Opening later, and established in more permanent buildings, Woodville appears to have offered a slightly higher standard of accommodation than most of the earlier migrant hostels.
Woodville hostel started life as a private residence, was converted to become a hostel for munitions workers during the Second World War, and operated as a YWCA hostel in the 1950s and 1960s before being used for migrant accommodation. Several former residents remember the nineteenth-century Tenterden House, which along with two two-storey units, formed the main hostel complex.
In the late 1960s, when the Elder Park hostel was dismantled, staff and fixtures were transferred to Woodville. Bedrooms were small and basic. Families were placed in ‘suites’ with connecting doors. Bathrooms and laundries (including an ironing room) were communal. Unlike other hostels, the 180-seat dining room at Woodville featured table service. Residents were called to meals by a bell. The Department of Immigration had an office on site to assist newly arrived migrants.
Woodville had a large garden and a playground for children. The buildings also included seven lounge rooms, two for adult use with televisions, one for children and four for ‘general relaxation’. There were no recreation rooms or child care.
The site of the former Woodville hostel is now covered by the Queen Elizabeth Hospital car park.
I remember the grounds vividly, which were absolutely beautiful. I remember sitting out on the seat that was under this huge tree and somebody brought me a peach … I’d never ever tasted a peach like that … It was just gorgeous with the children. Elaine Henderson, Woodville hostel 1972, interviewed 2013
Residents at the Woodville Reception Centre included migrants from Britain, Canada and the United States. Most were recruited for government employment, including a number of teachers employed by the Education Department. Others had come through the State House Purchase Scheme. A state government report in 1975 describes Woodville hostel’s residents as largely professionals (doctors, teachers, professors and others) recruited under the skilled migration scheme.
The Good Neighbour Council of South Australia gave the Woodville hostel a good review in its ‘Newcomer’s Guide to South Australia’, describing it as short term accommodation housing mostly British migrants. By the mid-late 1970s residents at Woodville came from a range of countries, including Malaysia, India and South Africa. At the request of the Commonwealth Immigration Department people migrating through the Fairbridge Society, usually single parents, were also housed at the Woodville hostel.
When there were fewer migrants arriving, the Woodville hostel was used to house school children visiting Adelaide from the country. Cyclone Tracy evacuees were housed temporarily at Woodville hostel from late 1974 to early 1975.
While official reports and written records paint a glowing picture of Woodville hostel, life there was not without its challenges. At least one letter from a disgruntled British resident survives in State Records of South Australia, humorously criticising the hot food served in mid-summer when temperatures were above 35 degrees.
Migration Museum, Hostel Stories: Migrant Lives Woodville Hostel information sheet.
Migration Museum, research files, Woodville Hostel, Hostel Stories
Pilla, Daniella, research notes, Hostel Stories project, the University of Adelaide
State Library of South Australia, OH 948, Hostel Stories Oral History Project, JD Somerville Oral History Collection, 2010 - 2017