Unanderra Hostel was not the first hostel built to accommodate migrant workers in the Illawarra but it was the first Commonwealth Migrant Workers’ Hostel. Australian Iron & Steel (AI&S) and Lysaghts Works Pty Ltd had started to provide their own workers’ accommodation while they waited for the housing and accommodation situation to improve, with AI&S extending their accommodation scheme to include families. Lysaghts finalised negotiations in 1946 for the purchase of the old Army camp at Hill 60 at Port Kembla to house their workers to increase its output of galvanised iron and in 1947 built a workers’ hostel 3 miles from the factories in Port Kembla. AI&S had submitted its plans in April 1947 to the Central Illawarra Shire Council to construct Karingal Hostel in Cringila and accepted its first British tradesmen migrants in early 1949 and by October 1949 had commenced operating its Steelhaven Hostel at Port Kembla accommodating single or unaccompanied male Displaced Persons. The Metropolitan Water Sewerage and Drainage Board Hostel was operating in 1948 and by July 1949 had begun extensions to its ‘Balts Camp’ in Coniston.
After World War 2 British migrants were able to migrate to Australia under the nomination scheme where accommodation was arranged by employers, relatives or friends or secured by migrants themselves prior to departure. The Commonwealth Government first began looking into building hostels in Australia for their British assisted migration scheme in 1947 when it would have to provide accommodation for them if required. It was the impending arrival of Displaced Persons that caused a sense of urgency and steered the Commonwealth Government’s primary focus towards the provision of accommodation for Displaced Persons in Australia as part of its obligation under the International Refugee Organisation Agreement. Displaced Persons was the name given to categorise the groups of people who were resettled by the International Refugee Organisation after World War 2. It included those who met the technical classification as Displaced Persons or refugees. These persons found themselves predominately in camps in Germany and Austria and were “evacuees, war or political fugitives, political prisoners, forced or voluntary workers, forced labourers and former members of forces under German command, deportees, intruded persons, extruded persons, civilian internees, ex-prisoners of war and stateless persons”. They were made up of predominately of people from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, Jewish and non-Jewish from Poland, Yugoslavia, Ukraine, Czechoslovakia and other parts of Europe such as Russia, Belarus, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Albania.
At first the Commonwealth Government would deploy the Displaced Persons migrant workers to areas of employment that provided accommodation such as rural areas, hospitals and state government projects such as railways or the Hydro scheme in Tasmania. However, it was the need to address the acute building material shortages that the decision was made in January 1948 to send Displaced Person Migrant Workers to the Wollongong-Port Kembla area to work in the iron and steel industries as soon as accommodation was available. There were conditions under which the Displaced Persons Migrant Workers would be sent to the Wollongong-Port Kembla area those being they would not occupy housing accommodation to the exclusion of Australian workmen, they would be unskilled and that employers and unions would agree to their employment.
The Unanderra Hostel was known by many names such as the Port Kembla Hostel, the Kembla Hostel, the Commonwealth Hostel, the Government Hostel, the Displaced Persons Migrants Hostel, the Balts Hostel and the New Australian’s Hostel until it was commonly referred by the locals as Unanderra Hostel. It would be referred to in Commonwealth documents as Port Kembla hostel for some time until about 28 March 1950 when a directive was given that the name of the Hostel for New Australians at Port Kembla was to be altered to “Hostel for New Australians Unanderra No 1” with other hostels established in Unanderra to be known as Unanderra No 2, 3 and so on, although only two hostel units were built in Unanderra. Also, as the hostel was located in the postal district of Unanderra, the title of “Port Kembla” caused confusion and delay in mail services, contractors’ supplies and migrants’ luggage to the Hostel as the town of Port Kembla was several miles away.
