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The Wacol Migrant Hostel

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p37ap45bp45aWacol Hostel 1965
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p47bp38bp29bP48b (Feb 66)
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After spending ten days at Yungaba, we were finally transferred to the migrant hostel at Wacol.

This was a place where many migrant families lived after arriving in Australia, until they were able to find a job and get a place of their own.

Our first few weeks in the hostel were in a hut made out of corrugated iron, called a “Nissen Hut”. It looked like a tall skinny galvanized iron rainwater tank, sliced down the middle, and turned on its side. They were cast-offs from the Second World War, and made for cheap housing for new arrivals.

After that we were moved into nicer accommodation in wooden huts.

My memories of the hostel are a bit more coherent than my earlier ones:

As a three year old, my first memory of a childcare centre occurs at this time. It was in one of the Nissen huts. Lots of kids were standing around painting on butchers paper attached to easels. I can remember painting just what I felt like – just enjoying splashing the paint on paper. Some of the older kids were painting recognizable things – square shaped houses with triangular roofs, cars with wheels that had spokes in them. I think it was around this time that I started losing that innocent artistic quality that artists speak about where kids forget how to paint what they feel, and start trying to paint like everyone else.

Later I remember going to childcare in a wooden hut. We called it “Nursery School”. Sometimes we’d play on the swings outside the hut, and sometimes inside, sitting at little tables, or playing on makeshift slides setup indoors, presumably when the whether didn’t suit going outside.

The playground was surrounded by (what seemed to me) to be a huge mesh-wire fence. The gate had a curved metal latch on top – so you couldn’t open it unless you were really tall.

I remember queueing up in a “canteen” for meals with all the other migrants. The strong odour of cooking smells, stews, vegetables, custard, and tasting milky tea out of brown/gold china mugs. In the warmer months they had big industrial sized fans on stands that would blow the air around to keep us cool.

I also remember lots of British mums with their kids on the hostel. Many of them were very unhappy. Some of them were really friendly. One lady who I remember as “Mrs Jackson” had a Christmas tree in her hut. The tree seemed huge to me. It was laden with presents and candy canes in its branches. This must have been in December 1965. Her hut seemed magic to me.

I remember mosquito nets in our hut – obviously there to protect English skin that wasn’t used to mosquitoes! My net had a small hole in it that I could poke my finger through.

I remember a small tin bathtub that mum used to wash me in, so that I didn’t have to go up to the shower block at night time.

And I remember dad’s “Rock Garden” at the base of the stairs leading into our wooden hut. I often sat on these stairs, and remember having some of these photos taken on the stairs – especially the one where I’m sitting next to Karen.

Wacol was miles from anywhere. If you walked out the front gate, there was a highway. There were no houses, just an army barracks on the other side of the highway. The only way out, was to buy a car, catch a bus that occasionally came to the hostel, or walk down to Wacol Railway Station, and catch a train into the city.

I remember catching the train into the city with mum after walking down to Wacol station. The manual wooden boom-gates had to be dragged by hand across the road when the train was due, then dragged back across the railway lines to let the cars through.

The city was a magic place, with tall buildings, wind blowing paper up into the sky, crowds of people, and trams. The trams had wooden slat seats, open windows, and leather straps hanging from the ceiling. And sparks used to fly from roof attachment that drew their power from the overhead cables. All these pictures are still there in the recesses of my early memory.

Here’s some of mum’s recollection of the time:

Because I was pregnant we were the first family to be moved to Wacol hostel. We didn’t really know what to expect. It was situated near bush land. Across the highway from it was the army barracks. We were taken there by taxi. It looked very much like an army camp. There were a lot of wood huts also Nissan huts. They were made of corrugated iron, had doors at each end and usually housed 2 families. This was our first home.

The problem was if you were in one room you would have to go out side to access the other room. This meant one of us had to stay in the room with the Neil & Karen at night, in case they woke up. It was also very cold at night. I honestly had no idea that it got cold in Australia! I was very naïve.

