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:

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 

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)


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. 

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), and appears here lightly edited and reformatted. 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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Migration Museum, Hostel Stories exhibition graphic

Food glorious food
Food Glorious Food
Krystyna and Tomasz Luzny
Krystyna Luzny reflects on her experience being separated from her husband Tomasz.
Refugee childrens drawings
Pennington Primary School new arrivals program.
Barbara Reis
Babara Reis remembers her family's experience in the migrant hostels.

Elder Park


South Australian Government Photographic Collection, GN14994

Courtesy of/Photographer:South Australian Government Photographic Collection GN14996

Gepps Cross


Migration Museum photographic collection PN05074. 

Migration Museum photographic collection PN05076.



Migration Museum photographic collection PN05778, courtesy Barabara Reis. 

Migration Museum collection PN05773, courtesy Barabara Reis.

Migration Museum photographic collection PN05817, courtesy Pauline Savron.



Migration Museum photographic collection, PN05789, courtesy Catherine Grimshaw

Migration Museum photographic collection, PN05782, Courtesy Olaf Alland



Migration Museum photographic collection PN05933, courtesy George Iosifidis.



Migration Museum photographic collection PN05843, courtesy the Yates family.

Migration Museum photographic collection, Courtesy of the Hasiuk family and The Gawler National Trust Museum



Migration Museum photographic collection, PN04092, courtesy William & Claudia Laanekorb.

Migration Museum photographic collection, PN01945, courtesy of the Department of Immigration and Indigenous Affairs



Migration Museum photographic collection PN06251, courtesy Dieuwke Jessop. 

Work Camps


Migration Museum photographic collection PN01557, courtesy Mrs Eugeniusz Rakowski.

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