In the five decades following the Second World War tens of thousands of 'new arrivals' were accommodated in migrant hostels across South Australia. The hostel at Elder Park was one of at least twelve government run hostels operating as temporary accommodation for migrants. There were many more sites run by government departments, industry and businesses as worker accommodation. The Elder Park migrant hostel was the first to open in South Australia, and the most centrally located.

In 1947 the buildings formerly known as the SPF Hostel (Schools Patriotic Fund Hostel) were converted into a migrant hostel. It was officially renamed the Immigration and Reception Depot, Elder Park in August 1948. Rooms varied in size from single cubicles to fourteen-bed dormitories. Residents could hear their neighbours through flimsy partitions. There were communal bathrooms, a dining room where residents collected their meals and ate six to a table, and a communal laundry with two ironing rooms. Some former residents have happy memories of spending time in the evenings with other new arrivals in the lounge and writing room. The rent at Elder Park varied, and was adjusted to take into account changes in cost of living.

Elder Park was set up for British migrants, though it is possible that Displaced Persons were accommodated there at some point. After 1951 it was also used by migrant railway employees and their families, along with dependents of army personnel recruited in the UK. The hostel was capable of housing between 160 and 180 people.

Elder Park hostel was overwhelmingly for short-term stay in transit to other hostels or pre-arranged independent accommodation. There are reports of people staying for several weeks, but the vast majority of people stayed only a few nights, sometimes only one. Many of the British migrants using Elder Park had opted into house purchasing schemes prior to arrival.

By Dr Karen Agutter, the University of Adelaide, & Catherine Manning, Migration Museum

This entry was first published in the Hostel Stories: Migrant Lives exhibition at the Migration Museum (2013-2014). It is based on research undertaken by the University of Adelaide supported by a Linkage Grant from the Australian Research Council (LP120100553) in partnership with the Migration Museum and a range of community partners.

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Migrant hostels

British Migrants arriving at Elder Park, 1948

South Australian Government Photographic Collection, GN14994

Reception desk at the Elder Park migrant hostel, c. 1948

South Australian Government Photographic Collection, GN14996

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