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.

Janet 's picture
Janet says:

Most interesting,I left England ,sailed on the SS Strathaired in April 1955 and lived with my brother Stephen,Mum and Dad. my maiden name was Morley.
We live in the Finsbury hostel and attended
Pennington school, until dad's work found us a home in Adelaide.
We returned to UK in 1958.

Anne Gowin's picture
Anne Gowin says:

My husband’s family lived in the Finsbury Hostel for a short time in 1950 after coming from Germany. Do you know what the cost of the rent would have been for a family of 2 adults and 2 children in 1950 please?

Christine Stockall 's picture
Christine Stockall says:

Hi l was at Pennington primary in 1969 my teacher was Mr Jamieson

Catherine Manning's picture
Catherine Manning says:

Thanks for sharing here Paul

Paul Watkins's picture
Paul Watkins says:

I was at the pennington primary school from 1966—1970. We lived in the hostel there for a couple of years, i think. Funny to think that we were at the same school!

Catherine Manning's picture
Catherine Manning says:

Thanks for sharing your story Michael, it sounds like quite a journey.

Michael Brice's picture
Michael Brice says:

My family of Father, Mother, and three children left the UK on Christmas Eve 1956 and arrived on Australia Day 1957. Dad had been sponsored so was at work the next day. As an 8 year old I remember Finsbury Hostel as being hot with masonite clad walls in the tin huts, and needing to walk across large drains to the cafeteria. My parents bought a block of land in Tea Tree Gully and we lived in a caravan and tin shed there for a while. Unfortunately my parents split up soon after and so followed a saga of custody battles and fostering before my Mother led us through a series of rented rooms until we were allotted a Housing Commission place in Blair Athol in the early 60s.
We have all made a life for ourselves - I finished a long career in the Navy in March this year. I am the only one of our family to have returned to the UK and then only as a visitor. All in all, I am very grateful to my parents for taking up the challenge of coming to Australia and giving me a life I could not have imagined if we had stayed in the UK. Mum died aged 96 on Christmas Eve; 65 years to the day since we left England and not one moment of regret. With sincere thanks.

Val Watkinson (nee Paterson)'s picture
Val Watkinson (... says:

On the 8th August 1951 my parents and their four children sailed on the TSS Cameronia from Glasgow. We arrived in Melbourne about the 12th September and after buying a new pusher for my brother, went by train to Bonegilla where we stayed for about two weeks. Still love that countryside. Then we joined more of our shipmates and journeyed to Adelaide and the Finsbury Hostel where we stayed for 14 months. We went into section 4 on arrival which still had brown paper walls half way up and my sister and I used to talk the boys (age 6 & 7) next door through the holes! We moved later to the renovated blocks in Section 5. The people mum and dad met became life long friends which also made up for our famlies at home in UK. My sister and I went to local schools, dad got a job at Tecalemit and was pleased with the weekly wage. Later Dad bought a block with a temperary home on Hanson road opposite the oval and later we moved to Northfield. This was all on the outskirts of Adelaide and there still farms in the areas. Mum and Dads have lots of Aussie descendants scattered around Australia and they later lived in Canberra and explored much of the country as retirees. Mum treated living in the hostel as a camping time, they established a library using the drawers to store the books. The main downside was no flyscreens so lots of mossie bites, no air con in those days and my bedroom became part of next doors 'flat'.

Jane Burlingham's picture
Jane Burlingham says:

He Norma
I would love to see your photos of Pennington Hostel. We lived there for a year in 1968. I was just 7 at the time and we went to Pennington school. As kids we loved it but it was a bit grim at times. My parents took no photos unfortunately.
Best Regards

Catherine Manning's picture
Catherine Manning says:

Thanks for sharing your story Roy.

