The post-World War 2 migration agreement between the Commonwealth of Australia and the United Kingdom was signed in 1947 but it was not until 1950 that it began fully operating. Shipping shortages during the early days of the agreement prevented a large number of people from the United Kingdom from migrating to Australia under the assisted migration agreement. When the situation with shipping improved, Australia hoped to meet its 1950 target of 27,000 British migrants and began in earnest Stage 2 of the hostel building programme that would accommodate these selected British migrants and their families.
The Commonwealth Government never planned to build a migrant hostel at Fairy Meadow.
In 1949, during Stage 1 of the Hostel Building Programme, the Commonwealth Government was looking for additional land to erect the second migrant hostel for the Displaced Persons near to the steel and manufacturing industries at Port Kembla. Unit 1 had been completed and accommodated single and unaccompanied male Displaced Persons who were sent to Illawarra as part of the 1947 International Refugee Organisation Agreement. Unit 1 was located on Five Islands Road at Unanderra. After looking at available sites it was decided that Unit 2 would be built beside Unit 1. When the Commonwealth Government was looking at land options for Unit 2, the Wollongong City Council asked that any further construction of Commonwealth migrant hostels take place in other parts of the Greater City of Wollongong. The Council was trying to prevent another “Spoonerville” or creation of a “little England”. However, in March 1949, the Minister for Immigration, Harold Holt, announced that an additional 5 units to house 2,700 British migrants and their families would be built as part of the Port Kembla Migrant Workers’ Hostel (Unanderra Hostel was first named “Port Kembla Migrant Workers’ Hostel” by the Commonwealth Government). Together with Units 1 and 2, these units would form Units 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 of the Port Kembla Migrant Workers’ Hostel.
The Wollongong City Council intervened before any further land acquisitions by the Commonwealth Government in the Port Kembla/Unanderra area could proceed and on Monday, 29 May 1950, the Mayor of Wollongong, Alderman Dawson, gave a tour to representatives of the Commonwealth Government of alternative sites for a family hostel for British migrants. The Council’s preferred site was part of the 116 acres of the Collaery Estate in the possession of Francis (Frank) Merion Collaery. Earlier in January 1950 the Council had taken action to resume the Collaery Estate as they wanted to use this land as a camping area. Council offered Frank Collaery 14,000 pounds for his 116 acres.
To accommodate the expected 2,700 British migrants and families, and to comply with the Council’s wish not to have any further hostels installed in the Port Kembla/Unanderra area, the Commonwealth Government decided they would accommodate the first of these intakes in Unit 1 at the Port Kembla Migrant Workers’ Hostel known now as Unanderra Migrant Hostel and acquire land to construct a 2 unit hostel at Berkeley for 800 people (the Berkeley area was also required for the NSW Government Housing Scheme) and to construct a 3 unit Migrant Hostel at Fairy Meadow on the Collaery Estate to be called Balgownie Migrant Hostel, capable of accommodating 1,200 people. This allowed for the planned 5 units as per the Minister’s earlier announcement in March. These two Commonwealth Migrant Hostels at Berkeley and Fairy Meadow together with Units 1 and 2 at Unanderra Hostel were built for, and transferred to, British migrants and their families but other nationalities would be accommodated when target numbers of British migrants were not met and migration agreements were signed with other European countries or humanitarian crises brought other Europeans to the Illawarra.
Only about 30 to 35 acres of the Collaery Estate was thought by the Commonwealth Government as suitable upon which to establish a migrant Hostel at Fairy Meadow. However, 30 to 35 acres would only allow for two family hostel units of 400 beds each. Adjoining the Collaery Estate was 25 acres of vacant land of the Estate of the late Hannah Frost which, if acquired by the Commonwealth Government, would provide a sufficient area of land to build all 3 hostel units with recreational and other facilities.
The Commonwealth Government eventually purchased a total of 68 acres; 40 acres from the Wollongong Council who purchased the Collaery Estate before it was sold to the Commonwealth and 28 acres from the Estate of the Late Hannah Frost.
