‘new Pennington’ began the transition to independent family units.

Place

'Purpose built' to house migrants, Finsbury was made up of huts constructed on site out of galvanised iron and corrugated asbestos, Nissen huts and Romney huts from England, and Quonset huts from Manus Island. These military buildings were used due to the acute shortage of building materials. The site was divided into five sections, each with a capacity of 400, which opened at different times depending on demand. People were allocated sections of the huts, divided to create something like flats. Rooms were simply furnished. There were communal buildings for toilets, showers, laundry and dining, and large Nissen huts were also used for recreational activities such as dances, sporting activities and film nights.  The hostel was renamed Pennington in 1966 due to a change in postal boundaries. In 1980 it was referred to as the Pennington Migrant Centre. While Pennington hostel closed most communal facilities in 1985, and staffing structures and services changed at this time, the site continued to house newly arrived migrants into the 1990s. During this time self-contained family units were built. The old accommodation huts were gradually closed as more units were built.  In October 2013 the City of Charles Sturt officially re-opened the Pennington Gardens Reserve on the site of the former hostel.

People

We had a bed/settee, for the wife and I, and the children had little single beds each, little steel beds they were. They had a wardrobe, a little narrow wardrobe in each of the rooms and the first thing we bought, as every migrant did I think, was a Sunbeam frypan and a fan, and then we got a kerosene heater. Jim Rowe, Finsbury hostel 1958-1961, interviewed 2013

Finsbury, later Pennington, was home to people from a range of countries during its long life. Residents included Displaced Persons (DPs) from a variety of European countries, assisted migrants from Britain and Europe, European refugees (such as those fleeing Hungary in the late 1950s and Czechoslovakia in the late 1960s), South American refugees,  Indo-Chinese refugees (from Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia), and refugees from the Middle East and East Timor. The hostel was also used at times to accommodate people other than migrants, such as evacuees after Cyclone Tracy in Darwin, Defence employees, apprentices working at local businesses, a visiting Aboriginal football team, and the South Australian Police Rifle Club. The vast majority of residents, however, were migrants.

There was a busy social life at the hostel, including sporting events, youth clubs, dances, and films. Various community groups were active at Finsbury or Pennington, including the Good Neighbour Council, Country Women's Association, Young Men's Christian Association, Young Women's Christian Association, Girl Guides, Scouts, a variety of religious organisations including Toc H, and, in the 1970s, the South Australian Red Cross and Indo-China Refugee Association. Those administering the hostel faced numerous challenges. The first group accommodated were all men, Displaced Persons sent to South Australia from Bonegilla in Victoria. Almost immediately there were reports of the men asking for their wives and children to be sent to join them.

In 1951 the Government attempted to move Displaced Persons out of Finsbury to make room for British migrants. The residents protested, sending representatives to Melbourne to plead their case. Later in 1951 British migrants complained about food and conditions, and many refused to pay extra charges. This led to rent strikes in 1952. The dispute dragged on into 1953 when the media reported several families returning to Britain. Tensions over other issues occasionally came to a head, with thefts, violence and property damage reported intermittently in the newspapers. In the 1970s hostel management also clashed with the Indo-China Refugee Association, evicting them from an onsite office. Despite these ongoing issues, Pennington was also a first home, a meeting place, and a hive of social activity. It was home to some famous South Australians, including former Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Lieutenant Governor of South Australia Mr Hieu Van Le.

Catherine Manning's picture
Catherine Manning says:

What an experience Sally! Thanks for sharing.

Sally Lawrance's picture
Sally Lawrance says:

Mum, Dad, my sister Diane & I arrived in late 1959 & were given one of the tiny flat-roofed huts. The floor was bitumen & you could just squeeze the beds into the bedrooms & not much else. When the summer came the fridge sank into the bitumen floor- no aircon of course in those days. If you wanted to make a cup of tea, you had to turn off the fridge first or the fuses blew & showers were in the concrete shower block at the end of the row of huts. All meals happened in the nissan hut canteen & the ground all around the huts was barren. We had no swings or grass or trees that I recall & it was hot, hotter than anything we had known in our lives. The contrast with the UK was total.

Catherine Manning's picture
Catherine Manning says:

That house must hold some amazing memories Dave. Thanks for sharing your story.