The Commonwealth Hostel built at Unanderra was built specifically for the Displaced Persons Migrant Workers and Unit 1 dormitory huts were built using timber-frames, sheeted externally with weather boards and internal walls lined with fibrous plaster, galvanised iron roofs and timber floors. The Hostel was approved to be built before Commonwealth Government Cabinet approval was given to a national hostel building programme in August 1948, therefore, the dormitory huts provided were to be similar to accommodation supplied for war workers and preliminary drawings of a modified Port Kembla Hut were made together with estimates even though a site for the Hostel had yet to be selected. The first hostel unit was to accommodate 400 single or unaccompanied male workers. By the time Unit 2 of Unanderra Hostel was to be built it was absorbed into the national hostel building programme which saw dormitory huts and amenity buildings constructed using Nissen and Quonset Huts, a far less superior standard compared to what was provided at Unit 1.
At this earliest of stages of building accommodation for Displaced Persons Migrant Workers in the Wollongong-Port Kembla area, the Commonwealth Government intended that they would acquire the land and build a hostel but it would be the employer, and in this case AI&S, who would lease the hostel from the Commonwealth as well as operate and maintain the hostel. The intention was that the initial 400 Displaced Persons Migrant Workers would be employed by AI&S as it was this industrial undertaking that was basic to all other industries in the building materials group.
Discussions took place on 12 March 1948 between Commonwealth Government Officers and Cecil and Sid Hoskins of AI&S to determine a suitable site for the Hostel. Three sites were proposed: Crown Land at Illoura Hill, AI&S land close to its Port Kembla works that overlooked the coke ovens and the third site which was land to the south-west of the factory. The Commonwealth Government preferred site was the land belonging to AI&S that overlooked the coke ovens. This area of AI&S land was needed as part of the plant development so AI&S was not able to immediately agree to its availability but in the end would allow for the acquirement of the site so as not to delay the Commonwealth Government’s plans. If the Commonwealth Government was to use this site AI&S preference for its use was that the hostel would be situated on high ground between the access road to the slag dump and limits of the tipped slag to the south-east.
Further preliminary sketches were drawn up based on the topography of the preferred AI&S site. Meanwhile there was much union opposition to not only the employment of Displaced Persons Migrants in the iron and steel industries, but also to the building of accommodation for them. The Commonwealth Government continued even against union opposition.
However, the decision was made to find an alternative site than the land owned by AI&S because the Commonwealth Government had no real peace-time powers to build accommodation for private employers on private land and once the flow of Displaced Persons ceased, other migrants would need to be accommodated in this hostel and not all of them would be employees of AI&S. Furthermore, because of the topography, the preliminary plans placed the orientation of the buildings such that they were too close to the coke ovens that would make it unpleasant for the occupants. In May 1948 a visit to the area was undertaken again to choose another site for the hostel and if this visit failed to find a suitable alternative then the Commonwealth Government would have no choice but to proceed with building a hostel on AI&S property and obtaining a 30 year lease. Once again three sites were inspected: The first site inspected was part of the Five Islands Estate that was owned by AI&S. It was determined that even though this site had good elevation it would need to be leased from AI&S but it was too near to the Concrete Construction Camp and therefore was not recommended. The second site inspected was on Flagstaff Road being part of the Estate of Agnes Dooley. This site was suitable for a hostel and had been formerly occupied by the Army as an Ack Ack Gun Site. The gun placement was still in place and owing to the high cost of removal of the gun placement this site was discarded. The third site inspected was on Five Islands Road to the west of and adjacent to A.E. Goodwin Ltd, shipbuilders and general engineering factory and the Public Works Department’s basalt quarry about 2 miles from Port Kembla township and half a mile from AI&S Port Kembla Works, handy to Cringila Station, had a bitumen road and serviced by bus. It was also about a quarter mile from AI&S Karingal Hostel and water and light were accessible nearby.
This third site on Five Islands Road Unanderra was chosen to construct the Commonwealth Government Hostel for Displaced Persons Migrant Workers and comprised a total area of 98 acres of what was once part of the Jenkins’ Berkeley Estate. At one time the whole of the remaining property from the Berkeley Estate consisted of approximately 193 acres. About 65 acres was resumed by the old Council of the Shire of Central Illawarra, together with an adjoining area known as the Carrsdale Estate, for industrial purposes. Land from the Berkeley Estate had been purchased by H.H. Waldron and this became known as Waldron’s Berkeley Farm. Following the death of H.H. Waldron, the site became part of the Estate of H.H. Waldron which was then purchased by Mr H.F. Halloran on 18 May 1939. Mr Halloran had subdivided the land into four areas and leased his property to L. Maynes who dealt with stock. The Commonwealth Government required two lots from Mr Halloran that in total measured 24 acres 3 roods and 18 perches and was dissected by a hundred foot easement for an electrical transmission line and adjoined the workshops of A.E. Goodwin Pty Ltd on the eastern side. The section of land was thought to be valued at £5650. The area was described as almost level along the Berkeley Road frontage with a gentle rise on the centre of the property, falling away again on its back portion towards the south.