ROY's picture
ROY says:

yes as a 12 year old it was a shock to find out what we lleft in the uk to a tin hut to live in my family arrived 60 years ago next week and we started to settle in a family of six then my fathers job was woking away and was made redundent so for the govt to help our famiy they took my brother and myself out of the family home and placed us on diff farms to work but no contact with family for 12 months but didnt do us any harm though my parents moved on to gepps cross hostil ROY WOODWARD's picture
bburton@history... says:

Hi Norma,
Thanks for sharing your story! In the 'links' section above the comments you can find this Flickr group where people have shared images, we would love you to share yours:

Norma Brink's picture
Norma Brink says:

My parents, sister and I sailed on the Strathaird to Finsbury Hostel 1954. Dad couldnt find work and he ended up in northern Australia working in uranium mines. We were there until we returned to Uk in 1956 on Orsova. I have lots of photos of the hostel . My maiden name was Chapman if anyone is interested in photos let me know. Our neighbours were mostly from Netherlands.

Catherine Manning's picture
Catherine Manning says:

Thanks for sharing your story Sue.

June Simons's picture
June Simons says:

I would love to be in touch with Janet Thank you

Catherine Manning's picture
Catherine Manning says:

Thanks for sharing your memories June.
We can forward your request to get in touch with Janet if you like.

June Simons's picture
June Simons says:

With my husband, 3 sons and daughter I lived on penington hostel for a few months fr on end of Sep 1974. Children went to local school, hubby got a job and I wor ked on the hostel. We were there when the cyclone hit Darwin and lots more people had to be accommodated. We moved off soon after as considerable unrest became the norm. Enjoyed our stay and made good friends.

Alberta Simons's picture
Alberta Simons says:

Are you the same Janet who had mum Pam, sad and a sister who moved to Elizabeth

June Simons's picture
June Simons says:

Hello Janet. Are you the same Janet who lived at Elizabeth SA with mum Pam, dad and sister?

Catherine Manning's picture
Catherine Manning says:

That's amazing that you're still in touch Geoff. It must have been an interesting introduction to Australia at that time.

geoff screen's picture
geoff screen says:

Mum Dad and the 4 children arrived at Adelaide on the RHMS Britanis 1st August 1971 and we had a few months at Pennington I met a lot of migrants there and even to this day I keep in touch with a majority of them.Mum and Dad managed to rent a house in Para Hills for about a year and then bought one in Modbury North great times had by all I become a member of the Para Hills Community Club and I still am a member there which is 45 years ago Australia is a great country.

Janet Redman's picture
Janet Redman says:

We arrived from England in September 74, and lived at the hostel until February 75, went to the local school just outside the gates. We were housed in one of the Nissan huts and I remember eating in the dinning hall.

Christopher Joseph Barnes's picture
Christopher Jos... says:

There must be a load more photographs sitting around people's homes of the migrant camps. We really need to post these on this site before we are all forgotten by time.

Catherine Manning's picture
Catherine Manning says:

Thanks for sharing your experience David.

David Martin's picture
David Martin says:

We arrived from Belfast in early 61 and stayed in the hostel.for 5 weeks prior to going up to Whyalla. My Father had already travelled up to commense work in the Shipyard. We came to Pt Adelaide on the P&O Liner ORONTES. We walked down to Port Adelaide docks.

Catherine Manning's picture
Catherine Manning says:

What vivid memories Robert. Thank you for sharing.

Robert Lemar's picture
Robert Lemar says:

Lived there for a few months in 1958. Great place for kids (I was 5). Walked to the nearby primary school. Our family was grateful for somewhere to stay until we (my patents) found our feet. Biggest memory - the Italian migrants playing "Volare" loud and non stop!! Always fond memories. We found a house to rent in Clarendon and to us that was heaven! (still love the place).

Catherine Manning's picture
Catherine Manning says:

What an experience Sally! Thanks for sharing.