When Wollongong Council first discussed with the Commonwealth Government the purchase of the former Collaery Estate now owned by the Council they verbally negotiated with the Government’s representative to re-purchase their land at the sale price, but when the sale was finalised the Commonwealth Government was only prepared to give Council first offer when the Commonwealth Government decided to dispose of the land.
A section of Puckey’s Estate was also required by the Commonwealth for a sewerage treatment works but that was later abandoned when the Water Board built a sewerage system for the town of Fairy Meadow. The Council strongly objected to the purchase of any part of Puckey’s Estate.
Negotiations for the purchase of the land took a while but the Commonwealth Government urgently needed immediate access to both properties to finish design plans and to commence site preparations and building operations so at least 1 unit would be ready to receive the next intake of British migrants and their families expected in April 1951. Both the Wollongong Council and the Executors of the Frost Estate agreed to allow immediate access and they were paid rent by the Commonwealth at 4% of the final purchase price. Final approval for the purchase of the land did not occur until 5 December 1951 and it was not until mid 1952 that final payment for the purchase of the land was made. For part of the former Collaery Estate now owned by Council, a payment of 7,000 pounds was made and to the Frost Estate (Edward, Adam and Matthew Frost) a total of 3,000 pounds 11 shillings and 5 pence was paid. A completion return to the Department of Immigration dated 16 November 1953 advised that in all matters in the connection with the work or service requisitioned by the Department of Immigration for the acquisition of the site at Balgownie for the “British Migrant Hostel” had been completed. The approved amount of 11,000 pounds was recorded on the return with the completed cost registered as 10,420 pounds 18 shillings and 6 pence that accounted for the acquisition of sites and buildings.
When the Collaery Estate was purchased, Frank Collaery was allowed to remain on his property as long as he wanted but had to pay rent. There was also a current grazing lease between Frank Collaery and Mr John Summers which was still in place when the Collaery Property was sold to Wollongong City Council. A more detailed history is available at History of the Land Acquired for Migrant Hostels.
Although located at Fairy Meadow, the hostel was called Balgownie Migrant Hostel. At the time when the Balgownie Migrant Hostel was established, the nearest railway station was called Balgownie. This railway station opened in 1887 and was first known as Para Meadow but when more and more parcels ended up at Parramatta, the PMG renamed it Balgownie Railway Station as there was already a town called Fairy Meadow located near Canberra (at Queanbeyan). The railway station was therefore named Balgownie, taking on the name of the nearby, former, Balgownie Estate to avoid confusion. In 1955 the Canberra suburb of Fairy Meadow was changed to Mt Fairy and Balgownie Railway Station was changed to Fairy Meadow Railway Station. For a further 12 years the hostel remained known as Balgownie Migrant Hostel and it was not until 1 July 1967 when it was renamed Fairy Meadow Migrant Hostel. By this time the prosperity of the suburb of Fairy Meadow had overtaken that of the village of Balgownie, particularly as the suburb of Wollongong began expanding northward.
Planning for hostels that were to be built, adapted or acquired by the Commonwealth Government for British Migrants and their families followed some twelve months of experience in the construction of Migrant Hostels to accommodate Displaced Persons. That time allowed the Commonwealth Government to be able to observe their operation and put into practice what they had learnt about building and operating migrant hostels during Stage 2 of the Hostel Building Programme.
The design of all Commonwealth Government Hostels throughout Australia for British migrants, under Stage 2 of the hostel building programme differed from the design and materials used at Unanderra Hostel. Firstly, newly erected hostels during Stage 2 of the building programme used Nissen and Quonset Huts now that a surplus of these huts had become available. They were cheaper than the timber-built hostel and the use of Nissen and Quonset huts took pressure off using building materials that were in short supply. The Commonwealth Government also determined that the British migrant hostels were to have a defined set of scale and standards that resulted in some improvements in furniture and fittings more befitting for migrants from Britain.