The formal acquisition of the land under the Lands and Property Acquisition Act was commenced and the existing design plans were modified to suit the topography of the new site. AI&S were formally advised by letter of the new site acquisition, altered hostel layout plans and the Commonwealth requested AI&S confirmation to their leasing, operation and maintenance of the Hostel, which AI&S did so promptly by return letter.
A technical report and estimate dated 22 July 1948 determined that it would cost a total of £201,750 to build the 400 person hostel unit, yet there were more revisions and changes made that would alter the overall cost of building Unit 1. The area upon which Unit No 1 was to be built was described in the technical report as approximately 1,400 by 1,100 feet and consisted of two adjacent areas separated by a 100 foot electrical easement. The proposed building site for Unit 1 was on the western section and fronted the road and was comparatively level but had steeper grades on the outer part of the western section while eastern section had steep grades. The area had been cleared and grassed.
Total accommodation for No 1 Hostel was initially to be subdivided into eight dormitory blocks, each accommodating 50 people, constructed with timber-frames, sheeted externally with weather boards and internal walls lined with fibrous plaster, galvanised iron roofs and timber floors. The first design had each Dormitory Block with self-contained lavatory accommodation and was accessed from a wide covered way that could be used as an additional recreational area. Each bedroom cubicle was 8 x 10 feet equipped with a bed, two steel lockers, small dressing table and tubular steel chair and all necessary linen. Floors were natural timber with small bedside mat and windows had holland blinds. Each dormitory block had a lounge and recreation unit provided which was heated by a slow combustion stove. Heating was not provided elsewhere throughout the complex. The amenities were grouped in the combined Recreation, Administrative and Dining Room Block. The Laundry and Ironing Blocks were provided on the basis of one per 100. There was also a Manager’s Residence and Female Staff Quarters. It was proposed that work proceed under these plans given the urgency to have accommodation ready for Displaced Persons even though there were further changes to be expected once the plans and designs were reviewed.
By 23 July 1948 approval was given to build another hostel unit to meet the needs of Lysaghts and other heavy industries in the area. Then on 2 August 1948 under Agendum No 1498 approval was given, in addition to the two hostels already approved to be built at Port Kembla and Newcastle, for seven new hostels to accommodate the Displaced Persons resettled in Australia under the International Refugee Organisation Agreement to be built: 3 in Sydney, 3 in Melbourne and one in Port Kembla with each hostel to accommodate 400 persons. Approval was also given to spend £2,500,000 to not only build the hostels but to make structural alterations and procure equipment for Service buildings and other buildings throughout Australia already approved or may be approved to be utilised for the accommodation of the International Refugee Organisation Displaced Persons migrants. These camps were to be organised and operated by the Department of Labour and National Service as an agent of the Department of Immigration and each migrant accommodated in camps or hostels would be charged a tariff of £2/12/6 per week for board and lodging for the first six months when the tariff would be reviewed. These conditions would apply for the two hostels already approved for Port Kembla and Newcastle.
The Commonwealth Government advised AI&S by letter of 12 August 1948 of its new hostel building programme which negated the need for AI&S to lease, operate and maintain a hostel for its migrant workers allocated to them by the Commonwealth Government. The Commonwealth Government now had control and responsibility for the hostels built or acquired by them.
