Finsbury, later known as Pennington, was the longest running of South Australia's hostels. In 1985 communal living facilities were closed, Nissen huts were dismantled, and the ‘new Pennington’ began the transition to independent family units.
'Purpose built' to house migrants, Finsbury was made up of huts constructed on site out of galvanised iron and corrugated asbestos, Nissen huts and Romney huts from England, and Quonset huts from Manus Island. These military buildings were used due to the acute shortage of building materials. The site was divided into five sections, each with a capacity of 400, which opened at different times depending on demand. People were allocated sections of the huts, divided to create something like flats. Rooms were simply furnished. There were communal buildings for toilets, showers, laundry and dining, and large Nissen huts were also used for recreational activities such as dances, sporting activities and film nights. The hostel was renamed Pennington in 1966 due to a change in postal boundaries. In 1980 it was referred to as the Pennington Migrant Centre. While Pennington hostel closed most communal facilities in 1985, and staffing structures and services changed at this time, the site continued to house newly arrived migrants into the 1990s. During this time self-contained family units were built. The old accommodation huts were gradually closed as more units were built. In October 2013 the City of Charles Sturt officially re-opened the Pennington Gardens Reserve on the site of the former hostel.
We had a bed/settee, for the wife and I, and the children had little single beds each, little steel beds they were. They had a wardrobe, a little narrow wardrobe in each of the rooms and the first thing we bought, as every migrant did I think, was a Sunbeam frypan and a fan, and then we got a kerosene heater. Jim Rowe, Finsbury hostel 1958-1961, interviewed 2013
Finsbury, later Pennington, was home to people from a range of countries during its long life. Residents included Displaced Persons (DPs) from a variety of European countries, assisted migrants from Britain and Europe, European refugees (such as those fleeing Hungary in the late 1950s and Czechoslovakia in the late 1960s), South American refugees, Indo-Chinese refugees (from Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia), and refugees from the Middle East and East Timor. The hostel was also used at times to accommodate people other than migrants, such as evacuees after Cyclone Tracy in Darwin, Defence employees, apprentices working at local businesses, a visiting Aboriginal football team, and the South Australian Police Rifle Club. The vast majority of residents, however, were migrants.
There was a busy social life at the hostel, including sporting events, youth clubs, dances, and films. Various community groups were active at Finsbury or Pennington, including the Good Neighbour Council, Country Women's Association, Young Men's Christian Association, Young Women's Christian Association, Girl Guides, Scouts, a variety of religious organisations including Toc H, and, in the 1970s, the South Australian Red Cross and Indo-China Refugee Association. Those administering the hostel faced numerous challenges. The first group accommodated were all men, Displaced Persons sent to South Australia from Bonegilla in Victoria. Almost immediately there were reports of the men asking for their wives and children to be sent to join them.
In 1951 the Government attempted to move Displaced Persons out of Finsbury to make room for British migrants. The residents protested, sending representatives to Melbourne to plead their case. Later in 1951 British migrants complained about food and conditions, and many refused to pay extra charges. This led to rent strikes in 1952. The dispute dragged on into 1953 when the media reported several families returning to Britain. Tensions over other issues occasionally came to a head, with thefts, violence and property damage reported intermittently in the newspapers. In the 1970s hostel management also clashed with the Indo-China Refugee Association, evicting them from an onsite office. Despite these ongoing issues, Pennington was also a first home, a meeting place, and a hive of social activity. It was home to some famous South Australians, including former Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Lieutenant Governor of South Australia Mr Hieu Van Le.
The Advertiser, 20 December 1950, 'Finsbury hostel for UK migrants', p. 12
The Advertiser, 6 April 1951, 'Nissen-type huts for Finsbury hostel', p. 3
The Advertiser, 23 July 1953, 'Complaint by migrant denied', p. 2
The Advertiser, 11 December 1954, 'Migrants to have bright Christmas', p. 13
The Advertiser, 15 December 1954, 'Christmas parties for new Australians', p. 23
The West Australian, 9 April 1949, 'Big building plans for migrants', p. 2
Agutter, Dr Karen, research notes, Hostel Stories project, the University of Adelaide
Migration Museum, Hostel Stories: Migrant Lives, Finsbury/Pennington information sheet.
Migration Museum, research files, Finsbury/Pennington, Hostel Stories
State Library of South Australia, OH 948, Hostel Stories Oral History Project, JD Somerville Oral History Collection, 2010 - 2017