Sally Lawrance's picture
Sally Lawrance says:

Mum, Dad, my sister Diane & I arrived in late 1959 & were given one of the tiny flat-roofed huts. The floor was bitumen & you could just squeeze the beds into the bedrooms & not much else. When the summer came the fridge sank into the bitumen floor- no aircon of course in those days. If you wanted to make a cup of tea, you had to turn off the fridge first or the fuses blew & showers were in the concrete shower block at the end of the row of huts. All meals happened in the nissan hut canteen & the ground all around the huts was barren. We had no swings or grass or trees that I recall & it was hot, hotter than anything we had known in our lives. The contrast with the UK was total.

Catherine Manning's picture
Catherine Manning says:

That house must hold some amazing memories Dave. Thanks for sharing your story.

Dave Holliday's picture
Dave Holliday says:

We arrived on what was the Strathmore's final journey in October 1961. WE supposed to go to Melbourne, but Dad was told there was more work in Adelaide. So we got off. That was bull, and Dad was out of work for 8 months. We stayed on Finsbury Hostel for a year, and then we bought a house in Pooraka. It was the one and only house Mum and Dad bought in December 1962. Mum passed away in the house in April 2010.

Catherine Manning's picture
Catherine Manning says:

Thanks for sharing Geoff!

Geoff Bell's picture
Geoff Bell says:

Left England 50 years ago this month. Arrived at Pennington hostel with mum, dad and six siblings as first generation migrants. A bit of a squeeze in the old Nissen hut #13. The Aussie dynasty mum and dad created lives on with us living in different parts of Oz to this day.

Catherine Manning's picture
Catherine Manning says:

Thanks for sharing your story Belinda.

Belinda Buttigieg's picture
Belinda Buttigieg says:

Our family of four arrived in June 1966 at Pennington. I was 8 at the time, dad had work as a bricklayer for 6 months. I don't recall much about this place. We had travelled for 4 long weeks on a ship, arriving in Melbourne on my birthday. We then boarded a train, which looked like a cattle train, heading to South Australia. I remember the countryside was endless, with areas of barren land and then green areas. I know that my older brother & I attend school in Woodville Nth Schools. After the 6 mths dad moved us all to NSW, to a place called Villawood into another hostel. Within the year he had managed to buy his first home in Australia.

Catherine Manning's picture
Catherine Manning says:

How old were you Gary? It sounds like it was an interesting journey for your family.

Gary Clarke's picture
Gary Clarke says:

Hi Barry,
We arrived at Finsbury Hostel as a family of 5, Mum, Dad and 3 sons in February 1958. My Great Aunt Ella lived in Kilburn at the time and some 30 years later I lived in Galway Street Kilburn for 15 years. We came from Manchester and sailed on The Strathnaver's final journey on its way to be scrapped in Japan. :-)

Catherine Manning's picture
Catherine Manning says:

Thanks for sharing Barry.

Barry's picture
Barry says:

Arrived in 1954 on the Strathnaver from devestated London as a 7yo. Stayed for 7 years befor moving to Kilburn. Very charactor building time of life. Enjoying life outside of Gawler SA

deborah elizabeth fleming nee wilson. 's picture
deborah elizabe... says:

almost sure our family arrived at pennington hostel 20th August 1966 father derek john wilson arrived with 4 children. i would like to get some information on the hostel

Catherine Manning's picture
Catherine Manning says:

Thanks for sharing your story Christopher. Did the other half of your family go back or were you referring to your travels? It must be an emotional tug of war having family elsewhere.

Christopher Barnes's picture
Christopher Barnes says:

Our family arrived from Birkenhead, via London, in December 1964 as 'Ten Pound Poms' and we stayed for a short while at the Finsbury/Pennington Migrant Hostel in Adelaide before happily moving to Williamstown in the Barossa Valley and settling in SA permanently. I was only a bewildered one year-old accompanying my older brothers and both parents to seek a new life in sunny South Australia where my earliest influences were of camp beds, Nissen huts, ablution blocks, large canteens, migrant families and exploring new vistas in the colourful countryside of Australia which became my true homeland despite my adventurous world travels. Half my family members remain in Australia with lives and families of their own in a land that continues to hold opportunities for the adventurous and hardy individuals.

Add your comment


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