Although expenditure of £2,500,000 for this national hostel building programme had been approved, only £1,500,000 was placed on the 1948-49 estimate to cover the expenditure. This meant that at first only one hostel at Port Kembla was built with the second hostel to be built in the following financial year. It also meant that all Commonwealth Hostels would be now built to a common plan that provided two persons per room which meant there was more flexibility to accommodate single males and females as well as married persons. This meant that the design for the Port Kembla Hostel Unit 1 at Unanderra had to be altered from rooms that accommodated single males only. Additional changes to the design would occur before building commenced and even while being built. One design change was the dormitory huts would be built back-to-back which reduced the maximum distance travelled along the building and made for a more compact building unit as well as reducing construction costs to £196,140. This also placed verandas on both sides of the buildings. The back-to-back units now had lavatory and lounge rooms compactly planned as a separate unit. Laundry and ironing blocks were increased to provide on the basis of one per 200 and not per 100 persons and the seating capacity for the dining hall was also increased.
On 10 September 1948 formal approval to fund the cost of building Unit No 1 was given. By November 1948 an additional 7 acres were leased from AI&S to install a sewerage treatment works for the hostel. This land was across the road adjacent to Unit 1 and the Commonwealth leased the land from AI&S on the proviso that AI&S could access part of their land for their own transmission lines or to build a weir on Allan’s Creek.
The building and design plans were still being drafted by the Commonwealth Government architects and it was found necessary to out-source this work for buildings other than the dormitories to private architect firms to complete, although the Commonwealth Government provided all the necessary technical information and specifications. Although final plans were still not completed the contract to build Unit 1 Hostel on Five Islands Road Unanderra was awarded to John Stubbs & Sons on 25 October 1948 with the expected date of completion in 12 months. Construction of Unit 1 began in November 1948 and once again building design changes occurred during construction progress. The official acquisition of the land was still in progress when construction commenced however early access to the site was permitted by Mr Halloran.
The Notification of the Acquisition of Land by the Commonwealth was gazetted in the Commonwealth of Australia Gazette No 20 of 28 April 1949. This was a total area of 29 acres, 2 roods and 32 perches, excluding the existing 100 feet wide transmission line that dissected the area.
The 1949 coal strike and union ban on building the hostel at Unanderra for Displaced Persons slowed the progress of construction. The Department of labour and National Service wanted work to be completed by June or July 1949 to be able to house the Displaced Persons during the “industrial dislocations”. The seven other hostels being built were similarly requested with some Displaced Persons having to be temporarily accommodated onboard RAN ships. It was proposed that the Hostel at Unanderra be ready to accommodate 300 men on 28 August 1949. Unanderra No 1 Hostel was built to accommodate the maximum number of single or unaccompanied male Displaced Persons migrant workers because of the need to have the maximum number of migrant workers possible employed in the heavy industries in the Wollongong-Port Kembla area so many of the men were separated from their families who were placed into holding centres throughout NSW. The overall construction completion date was promised for April 1950.
The hostel project had been under the personal notice of the Prime Minister as it was of utmost political importance and earlier statements had been made that the hostel would be completed by September 1949. Therefore, the expectation was lowered with dormitory accommodation readied and temporary laundry, kitchen and messing facilities provided to meet the September 1949 target completion date. There were continuing difficulties in obtaining building materials such as gyprock and it was unlikely on-site hot water would be available by the completion date. Fencing was also needed around the entire complex to keep nearby stock clear of the excavations and in mid-June heavy rainfall was experienced over a week where little to no progress on construction was made and another two weeks would be needed to allow the site to dry out. Still the contractor promised the dormitories would be completed by mid-August.