Configuration for bed capacities in Nissen accommodation huts to allow for different sizes and make up of families were also provided to accommodate singles, married couples with children, married couples with one child, married couples with older children or married couples with young babies or married couples with older children of different genders.
The proposed planned configuration for Balgownie Migrant Hostel Nissen accommodation huts was:
Unit 1 Block A: Huts 1-28 Two bedroom cubicles; Huts 29 & 30 three bedroom cubicles; Huts 31 & 34 two bedroom cubicles; Huts 35 & 36 three bedroom cubicles.
Unit 1 Block B: Huts 1-28 All three bedroom cubicles.
Unit 2 Block C: Huts 1-32 All two bedroom cubicles.
Unit 2 Block D: Huts 1-32 all 3 bedroom cubicles.
Unit 3 Block E: Huts 1-51 All one bedroom cubicles
Unit 3 Block F Huts 1-55: all one bedroom cubicles.
Nissen Huts that were configured for 1 bedroom cubicles had interconnecting doors (this allowed use of the 1 bedroom cubicle huts to be converted for families if needed). Two and three bedroom huts usually had a lounge/sitting room in addition to the bedroom cubicles and had a partitioning wall in the centre of the hut to allow for two family units per 2 or 3 bedroom Nissen Hut.
Other proposed specifications included a handyman’s room, bicycle shelter, kindergartens, infant feeding and laundry facilities for all family hostels, as well as a section of the standard dining room for children past infancy to eat their meals, served from one of the two standard bain maries. Hostel groups were to have a recreation room (and stage) in one of the units, and it was advised that there was no need for large recreation rooms for each unit designed for family accommodation. Recreation halls were needed in the non-family hostels. Recreation rooms floors had to be suitable for dancing. First aid huts or sick bays were to be provided in each Group hostel in the proportion of 1 to every 100 migrants. Standards were also set out for the Quonset accommodation huts used for managerial staff with each to be supplied with blinds. The Balgownie Hostel’s Manager’s Residence was located at 11 Cowper Street Fairy Meadow. The land upon which the Manager’s Residence stood was part of the land acquired by the Commonwealth Government for Balgownie Hostel but was fenced off from the Hostel with entry to the residence from Cowper Street only, thereby outside of the Hostel boundary. More information can be found in the publication Commonwealth Government Migrant Hostel Schemes.
On 29 September 1950 the contract was officially let to Concrete Constructions Pty Ltd for the erection of Balgownie Migrant Hostel at Fairy Meadow. Balgownie Hostel became the second Commonwealth Government Hostel to be constructed in Greater Wollongong and would become the largest and longest operating Commonwealth Migrant Hostel in Wollongong.
The acquisition of land at Berkeley and the construction of a British Migrant Hostel there ran almost concurrently with the acquisition of land and construction of the British Migrants Hostel at Balgownie. Both Balgownie and Berkeley Hostels were constructed during the continued housing shortages and cuts to proposed importations of pre-fabricated houses, however, the increase of migrants to the Illawarra would provide labour to industries and public works and contributed greatly to the increase in the construction of homes in the district, as well as Australia.
But construction of the two hostel units at Berkeley and the three hostel units at Balgownie Hostels were delayed owing to three main factors: shortage of labour, shortage of materials and financial constraints.
Local residents were disturbed by the construction of the Balgownie Migrant Hostel. Mr John Summers who had the grazing lease began to lose cattle because of a broken fence along the boundary line. Three of his cows died and it was determined by a vet that they were poisoned. Mr Summers alleged that because of the broken fence his cattle had wandered onto the Hostel building site where they ingested something poisonous. Unfortunately for Mr Summers this matter took some time to be resolved. First the Commonwealth and Council argued about who actually had taken on the grazing lease after the property was sold to Council and then sold to the Commonwealth. Then the Commonwealth tried to deny responsibility because it had no record of any lease. The lease between Summers and Collaery dated 1936 was eventually located and the Commonwealth Government undertook to have the fence repaired but denied that any poisons were in use in outdoor areas that could have been ingested by stray cattle. Finally, the Commonwealth was left in no other position to recompense Mr Summers for his cattle and vet bill, if nothing more than a show of good faith.