Life on the hostel took a bit of getting used to. Meals were served in a large canteen not an ideal place for a young family. A lot of children were unsupervised. We had to queue up, cafeteria style for our meals. The food was okay, but if you didn’t like it well there was nothing else. The washing was done in a communal laundry, which consisted of 4 laundry tubs, scrubbing boards and a few gas boilers to boil your clothes in. No washing machines or clothes dryers in those days. There were clothes lines near the huts but you had to share them. So a lot of time was spent waiting to do your washing and then finding some where to hang it up to dry. You also had to keep an eye on it in case the washing disappeared!

There were also shower blocks male & female. That was another shock to the system. Not a great place to take small children to get washed. We were supplied with a small tin bath, so mostly we washed the children in the bath in the hut. How ever there was no water connected to the huts, so we would have to carry water back from the laundry. There were a few taps near some of the hunts. This was cold water, so we would have to heat it in the electric jug. When I look back now, it was really quite primitive. It was also very confining transport wise. After a few weeks we bought our first car a Consul.

39 comments to The Wacol Migrant Hostel

  • Louis Toorenburg

    Hi,

    We arrived in Wacol Hostel in September 1961 and left about 2 years later in 1963 and moved to Inala, we stayed longer in the hostel than most as my father was one of the cooks in the kitchen, he worked there for about 8 years before opening his own cake shop in Goodna. Have many fond memories of the place, lots of kids from all over the globe to play with. The forts we built on the open land. The play battles we used to have with different nationalities, my little 2 year old brother getting hit in the head with a rock during one of these battles and requiring stiches. The shower and toilet block. The possum family that lived at the top of the furnace to keep warm, the tame kookaburra that used to visit us. My fathers first car, that rolled down the hill because he forgot to put on the hand brake and rolled into a neighbours hut.

    Good reading of your recoleections

    Louis Toorenburg

  • G’day Louis

    Thanks for adding your memories of the hostel. You must have been a bit older than me when you were there – it sounds like you remember a lot more. Your dad was probably still cook there while our family stayed in 1965/66.

    Neil

  • Louis Toorenburg

    I have many memories about Wacol, I remember the school in the campground I had to go to, I think the teachers name was Mr Michell, didn’t know any english when we arrived, but within 3 months we had become quite fluid, and went to Goodna Convent after that, the nuns were horrible, used to get the cane a lot because I couldn’t spell and if you got less than 5 right out of 10, you got the cane for each one you got wrong. Meanwhile I earned lots of holy pictures because I got 10 out 10 for maths. I remember at time using the shortcut via the rail workers camp to go to Wacol railway station, something we weren’t alowwed to do, but collecting beer bottles on the way, to buy lollies or fireworks from the shop at Wacol. My father worked as a cook there for 8 yeaqrs before he opened his own cakeshop in Goodna. We were lucky fdad used to bring home all the toys out of the Cornflake packets, that we put together, we got trainsets, old cars, strange animals etc.. Is there a way to upload photos, I have a few from my Wacol days

  • Kevin Brett

    Hi Neil,
    Just looking at some of your pics of the hostel and I realised you must have been next door neighbours to us. In the pic showing the two types of huts with the toilet block in the background we were in the hut to the right of your mum, on her left. I was 15 at the time so a bit older than you but no doubt we would have seen each other. We left in ’66 and lived in Sherwood before moving to NZ in late’66.
    So nice to see the old huts, they bring back so many fond memories for me. So many friends that have now grown old but are still young to me.
    Thanks for the memories.