The Commonwealth Government was now looking at building a second hostel unit for 400 Displaced Persons Migrant Workers in the Wollongong-Port Kembla area and on 11 August 1949 another visit to the area by a representative from the Department of the Interior took place to inspect possible sites. Two sites were inspected. The first site was the land that adjoined Unanderra No 1 Hostel and was the property of Mr H.F. Halloran, the owner of the land where No 1 Hostel had been erected. This site was not preferred because the buildings would have to be designed to conform to the contours of the land that would place the second hostel against the geometric pattern of the present permanent hostel and was viewed as undesirable as the sewerage treatment system that was to be installed was only to service one hostel unit. The second and preferred site was situated about 17 chains (342 metres) further west on Flagstaff Road and had been part of a large area of land acquired for industrial purposes by the Unanderra Shire Council which by now had amalgamated with the Greater Wollongong Council. The Immigration Department and the Premier of NSW had no objection to this site of about 30 acres to be acquired for immigration purposes to erect No 2 Port Kembla Hostel. However, the Wollongong Council Town Planner considered this site should be zoned for industrial uses to which the Inspection Valuer agreed. Greater Wollongong Council advised it would oppose the acquirement of this section of land to the “fullest possible means” and requested that the Commonwealth Government withdraw its proposal to acquire this land and requested a representative of the Commonwealth Government be sent to Wollongong to discuss an alternate site. When engineering investigations undertaken by the Director of Works Department in Sydney determined that the preferred site for No 2 Hostel on Flagstaff Road was not suitable because it was not possible to sewer a hostel on this site the Commonwealth Government withdrew its application to acquire this site. The site chosen for the Port Kembla (Unanderra) No 2 Hostel was an area of land that had already been acquired and was adjacent to Unit No 1 but set back further from Five Islands Road with the existing Transmission Line 100 feet wide easement between the two hostel units. Unit No 2 was constructed using Nissen and Quonset Huts.
Over the weekend of 10-11 September 1949 the first large batch of 160 European Displaced Persons arrived in Wollongong to commence employment in Port Kembla heavy industries. A further 160 were expected on 20 October 1949. In the first group the men were allocated to work for AI&S, Lysaghts, Fertilisers Ltd and the Commonwealth Rolling Mills. The second group of 160 were all allocated for work at AI&S. Most of these Displaced Persons Migrant Workers were installed at Unanderra No 1 Hostel. Additional numbers into the workforce in Port Kembla was entirely dependent on sufficient hostel accommodation to house them. Most of the married men had been separated from their wives and children who had been installed at Dependent Holding Centres in various towns in NSW. The Ironworkers Union held a meeting on Tuesday 13 September 1949 where it was agreed to accept these migrant workers but the first group would be in the nature of a test. Most of the male residents worked in the heavy industries in the Wollongong-Port Kembla area, a large number being shift workers in the steel works. A local bus service was available for workers to catch to the steelworks however sometimes the drivers would charge the migrant workers more than the usual 3 pence. A special workers bus left the Hostel at 6.30am but if breakfast was late then it was not possible to utilise this service.
In December 1949 the New South Wales State Authorities requested a grant of an easement of 60 feet wide for an electricity transmission line which adjoined the existing 100 feet wide easement on the site acquired for the Port Kembla Displaced Persons Migrant Hostel (Unanderra No 1 Hostel). Further grants of easements would be made over the life of the hostel.
Construction of Unanderra Hostel Unit No 2 commenced in 1949 adjacent to Unit No 1 on the land that had been compulsory acquired for Unit No 1. Kennedy & Bird were contracted to erect Unanderra No 2 Hostel. With the capacity to accommodate 400 people the completion date was set for September 1950. Unit 2 buildings comprised of Nissen Huts and not purpose built timber framed building like Unit No 1. This was for a number of reasons, mostly not to drain building materials that were still in short supply, availability of funds for the nation-wide hostel building programme and the availability of overseas supply of surplus prefabricated buildings such as the Nissen and Quonset Huts. The State Housing Commission was also in the process of its own home building programme which was heavily reliant on building materials and labour.
Although Unanderra Hostel Unit No 1 was built primarily for Displaced Persons Migrants, it was later diverted to British migrants. Dormitory accommodation between the two units differed greatly at Unanderra Hostel. In Unit No 1 timber framed dormitories were provided in long buildings, each room opened on to a veranda. In Unit 2, initially used to accommodate single or unaccompanied men, dormitory accommodation was in sub-divided Nissen Huts. In Unit 1 communal toilets and ablution facilities were under the same roof, but in the Unit 2 single men’s unit these facilities were in separate buildings throughout the area.