The increase, weight and volume of traffic on Cowper Street during construction had rendered the southern end, which had no foundation, into a series of holes and with no footpaths forced the residents to use the roadway. The resident’s representative, Mr V. Jamieson wrote to the Mayor, Alderman Dawson, asking to have the road repaired. The Council forwarded this letter with a formal request dated 6 November 1950 for the Commonwealth to repair Cowper Street.
Mr Josef Jelinek, a civil engineer who also migrated to Australia, purchased his home on the Corner of Cowper Street. In 1952 he wrote to the Department of Works to have his drainage system connected to the Hostel’s sewer system. When the Manager’s residence was built the construction of this house had caused a change in the run of surplus water and this made it difficult for Mr Jelinek to get the slope in the opposite direction to Cowper Street. The Commonwealth determined that in fact his property was better off in terms of drainage and denied his request as this would set off a dangerous precedent. Mr Jelinek’s property was on a corner block but with the purchase of the land by the Commonwealth Mr Jelinek’s block no longer remained a corner block. He requested his entrance gate be re-aligned and this was agreed by the Commonwealth.
The Balgownie Migrant received its first intake of British migrants and families in April 1951 but the entire construction of the hostel complex was not yet completed with just enough accommodation and amenities to be able to accommodate the first arrivals. It was anticipated that it would not be until the end of 1951 that construction of Balgownie Migrant Hostel would be completed and capable of accommodating a total of 1,200 people.
It was not long after the arrival of the first groups of British migrants who were accommodated in Commonwealth migrant hostels, that protests began about the living conditions at the Hostels. The new British migrants decided to take their protest, via a delegate, to the Minister for Immigration, Harold Holt, on 2 July 1951.
At Balgownie the protests were about the poor standard of food, no amenities provided for residents, lack of nutritious meals for children, poor lighting throughout the camp, the generally bad conditions at the camp and a new, higher tariff that was to be charged from 1 July 1951. The British migrants claimed that many of them were falling ill and they attributed this to the unhealthy conditions at the Hostel. One hundred and two residents of the Balgownie Migrant Hostel had signed a petition which read: “We, the undersigned, protest against the increased tariff to be imposed from the 1st July 1951, until such time as facilities in this hostel are greatly improved and brought up to the standard promised us whilst in the United Kingdom”. All the signatories were members of the British Migrants’ Association. The British Migrants’ Association was formed at Meadowbank Hostel. There was division between the British migrants at Balgownie about the protests. A statement was given to the South Coast Times which had been signed by 24 British Migrant families reaffirming their confidence in Hostel Management, it read: “In view of the derogatory statements which have been made to the outside public and press regarding conditions in the above hostel, we, the undersigned, wish to make it known publicly that the opinions expressed by some residents of the hostel are not the opinions of the whole community and that we wish to disassociate ourselves from any malicious talk that may be spread by certain residents. We would take this opportunity of thanking the citizens of the Wollongong area for their kindness and hospitality and also of reaffirming our confidence in the management of the hostel.”
When it was claimed that recent heavy rains had flooded the Balgownie Hostel area and it was under water, a reporter from the South Coast Times newspaper went out the Hostel to investigate and reported that the flooding story was incorrect, but the grounds between the huts were quite boggy making it difficult to negotiate to and from the accommodation huts. There were about 300 British migrants living there at the time with a communal kitchen and dining room and communal ablutions and laundries.
On 13 August 1951 it was reported that ten additional British families had arrived at the Balgownie Hostel on the previous Tuesday with another ten families on the Wednesday. They had to be accommodated in incomplete units and were without certain necessary amenities. The camp resident numbers were growing rapidly as work continued on the building of Balgownie Hostel.