    Cheers

    Kevin

  • Kevin Brett

    In that photo your mum will be looking almost directly at our hut, slightly to her right. It was the washing one I was thinking of, excitement got the better of me. I can remember running into those washing lines while running round like idiots at night, bloody hurt too, they were just at neck height when pivotted just right, the managers revenge,lol. I’m in Brisbane on holiday at the moment and was dismayed to see that all signs of the hostel are gone, just the old sewage plant left I believe. Sad in many ways, so many good memories.My mum was May Brett, my dad was Bill. He spent a lot of time travelling looking for work. Sadly they have both passed away now. I have a brother who would have been about 7 at the time, he was known as Bimbo but his real name is Tony. You may have known him. If I can recall any more I will let you know. Great to talk to a fellow P.O.M.E from Stalag Wacol. lol

  • ken slater

    My family and I spent 7 months at wacol migrant centre in 1963. My late mum worked in the childcare centre till she passed away in 1970

  • Hi Neil

    Great to read your blog, and see the pics and comments from others about the Wacol Migrant Camp. I had forgotten about the corrugated huts, and didn’t know they were called Nissen huts. The O’Leary family, with 5 children arrived 24th October 1961 and we were there until late 1962. We occupied an entire hut, first in M Block and later in K Block closer to the canteen. There was a recession at the time, but luckily Dad too landed a job as a cook on the camp. Mum took over from another lady as the camp tobacconist. My sister and I delivered the daily newspapers to the camp residents. Just last weekend I took a nostalgic tour of the area and was pleased to see the Brisbane City Council have turned the rear of the camp into a reserve: Wacol Bushlands. I was able to walk along the road I traversed many times in bare feet to and from Darra State Primary School, more than 50 years ago! The only difference being it comes to the Remand Centre with a sign saying; “Keep Out Prison Property” and the buildings are hidden behind fences topped with razor wire. Would love more pics if you have any. Thanks

  • Elizabeth O'Leary

    Hi Neil, I’m Michael’s sister,Elizabeth,the one who used to deliver the newspapers on the camp with him. I remember balancing them all on my head as I did the round each day on M, L and J blocks and to where the administrative staff lived. I think I got the idea for balancing them on my head from a lovely Hungarian woman, Eidelweiss, who used to carry all the food for her parents, 3 sisters, a brother and herself, (from the canteen to their hut on M block) balanced on a tray on her head. How she did it, I don’t know, but she even carried billy cans in both hands, at the same time.
    I remember we arrived at the camp at night on a bus from the docks. We were taken, first of all, to the canteen where we had a lovely cup of hot chocolate and a piece of cake. We were then taken over to hut M14, later transferring to a hut nearer the canteen and the “new” washrooms. I remember Wheeties for breakfast: does anyone else? Also, really good packed lunches were provided for us school children, in brown paper bags. I can’t comment on the laundry facilities (although I’m sure I would have washed some of my clothes) but as a teenager (I was 14 when I arrived), I really enjoyed being on the camp. I remember one of the wives of a camp official, opening the wire mesh door of her hut on Easter Sunday, 1962 (just after I’d delivered their newspapers) and giving me a bunch of bronze chrysanthemums. I was thrilled.I also spent a couple of weeks or more in about November and December, 1961, stamping all the new towels and sheets with the camp logo. There were loads, of course, filling the nissen hut. The staff used to give me cream buns at morning and afternoon tea breaks. This particular nissen hut was not far from the recreation hut where we used to play ping pong and meet up with other teenagers in the evenings. I was interested in Louis’ comment about his father being a cook on the camp from 1961-9. As Michael has already mentioned, our Dad (Robin O’Leary) was a camp cook, too. I remember an Italian cook who worked with Dad as I was quite friendly with his son, Luciano.
    I hope others come across this site as I would love to read other people’s memories, too, and may even remember the people writing them.
    Thank you, Neil. I’m glad you thought of this.

    • G’day Elizabeth

      Thanks for sharing your memories of Wacol. What an amazing place, with so many different cultures 🙂

      I’ve tried to revisit a lot of places from my childhood to try and refresh my memory. Sometimes it works. But it’s such a shame we can’t do that at Wacol, because they put a jail there. That’s why it’s so good to read other people’s accounts of their experience there.

      Best wishes.