The total capacity of Unanderra Hostel once fully constructed was for 920 persons including staff. Facilities were provided for indoor recreation in both the family and the single men’s units. The roads and car parks were tar sealed and pathways were concrete. The fences were Park Rail and Chain Wire on the north boundary, Cyclone Chain Wire on the east boundary, Post and Wire on the south boundary and Cyclone Chain Wire on the west boundary. At Unit 1 were the managerial residences, a VIP Flat, staff quarters, kitchen, dining room, recreation room and hostel office. Unit No 1 buildings 1A, 2B, 3C, 4D, 5E, 6F, 7G and 8H were the dormitory huts each 26-14’6’ x 10’ rooms with 1 quiet room in each block. Later a children’s playground was added with a youth leader engaged to organise activities.
A kiosk was also provided that serviced the Hostel complex where at one point Mesdames Fawcett and Nicolls were awarded the contract to operate. At first the kiosk operated in a small portion of the recreation room at Unit 1 but it did not have adequate storage space and in early April 1951 a standard building for a canteen to service both Units 1 and 2 was approved to be located on the lower level of the hostel area slightly to the east of the recreation hut at Unit 1. In March 1950 the Commonwealth Government allowed for an open-front cycle and motorcycle garage to be erected to stop about 30 of the residents from parking these on the verandas and in the covered walks. This garage was built by Kennedy & Bird contractors who were engaged to construct Unit 2. Residents were banned from installing private radio aerials to connect their private radios and these were ordered to be taken down by the Hostel staff. No consideration was given to allow a communal aerial system. In May 1950 the practicality of providing a standard tennis court and basketball court at Unit 1 at Unanderra Hostel was investigated. After the arrival of British migrants and their families in 1951 concern was raised about the risk of serious accidents to smaller children from the above ground verandas that were not enclosed and urgent attention was given to enclose the balustrades. Both the construction of the canteen and the enclosing of the balustrades were contracted to S.D. Kennedy & Bird who were still engaged on the adjacent Unit 2, although by April 1951 they were almost finished. A non-official Post Office was established at Unanderra Migrant Hostel. The Post office was known as Unanderra East and opened on 1 September 1953.
In 1961 as a result of excavation work carried out on land owned by A.E. Goodwin Ltd that adjoined the Unanderra Hostel an encroachment occurred when the embankment collapsed on the common boundary. The end result was that strip of land, less half the cost of a new fence, was sold to A.E. Goodwin. The overall area of the Unanderra Hostel complex was reduced by about another 10 feet. Behind the Unanderra Hostel, about 100 yards away, was the State Metal Quarry and by 1966 it had become disused. Children from the Hostel would use this area to play. Tragically in September 1966 while playing at the quarry a 13-year-old boy, Stephen Smith, slipped and fell landing on a pile of old railway sleepers and rocks. He died in the ambulance on the way to hospital. There were limited employment opportunities for women and junior workers in the area. A direct bus service ran from Unanderra Hostel to the steel works as well as a bus service to Wollongong. Most primary school children attended Wollongong Public School with high school facilities for both boys and girls available in Wollongong. Increased numbers of migrant children to the area resulted in the construction of additional primary and high schools within the district adjacent to Unanderra and further south.
Towards the end of 1949 the Commonwealth Government began to plan for the time when the agreement with the International Refugee Organisation would cease and the flow of Displaced Persons Migrants would end. Many of the hostels and other types of acquired buildings that were for the Displaced Persons were diverted for the use of British migrants. The Commonwealth Government wanted to provide hostel accommodation for 2,000 persons migrating from Britain in Unanderra, however, other sites (Berkeley and Balgownie) would be chosen for this purpose.
By March 1950, the contractor for Unit No 1, John Stubbs & Sons, went into liquidation with some construction and services still to be completed. Many firms were owed money and others refused to accept and deliver orders from John Stubbs & Sons but were prepared to accept orders direct from Commonwealth Government Departments. Other works such as the hot water and steam services came to a standstill as companies withdrew their men, equipment and services until contracts were transferred from John Stubbs & Sons to the Commonwealth Government. This set back the completion date for Unanderra No 1 Unit and the Hostel operated under considerable difficulty while the Department of National Labour and Service arranged for completion of the residual work.