On Thursday 4 October 1951 an article written by a reporter appeared in the local paper. This reporter visited Balgownie Migrant Hostel to investigate complaints about food and conditions first brought to the attention of the public and media in June. There were about 700 people reported as living at Balgownie Hostel; men, women and children. The reporter found among the British migrant residents that some were satisfied but others were decidedly not. When the reporter left the Balgownie Hostel he left with the impression that the Hostels were a ‘necessary evil’ and should be eliminated from the Australian way of life as soon as possible. He also felt that some of the criticisms by the Hostel residents were warranted, but also found management and staff frequently have their own problems and annoyances. The only solution to the problem was to build more houses as quickly as possible.
A special meeting by the migrant residents at Balgownie Hostel was called for on Sunday, 13 July 1952 to discuss the refusal to pay their tariffs if the Hostel lighting arrangement was not improved. The decision was made as a culmination of residents’ feelings towards the recent drastic cuts in lighting and power. At this stage about 25% of the families had already refused to pay the tariff while a greater number paid, but only under protest.
A mass meeting of 200 British migrants was held at Balgownie Hostel on Sunday 23 November 1952 in protest of the placement of foreign, single, male, migrants into British Hostels and against evictions of British migrants from Commonwealth Hostels. British migrants were being evicted for the non-payment of tariffs charged for living at the Hostels. British migrants from Unanderra and Berkeley Hostels were also present at the meeting. Similar protests over evictions were being held at other Hostels throughout Australia.
Evictions did occur, and not only at Balgownie Hostel. In June 1953 families, including children, had been forcibly removed from Balgownie Hostel who 4 weeks earlier refused to pay for their meals because they were cooking their own in their huts which was not condoned by the Hostel management. State and Federal Police were called in to evict the families. Again in July, 59 migrants at Balgownie were given eviction notices. More information of these evictions can be found in “Timeline of Migration History”.
Another protest occurred in December 1952 this time against the temporary accommodation of Australian Waterside Workers in a part of the Balgownie Hostel. Balgownie Hostel was only two-thirds occupied, but the objection was pertaining to the fact that they were single men living amongst British families.
But there were many other fun and happy events that occurred at the hostels which probably far out-numbered reports of protests and complaints. A fancy dress parade and afternoon party for children organised by Hostel Management with assistance from the Migrants was held at Balgownie Hostel on Saturday, 14 February 1953. About 200 children participated. On the same evening a St Valentine’s Day Ball was held for the adults in the Recreation Hall with about 300 people in attendance. By March 1953 there were approximately 218 families at Balgownie. Proceeds from a ball held on 1 June 1953 was used to purchase Coronation souvenirs for the hostel children.
By November 1953 there were only 560 people, including Waterside Workers, living at Balgownie Hostel with vacancies for 160 families and 60 single men. The population at Balgownie Hostel had been steadily decreasing owed to the lack of migrant intakes caused by a downturn in employment.
Women migrants accommodated at Balgownie Hostel staged a protest in March 1958 over better living and hygienic conditions. More than 200 women took part in the demonstration in the playground area of the Balgownie Hostel. The spokesperson for the women, Mrs J. Kennedy, said that conditions at the Hostel had deteriorated rapidly over the past six to nine months. There was only one dining hall and 1,357 people, including babies, had to eat there. It was far too small to adequately cater to the large number of people now living at the hostel. They had asked for two more dining halls to be opened but nothing had been done because according to management there was insufficient hostel staff to run additional dining halls and kitchens. The women claimed some children were suffering with malnutrition, ringworm and impetigo, and with other contagious conditions and infections that had become prevalent throughout the hostel.
Over the weekend of 30-31 October 1954 typists and executive officers volunteered to cook and prepare meals at Balgownie Hostel because of a caterer strike over staff issues. The volunteer staff members from Commonwealth Hostels Ltd were rushed by car to Balgownie Hostel because of the expected arrival of a large intake of British migrants.
By May 1956 there were about 3,000 meals a day being served at Balgownie Hostel. Four hundred families were living there, a total of 1,150 men, women and children. The Balgownie Hostel had been operational for five years and the manager was Mr Claude Kelly. There were 92 on the staff at the Hostel. A youth leader organised activities for young people and language classes were conducted twice a week to teach English to European migrants.