      Neil

  • Eugene Butkowski

    We arrived by ship (Fairsky) in 1963. There was my dad, mum, my brothers John (deceased), Nigel and sisters Elaine and Charlotte, my brother Julian was born at Wacol. (There is also Andrew and Natasha). I used to sell papers at the canteen and over in the Army camp over the highway. Attended Goodna State School and we eventually moved to Acacia Ridge and then Inala. I have so many fond memories and experiences from Wacol. I often wonder what happened o all my friends from the hostel.

  • tommy hay

    i too have fond memories,we arrived from Scotland..off the fairstar liner in april 67..our first home and introduction to Australia..we lived on site for six months [seemed likie ages back then] but I remember canteen meals,walking to Wacol station,or even down by the railway lines to Darra…mamy friends too but lost contact…it seemed primitive at times,and meeting the aussie insects ….what memories,

  • anne gray (nee muston)

    my family were there about 1961—i was only 8 but i remember lots of it, the bush and avoiding the tramps on the way to the swimming pool nearby.
    a girl that used to dance as a ballerina in a large hut.
    getting the cane at the convent (for nothing!!!).
    lots of freedom that would be unheard of these days.
    some sadness—a friend died in a cave in.
    also the strong smell of ddt for the mossies!

  • anne gray (nee muston)

    by the way i remember the jackson family–there were about 13 kids.

  • Bruno

    My family arrived to Wacol on the 20th January 1983. We had no english and was hard for my parents. On the other hand, although not easy, we kids found that the Community Centre ran within the grounds, and the nature that surrounded us, gave us a way to escape reality, play and grow up.

    I have good memories of this place, although I hated it for what it was, the destination after leaving my home.

  • anne gray

    stayed about a year.
    then we moved to inala.
    after a year there dad moved us to new zealand where we have all remained.

  • anne gray

    i had an italian friend at the camp-maria–often wonder how she got on

  • Elke Sander

    I arrived with my parents and two siblings in December 1976 from Germany. It was very hot and steamy. We were placed in a wooden hut. The nights in that hut felt very uncomfortable in those huts. We met another German Family and we are still friends with them. Except for a little discomfort of sleeping in those huts we really enjoyed the food. One night when we were at dinner, plates were stacked up so high that the whole stack collapsed, leaving nothing but broken plates and cutlery on the floor. After a couple of days in Wacol Immigration Hostel we were placed in a Commonwealth Housing Estate in Wooloowin.

  • petrus.Janssens

    We arrived from Maastricht Holland in 1961 and arrived on the 16/Jan/1961.My mum and dad had 9 kids and we found it not so good but we did ok soon.One thing was the food it was shocking but that’s all we had and sometimes my friend and me boiled eggs in a washing machine in the laundry and that was because he stole the eggs from his mother that kept chooks but she could not keep them but she did.We were there for 12 months before mum and dad rented a house in West End.I didn’t mind living in the camp but my mum hated the food so we had to get out.I just wonder does anyone know us?Our name is Janssens.Hope someone knows.Thank you

  • steve Trude

    I arrived by plane on my own as a 12 year old in 1967 to join my Dad Frank the builder..some may remember him as he had a bad car crash and was in a plaster cast from his waste that covered his head after he broke his neck in a crash in Inala, he still worked and looked like an egg..we lived at C27 and i built a boat outside the hut as I was chucked out of Oxley state high..I had a brother bernie who was very popular and returned to england on the ill fated Fairsea whos captain shot himself and the boilers blew up leaving bern and the others adrift..(the good old days eh)..we stayed in c27 for just over 2 years but returned as there was not enough medical insurance but we built a big brick house out side bribane…I remember the bake bean sandwiches in brown bags with a piece of neoplitan cake and an orange..does any one remember Sam the old night watch man with his ex service revolver..or my once sweet heart marilyn dregmans in the shop..when we were there they put sinks in the huts with running water..it does seem a shame its all gone now and all the people I new that wacol love it or hate it, it was a part of the aussie adventure that pwrsonally as a kid i loved..

  • Vitas Kiausas

    My parents and I were accommodated here in the early 1950,s.I am only vaguely aware of my experiences here as I was 3 years of age.