The use of the name of Port Kembla Hostel for the Commonwealth Government Hostel at Unanderra ceased in March 1950 upon the instructions from the Director of Works. It was mainly for the purposes of arranging contracts, routing of stores and building materials and payment of accounts and so on to distinguish the Hostels planned in the area. The Port Kembla Hostel would number 1 and 2 at Unanderra and the Port Kembla Hostel at Berkeley numbered 3 to 7. But this changed again with the plan to build a large hostel at Berkeley and by 28 March 1950 it was decided to call the hostel for New Australians at Port Kembla “Hostel for New Australians Unanderra No 1” with the other hostels to be built in Unanderra to be known as Unanderra No 2, 3 and so on. None of this made much difference to the locals and the hostel at Unanderra was just known as Unanderra Hostel and the one at Berkeley as Berkeley Hostel.
On 31 July 1950 a mass protest meeting of 228 New Australian migrants who lived at Unanderra No 1 took place to complain about the rise in the accommodation charges introduced by the Commonwealth Government and hostel conditions such as only one hostel telephone and a book to record telephone calls kept, ignoring requests for coffee to be served and not tea, guests forbidden in their rooms and relatives and wives had to be received out of doors as no room was provided for visits, payment of tariffs when absent from the hostel during times they visited their families at holding centres, or in hospital, poor quality and quantity of food, sharing of rooms with another worker on a different shift, a library with no books, quiet rooms always locked, being told by Hostel management they could leave if they didn’t like it. The migrants were supported by the unions and by Mr Davies, MHR, who also visited the hostel to investigate and speak to the men. Mr Boris Cerns, from (the former) Yugoslavia acted as the migrants’ representative. Despite representation made to the Minister for Immigration, Harold Holt, nothing came of it and they had to pay the increased tariffs. Similar protests were made by the British migrants once they arrived at Unanderra albeit more militant in nature with some refusing to pay tariffs which led to threats of eviction.
The premature arrival of British migrants and their families occurred during the weekend of 17-18 March 1951. The 350 New Australian migrants residing at Unit 1 were vacated to Unit 2 dormitories to allow the British migrants to move into Unit 1. The New Australian migrants noticed that the families were able to be accommodated together at Unit 1 and voiced the unfairness of being separated from their own families. Many of the huts at Unit 2 still needed to be erected and when the men were moved to Unit 2 with the amenities and other facilities only available across at Unit 1. The Federation Ironworkers’ Union investigated on behalf of the New Australian migrants and found the dormitory Nissen huts to be ill-ventilated and not suitable to house shift workers. The Nissen Hut measured 42 feet by 15 feet and each hut housed 12 persons in six rooms, each room occupied by two men. The individual rooms measured 12 feet by 7 feet 6 inches with insufficient head room which the reduced the cubic capacity needed for air space. The Nissen Huts were badly lit and leaked when it rained and there were pools of stagnant water outside the huts. The new rooms in the Nissen Huts did not have power points and many of the doors leading to the rooms were below ground level. Roads still had not been completed and although connected to the existing septic installation, the reticulation system was still under construction. There were many excavations still ongoing throughout the area and through lack of proper organisation no cleaning arrangements were yet available.
Unanderra Hostel was officially diverted by the Commonwealth Government from hostels for Displaced Persons Migrant Workers to British migrants and their families in April 1951 although many nationalities would continue to live there especially after assisted migration and passage schemes were introduced for other European countries.
By February 1963 there were about 274 people comprised of 66 Yugoslavs, 58 Spanish, 34 German, 3 British and 113 other nationalities living at Unanderra Hostel and by October 1963 Unanderra Hostel No 2 was officially closed, vacated and retained on a caretaker basis. Unit 2 buildings fell into disrepair and it would have been too costly to reactivate the hostel or keep it on a caretaker basis and in July 1967 the Minister for Immigration declared Unanderra Hostel No 2 be disposed. The disposal was carried out in two stages, first the buildings then the land. Buildings were sold while others were retained for storage purposes or transferred across to Unit 1 or to other hostels in NSW. However, disposal of the land was deferred because of possible future developments as part of the nation-wide Hostel Replacement Programme. By the end of 1967 the decision to proceed with the complete disposal of Unit 2 was made. In August 1970 Commonwealth Hostels Limited announced the closure of three selected hostels in NSW one of which was Unanderra No 1 which would be kept on a caretaker basis with the proviso it could re-open with 7 days’ notice as a reserve overflow for Fairy Meadow Hostel during the Hostel Replacement Programme.