The Hostel was no longer a British migrant hostel centre but accommodated migrants from many diverse nationalities because migration agreements between Australia and countries other than Britain had commenced. About 90% of breadwinners of the families living at the Hostel were employed at Port Kembla Steelworks. Many migrants had passed through the centre with most remaining in the district.
By September 1961 a total of 14,000 people had pass through Balgownie Hostel. It now accommodated some 1,900 persons all in family units. Some stayed a few nights or weeks while others remained for months and in some cases two or more years, particularly families with a large number of children because housing for large families was more difficult to attain. Young children made up a large proportion of the Hostel population and many attended nearby Towradgi Public School. Balgownie Hostel had contributed much to the growth of Fairy Meadow and surrounding suburbs and schools.
In October 1964 Balgownie Hostel experienced one of the biggest single intakes of migrants for some time when 106 British migrants arrived in Wollongong as a result of an intensive recruiting drive in Britain undertaken by staff from AI&S. Another 131 British migrants were due the following week and by 31 October 1964 a third group arrived.
The Commonwealth Government embarked on an Australia-wide hostel modernisation programme and in June 1967 announced that a major modernisation programme at Balgownie Hostel would be carried out in the 1968-69 financial year. Balgownie Hostel was given a face lift as part of the modernisation programme. The barbed wire that surrounded rows of tin “igloo” huts was taken down, removing the concentration camp atmosphere. Plans for the Nissen Huts to be to be removed and replaced by brick units were underway. At the same time, the manager of the Balgownie Hostel and South Coast Area Manager for Commonwealth Hostels Limited, Mr Roy Gray, announced that from 1 July 1967 the Hostel would become known as Fairy Meadow Hostel to bring it in line with the neighbourhood and make mail deliveries easier and quicker for the hundreds of migrants living at the Hostel.
In September 1970, when Unanderra Hostel was closed, Fairy Meadow Hostel became the sole Commonwealth Government Hostel operating in the area. Berkeley had been closed about a year earlier. The 125 migrants at Unanderra Hostel were offered accommodation at Fairy Meadow Hostel while Commonwealth Officers tried to place others into housing. Fairy Meadow Hostel was now able to accommodate 1,800 people but only 1,100 were living there at the time. The flow of migrants to the South Coast had slowed down. With the introduction of an accommodation advisory service in 1967, hostel stays for migrants had been reduced from an average of 48 weeks to 16 weeks. Only one Commonwealth Hostel for migrant accommodation was now needed.
Tenders were called in early 1971 for the construction of new brick accommodation blocks to replace the old Nissen Huts at Fairy Meadow Hostel. Land for a 150-bed block at Fairy Meadow Hostel had been cleared for the new type of hostel accommodation. The building plan proposed was for an accommodation block that would have two, three or four bedroom flats each with their own bathroom and toilet and outdoor living area in the form of a patio and central heating. The master bedroom would be a bedsitting room. Cooking and dining facilities continued to be communal. By the later part of 1970 Fairy Meadow Hostel had accommodation for 1,500 people but there were only 600 migrants living there.
By early May 1972 there were about 690 migrants living at Fairy Meadow Hostel that comprised of 170 families of 23 nationalities.
Following a visit in December 1972 to Fairy Meadow Hostel by the Federal Minister for Housing, Mr Johnson, the decision to remove the remainder of the Nissen and Quonset huts was made. During his visit Mr Johnson had said “the Nissen huts must go”. It would be a few more years until the building of the new accommodation would be completed. He visited again on 15 June 1973. A decision had now been made to improve and expand the Fairy Meadow Hostel with a 400 capacity new style accommodation project that was to be completed in three stages. The $1.3 million re-housing project was programmed to commence in February 1974 and would eventually replace the Nissen Huts.
