About 26,000 Displaced Persons and assisted migrants passed through the ‘migrant camp’ at Woodside. Its isolation and limited public transport frustrated many residents, but some remember the beauty of its location.
Several sections of the Woodside army base were converted to house migrants. It was initially planned to convert two areas of the existing camp to become a holding centre, where women and children would stay when accommodation for them was not available where men were sent for work. However, as Australia’s intake of Displaced Persons increased rapidly and government struggled to house and process all the new arrivals, Woodside was expanded.
An afternoon tea, concert and craft show arranged by the new residents officially launched the immigration reception and training centre at Woodside in June of 1949. There were 1,000 migrants at the event.
The army continued to occupy part of the camp, and residents remember children collecting empty bullet shells from the firing range. The sleeping huts were converted barracks, some dormitory style and some divided into bedrooms. The camp was run as five blocks, with a kitchen and supervisor for each block. As at other hostels, facilities including ‘mess rooms’, laundries, linen stores, showers, and toilets were communal. There was a canteen, recreation hall and cinema facilities. The hospital had three sections: maternity, general and children. A crèche and baby clinic were established in 1951. There was a primary school at the camp, and high school students attended the Oakbank area school.
There is still an Army base located at Woodside. In recent years the nearby buildings at Inverbrackie have been used for the detention of asylum seekers.
I loved Woodside Camp and had a very happy childhood there, even though I was aware that my father wasn’t living with us, because he was working elsewhere, and that my mother wasn’t at home because she was working. Krystyna Pindral, Woodside 1950-1955, interviewed 1994 for Boatload of Dreams
Woodside Camp was a concentration camp but there was no barbed wire. The accommodation was worse because in the concentration camps they had wooden floors but we had no heating, nothing. Only we were free and we had enough food. Otherwise it was awful - for four years and two months. Ryszard Kazimir Kobylinski, Woodside 1949-1954, interviewed 1994 for Boatload of Dreams
Large numbers of Displaced Persons from across Europe were accommodated at Woodside hostel. Among the first residents were people from the Baltic countries (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania), the Ukraine, the former Yugoslavia, Hungary and a significant number of migrants from Poland. German was the most commonly shared language and signs were posted in English and German. Assisted migrants came from a range of countries including Holland, Greece and Italy.
While a number of families were housed at Woodside on arrival, the camp also operated as a holding centre for women and children. In 1951 The Advertiser reported that over half of Woodside’s 1,700 residents were children and that Woodside had one of the highest birth rates in Australia. Another article claimed A migrant baby is born every other day at the Woodside migration centre.
There was a Catholic chaplain based at Woodside hostel. Visiting priests also delivered services in a variety of languages and to more than one denomination.
Films were shown regularly on site. Displays of craft, a ball and various other events were held to raise funds for amenities. Organisations including the Good Neighbour Council, Red Cross, Young Women’s Christian Association, Boy Scouts and Girl Guides were extremely active at Woodside hostel.
The Woodside United Soccer Team was almost undefeated in 1949, with players from six different countries taking on South Australian teams in the local competition. Both soccer and Australian rules football were played at Woodside hostel.
In 1959 numbers were dwindling at the then Woodside Migrant Accommodation Centre. The government briefly considered housing British migrants at the site, however, it was decided that it was not suitable and instead continued to house European migrants until 1963.
Agutter, Dr Karen, research notes, Hostel Stories project, the University of Adelaide
Migration Museum, Hostel Stories: Migrant Lives, Woodside Hostel information sheet.
Migration Museum, research files, Woodside Hostel, Hostel Stories
Murphy, Catherine, Boatload of Dreams, (Adelaide : United Trades and Labor Council (SA), c1994)
State Library of South Australia, OH 948, Hostel Stories Oral History Project, JD Somerville Oral History Collection, 2010 - 2017