In February 1971 Transfield Pty Ltd requested they lease Unanderra No 1 Hostel for a period of 12 to 18 months. Transfield was contracted to construct a blast furnace and steelmaking plant for AI&S at Port Kembla and needed to transfer their labour force into the area to carry out these projects and while most of their male employees were provided with accommodation and messing facilities by Transfield and AI&S they were short of facilities for about 60 to 100 single men.
In August 1973 the Minister for Immigration declared Unanderra No 1 surplus to requirements and had no objection to its disposal however Transfield offered to purchase Unanderra No 1, which they continued to lease until the contract of sale was exchanged on 24 June 1977. As part of the sale agreement Transfield paid out the balance of the sale price plus interest and the sale of Unanderra Hostel to Transfield was completed in July 1986.
In 2007, researchers for the Migration Heritage Project Thematic study undertook an inspection of the former location of Unanderra No 1 and No 2 Hostel and found no obvious evidence or potential sources of the former migrant workers’ hostel at Unanderra nor any acknowledgement of the early migrant workers who were Displaced Persons, British migrants and their families or the hundreds of migrants from other European countries who contributed so much, not only to the Illawarra, but to Australia generally.
List of Displaced Persons Migrant Workers Living at the Port Kembla Government Hostel on Five Islands Road Unanderra, List Compiled following visit by AI&S representative on 11 May 1950
JARACHOWICZ S., Wife & 2 children, Cowra, TSCHITSCHKAN J., Wife & 1 child, Greta, KAPLON F., Wife & 2 children, Scheyville, KOCON L., Wife & 1 child, Parkes, MARTYNIUK I., Wife & 1 child, Cowra, HRENDA P., Wife & 1 child, Cowra, KLIMCAK K., Wife & 1 child, Parkes, NHRONTSCHIK S., Wife & 1 child, Cowra, URBANOWICZ S., Wife & 1 child, Greta, BOGER A., Wife, Bathurst, ZIELINSKI T., Wife & 2 children, Cowra, NAWALANY A., Wife & 1 child, Parke, CZYZ W., Wife & 1 child, Cowra, SOBOLEWSKI E., Wife & 4 children, Bathurst, SZCZESNY M., Wife & 1 child, Bathurst, PELECHOWSKI A., Wife & 2 children, Cowra, BEDNARZ A., Wife & 2 children, Parkes, PZECHOWICZ T., Wife & 1 child, Parkes, ADAMCZYK T., Wife, Bathurst, ROVBA J., Wife, Dundas, STADALNIKAS J., Wife, Canberra, GIASAITIS A., Wife & 1 child, Cowra, MATCZUK S., Wife & 1 child, Parkes, SOKOLOWSKI B., Wife & 1 child, Cowra, MINDE A., Wife & 2 children, Cowra, ZOSZAK M., Wife & 1 child, Greta, GAMOLUK W., Wife & 1 child, Cowra, DETYNA F., Wife & 2 children, Cowra, REPETYLO O., Wife & 1 child, Bathurst, MIKOLAJCZIK W., Wife & 1 child, Bathurst, REVKO S., Wife & 1 child, Bathurst, LUKATSCH I., Wife & 1 child, Bathurst, STOITSCHAN G., Wife & 2 children, Parkes, PTICZEK D., Wife & 1 child, Cowra
The history of the Commonwealth Government Hostel at Unanderra takes place on land whose traditional custodians remain the First Nations people of Dharawal Country – Always Was Always Will Be.
The Migration Heritage Project acknowledges the First Nations people as the traditional owners and custodians of the land upon which the stories of migration have been explored, documented and recorded.
The land is also significant to the early white settlement history of the Illawarra as it formed part of one of the first five land grants. The Unanderra Hostel was built on part of the grant allocated to Robert Jenkins in 1816 and later enlarged by his widow Jemima Jenkins that was known as the Berkeley Estate.