From about 1972 many of the buildings at Balgownie Migrant Hostel had become ‘surplus to requirements’ and were recommended ‘for disposal’. When recommended for ‘disposal’ this meant that they could be transferred to another hostel or government organisation, privately sold or demolished. Other buildings needed to be removed to allow for the construction of the new, modern, brick accommodation hostel and units.
Of the 182 accommodation huts that remained at Fairy Meadow (Balgownie) Hostel, 118 had been auctioned, with a further 54 sold in January 1974. The auctioneers were Kings Real Estate from Wollongong and involved buildings from B, C, and F Blocks.
Some huts were bought for nothing more than one dollar. Many huts would be re-purposed by the new owners as tool or hay sheds. Wollongong Council had always considered the huts to be unsightly and would not allow any of the huts sold to be erected within a defined area in the Wollongong district.
The Migrant Education Television Unit at Wollongong moved into Unit 1 Kitchen/dining hall as well as Buildings 7 and 8 in 1974 to use as a studio for their television programme “You Say the Word”. Modifications to the buildings were undertaken to make them suitable for filming and taping the show. By August 1974, having been damaged by vandals, a 6 foot cyclone fence was built around the METV buildings.
By January 1974 the first stage of the $1.3 million rebuilding programme had been completed but there was a delayed start to the 400 bed replacement programme. Treasury gave its approval to increase expenditure from $1.3 million to $1.974 million in a letter dated 3 May 1974 based on the project proceeding on a hostel/flat configuration to provide 150 hostel type beds and 250 self-contained bed units. The new accommodation was designed specifically to facilitate later conversion to self-contained flats for non-migrant use. The rebuilding programme was interrupted because of the tapering off of migrant numbers and the change to the migration scheme where large numbers of unskilled migrant workers were no longer being recruited. Therefore, it was decided that the existing modern accommodation at the hostel was sufficient to meet the then current migrant accommodation requirements and the proposed continuation of the modernisation rebuilding project at Fairy Meadow Hostel was halted until such time migrant intake numbers increased. By July 1975, Hughes Bros Pty Ltd of Port Kembla were awarded the contract to build the $969,146 brick and concrete buildings. On completion, expected to take 18 months, it would bring the total capacity of the hostel to 300 people. Two new buildings were constructed. The buildings were two or three storeys and comprised of 40 two and three-bedroom units and bathrooms. To a certain extent the Fairy Meadow Hostel rebuilding experience was an experiment and the results were taken into account when consideration was being given to the modernising other Commonwealth Hostels such as Pennington and Walcol and the conversion of the existing hostels at Villawood.
By 13 December 1974 the Balgownie Hostel had the capacity to accommodate 700 residents in the following new brick accommodation and existing Nissen accommodation huts: E Block 150 beds in new brick buildings; D Block 350 beds Nissen Huts (built 1951); and, F Block 200 beds Nissen Huts (also built 1951).
F Block was recommended for disposal once occupancy levels decreased as they were in a very poor substandard condition and far too costly to repair and maintain. Towards the end of 1974 there were about 150 people living in F Block.
On 28 June 1978 the first group of Indo-Chinese refugees, arrived at Fairy Meadow Hostel and began a new life in Wollongong.
In August 1982 the Illawarra Ethnic Council appealed to the Australian Government not to close the Fairy Meadow Migrant Hostel. There were 100 men, women and children who had been told they had to leave the Hostel by September. The Hostel authorities had decided Fairy Meadow Hostel was no longer viable or practical because Wollongong’s steel industry was too depressed to absorb any more migrant workers. Forty Hostel staff members were to be retrenched as a result of the impending closure. Alternative uses were proposed such as a youth refuge, aged people’s accommodation, or a women’s refuge. By October 1982 the Federal Government was still not sure if the Hostel would be needed again for accommodation purposes and decided it would remain idle and the land and buildings not sold until a review migrant accommodation needs was completed. It was not unusual for a migrant centre to close then re-open if the need arose. The usual practice if the Federal Government had no further need of a hostel was to first offer land and buildings to the State Government or Local Council.
