Tens of thousands of people went through work camps and migrant hostels in South Australia. Migrant hostels were also known as migrant camps, reception centres and holding centres. There were at least twelve hostels in South Australia between 1947 and the mid-1980s.

Migrant Hostels

Hostels were funded and run by Commonwealth and State Governments. The first migrant hostels were built in the midst of an acute housing shortage. They were established in existing buildings, often military barracks with communal dining, laundry and shower facilities. Later, transportable structures like Nissen huts were used. Hostels assisted new arrivals to settle in and establish themselves before striking out on their own.

The South Australian Story

In addition to the government-run hostels listed below there were a number of camps or work hostels run directly by organisations that employed large numbers of migrants. These included sites at Salisbury and Hendon, and those run by the South Australian Railways in Adelaide (North Terrace), Islington and Peterborough, the Engineering and Water Supply Department in Bedford Park and Leigh Creek, and the Woods and Forests Department in Mount Gambier, among others.

Research is ongoing, and definite numbers and locations of work camps are not yet known. Some appear to have operated along very similar lines to the sites that have been referred to here as migrant hostels. Many were even more transitory, or temporary, in nature, taking the form of tent cities, or utilising whatever buildings were available.

The following migrant hostels are known to have operated in South Australia under government administration as indicated:

Commonwealth
Woodside, 1949 - 1963
Smithfield, 1949 – 1971
Mallala, 1950 – 1951
Rosewater, 1950 - 1953
Willaston (Gawler), 1949 – 1952 & 1955 – 1956
Glenelg, 1949 – 1971
Finsbury, 1950 – 1966, renamed Pennington 1966 – c. 1990s 

State
Elder Park, November 1947-1969
Semaphore, 1949-1957
Woodville, c. 1969 – c.1978

Shared or split control
Gepps Cross, 1951 – 1952 (Commonwealth) 1952 – c. 1965 (State)
Milpara (Whyalla), 1949 – c. 1977 (funding split between Commonwealth, State & BHP)

Interstate

Nationally, there were many more sites used as temporary migrant accomodation. Well-known hostels interstate include Bonegilla in Victoria, Villawood in Sydney, Bathurst migrant camp in New South Wales, and the Graylands centre in Western Australia. 

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References: 

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

Migration Museum, Hostel Stories: Migrant Lives, Work Camps and Interstate Hostels information sheet. 

Migration Museum, research files, Work Camps and Interstate Hostels, Hostel Stories

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