Dave Holliday's picture
Dave Holliday says:

We arrived on what was the Strathmore's final journey in October 1961. WE supposed to go to Melbourne, but Dad was told there was more work in Adelaide. So we got off. That was bull, and Dad was out of work for 8 months. We stayed on Finsbury Hostel for a year, and then we bought a house in Pooraka. It was the one and only house Mum and Dad bought in December 1962. Mum passed away in the house in April 2010.

Catherine Manning's picture
Catherine Manning says:

Thanks for sharing Geoff!

Geoff Bell's picture
Geoff Bell says:

Left England 50 years ago this month. Arrived at Pennington hostel with mum, dad and six siblings as first generation migrants. A bit of a squeeze in the old Nissen hut #13. The Aussie dynasty mum and dad created lives on with us living in different parts of Oz to this day.

Catherine Manning's picture
Catherine Manning says:

Thanks for sharing your story Belinda.

Belinda Buttigieg's picture
Belinda Buttigieg says:

Our family of four arrived in June 1966 at Pennington. I was 8 at the time, dad had work as a bricklayer for 6 months. I don't recall much about this place. We had travelled for 4 long weeks on a ship, arriving in Melbourne on my birthday. We then boarded a train, which looked like a cattle train, heading to South Australia. I remember the countryside was endless, with areas of barren land and then green areas. I know that my older brother & I attend school in Woodville Nth Schools. After the 6 mths dad moved us all to NSW, to a place called Villawood into another hostel. Within the year he had managed to buy his first home in Australia.

Catherine Manning's picture
Catherine Manning says:

How old were you Gary? It sounds like it was an interesting journey for your family.

Gary Clarke's picture
Gary Clarke says:

Hi Barry,
We arrived at Finsbury Hostel as a family of 5, Mum, Dad and 3 sons in February 1958. My Great Aunt Ella lived in Kilburn at the time and some 30 years later I lived in Galway Street Kilburn for 15 years. We came from Manchester and sailed on The Strathnaver's final journey on its way to be scrapped in Japan. :-)

Catherine Manning's picture
Catherine Manning says:

Thanks for sharing Barry.

Barry's picture
Barry says:

Arrived in 1954 on the Strathnaver from devestated London as a 7yo. Stayed for 7 years befor moving to Kilburn. Very charactor building time of life. Enjoying life outside of Gawler SA

deborah elizabeth fleming nee wilson. 's picture
deborah elizabe... says:

almost sure our family arrived at pennington hostel 20th August 1966 father derek john wilson arrived with 4 children. i would like to get some information on the hostel

Catherine Manning's picture
Catherine Manning says:

Thanks for sharing your story Christopher. Did the other half of your family go back or were you referring to your travels? It must be an emotional tug of war having family elsewhere.

Christopher Barnes's picture
Christopher Barnes says:

Our family arrived from Birkenhead, via London, in December 1964 as 'Ten Pound Poms' and we stayed for a short while at the Finsbury/Pennington Migrant Hostel in Adelaide before happily moving to Williamstown in the Barossa Valley and settling in SA permanently. I was only a bewildered one year-old accompanying my older brothers and both parents to seek a new life in sunny South Australia where my earliest influences were of camp beds, Nissen huts, ablution blocks, large canteens, migrant families and exploring new vistas in the colourful countryside of Australia which became my true homeland despite my adventurous world travels. Half my family members remain in Australia with lives and families of their own in a land that continues to hold opportunities for the adventurous and hardy individuals.

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References: 

The Advertiser, 20 December 1950, 'Finsbury hostel for UK migrants', p. 12

The Advertiser, 6 April 1951, 'Nissen-type huts for Finsbury hostel', p. 3

The Advertiser, 23 July 1953, 'Complaint by migrant denied', p. 2

The Advertiser, 11 December 1954, 'Migrants to have bright Christmas', p. 13

The Advertiser, 15 December 1954, 'Christmas parties for new Australians', p. 23

The West Australian, 9 April 1949, 'Big building plans for migrants', p. 2

Agutter, Dr Karen, research notes, Hostel Stories project, the University of Adelaide

Migration Museum, Hostel Stories: Migrant Lives, Finsbury/Pennington information sheet. 

Migration Museum, research files, Finsbury/Pennington, Hostel Stories

State Library of South Australia, OH 948, Hostel Stories Oral History Project, JD Somerville Oral History Collection, 2010 - 2017