With the impending closure of Fairy Meadow Hostel, requests were made for the use of the accommodation buildings. It was towards the end of the May 1973 when the Member for Macarthur, John Kerin, MP, first asked that consideration be given to making the Fairy Meadow hostel site available to the University of Wollongong for student accommodation. Students were later accommodated in parts of the Fairy Meadow Hostel and the accommodation buildings at the site were then managed by the University of Wollongong.
By December 1983 the Illawarra Housing Community Trust requested the Federal Government rent them the Fairy Meadow Migrant Hostel to be used as low-cost housing. The former Fairy Meadow Hostel was officially handed over to the Illawarra Community Housing Trust on Monday 6 February 1984 where 32 family units were sublet to people desperate for housing. They occupied the brick units that had replaced the Nissen Huts.
In May 2002 Wollongong City Council and the University of Wollongong squared up for a brawl over the illegal demolition of the remaining Nissen and Quonset huts at what was the former Fairy Meadow Migrant Hostel now used by the University. The demolition of the huts by the University in December 2001 had outraged heritage experts who claimed the Nissen Huts were the best examples of the huts that housed thousands of migrants post World War II. Their demolition went unnoticed for about four months. The University had no authority to demolish the huts and the University’s action had staggered heritage experts who thought that the University should have known better and would have had an interest in local history. The University’s representative had no idea if the University had the necessary council approval for the demolition but said they were demolished because they were in a shocking condition and raised safety concerns.
The vast majority of the Nissen and Quonset Huts had been demolished by the Commonwealth prior to the University gaining control of the site in 1987, however the University had also demolished a number of huts since it had taken over the site.
By April 2003 there were five remaining Huts at the site of the former Fairy Meadow Migrant Hostel. The University intended for them to be removed or destroyed to make way for the University’s new campus. Wollongong Council resolved to move three of the huts but at the time had not determined where to move them. A public meeting was convened by the Migration Heritage Project with Wollongong City Council, the University of Wollongong and members of the community to exchange views on how a large part of Illawarra’s history would be lost forever if the huts were to be demolished or even moved from their original site. This meeting, together with lobbying from heritage consultants, played a role in broadening the understanding of Illawarra’s migrant heritage and of the value in saving the remaining Nissen and Quonset Huts.
Six years after the remaining Nissen Hut and two Quonset Huts were recommended to be listed on the NSW State Heritage Register, they were officially added in August 2009.
As of May 2022 the remaining huts from the former Balgownie/Fairy Meadow Migrant Hostel on the NSW State Heritage Register consists of a Quonset Hut (Building 201), which is the largest of the remaining buildings and originally used as the kitchen/dining hall for Unit 1. It was re-used at first as the Science Centre then as a childcare centre. It is still in use as a childcare centre operated by the University of Wollongong. A former Laundry (Building 204) is a Nissen Hut and is now used as the University of Wollongong Alumni Book Store. A former Staff Residence (Building 210) is another Quonset Hut and is not used for any specific service.
The former kitchen/dining hall hut has not been moved and remains in situ when first erected in 1951. The exterior of the Kitchen/Dining Hall remains very much like it looked when first constructed. The interior is very different with all the dining hall furniture replaced by little table and chairs for the children and a mezzanine level has been constructed inside at the rear of the dining hall.
The other two huts, a Nissen and a Quonset hut, were relocated from an area within the confines of the former Balgownie/Fairy Meadow Hostel to sit beside the kitchen dining hall. These two huts are not entirely visible from Squires Way being obscured by the larger Quonset kitchen/dining hall. The University of Wollongong made repairs, painted and placed the two smaller huts on berms to prevent flooding episodes damaging the huts. There are cement ramps and railings leading to the two smaller hut, neither of which were part of the original hostel. The owners of the huts (University of Wollongong) are bound by the NSW State Heritage regulations when making any alterations or repairs to these buildings.
The University of Wollongong was never prosecuted for the illegal demolition of the huts.
In 2020 the brick units first used to accommodate migrants then students from the University of Wollongong, located nearest to Squires Way, were demolished by the University.