  • Gary Tangeman

    Hi Steve Trude.
    It was an interesting time for all of us.
    I think you were the boy I met at Wacol Hostel.
    Yes if it was you, I remember us arriving in 1969 and there was a boy building a boat.
    I made some comment that did not come across to you and you were slightly defensive about your
    boat building.
    I think it was the language barrier that caused it, me being from holland, and I think you were english.
    Anyway Thinking back, I thought at the time you did a great job, considering you had no work shop to work in.
    I would like to correspond with you and talk about those time/s etc.
    I am married, have three grown up daughters and live on the sunshine coast.
    Email address chriztec@bigpond.com

  • Gary Tangeman

    Hi Steve Trude.
    It was an interesting time for all of us.
    I think you were the boy I met at Wacol Hostel.
    Yes if it was you, I remember us arriving in 1969 and there was a boy building a boat.
    I made some comment that did not come across to you and you were slightly defensive about your
    boat building.
    I think it was the language barrier that caused it, me being from holland, and I think you were english.
    Anyway Thinking back, I thought at the time you did a great job, considering you had no work shop to work in.
    I would like to correspond with you and talk about those time/s etc.
    I am married, have three grown up daughters and live on the sunshine coast.
    Email address chriztec@bigpond.com

  • cait wildman

    Hi there. wow you all have such amazing memories. I was a worker at Wacol in late 1980’s when the Vietnamese refugees where there. Then they started coming form South America.
    Do any of you know any people who would have been there then? I’m writing a short story and some facts would be handy.

  • Sonja

    My parents and eldest sister came from Denmark in 1957. My brother was born whilst they lived at the Hostel.

  • Louis Toorenburg

    Now nearly 5 years later after leaving the first comment on your site. Mum and Dad have passed on Mum in 2007 at 83 and Dad in March last year age 89. Their 5 kids are doing well. I remember taking the shortcut, not allowed by my parent through the railway workers camp and picking up beer bottles that I used to cash in for a 1/2 penny, used to get quite a few, which I bought sweets or fireworks at the shops near the railway station. Caught the train to Goodna to go to the Catholic School (St Francis I Think) Used to also sometimes walk to Darra using the shortcut through the migrant camp, there was a back entrance gate, which used to also go past some tin shanty type huts where some aboriginals used to live. Does anyone remember those??? I can remember playing war games and we built our own huts, ours was dug out of the ground like trenches and tin placed over the top for a roof. Other nationalities children had their own huts. My baby brother 2 years old still bares the scar on his forehead from one of the battles when he was hit in the head with a rock, needed stitches. Found this picture in my dads stuff from when we arrived in Australia, was in the Courier Mail, which recorded our arrival and on the way to Wacol Hostel, hope it works https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10153039414111800&set=t.771366799&type=3&theater

  • Hi Louis.
    I’m sorry to here the bad news.
    That’s fascinating about the aboriginal camp.
    The Facebook photo doesn’t work because the privacy isn’t set to public. If you email it to me I’ll share the photo here. (mail at neilennis dot com)
    Neil

  • Cindy

    I was there from November 1972 to probably March 1973. We did have a sink with running water.

  • Elaine

    Hi There,
    My parents Ray and June Musgrove brought my brother and i from England by plane in 1979, i was 4 at the time my brother was 7. I remember the heat, as we arrived in November of that year. We were placed into a wooden hut. I remember the canteen. I also remember we must have been there for a couple of years as they moved us from the hut to a block of brick units, which was so much better. We then moved to Inala. I would love to find out if anyone was in the camp at the same time, and if they knew my parents? As my parents passed away when i was young, not much memories as i was so young.

  • Rosemary Anita Riddle

    We came to Wacol in 1961 immigrating to Australia from England on the Strathnaver as 10 pound poms. It was the ships last voyage after which the ship was scrapped. Our journey over was not the best as our cabins where way down in the hold and it was just so.. hot. On arrival in Brisbane we likened Warcol to a concentration camp made of corrugated iron after leaving our lovely new Council house in South East London it was a backward step. Many of my friends and their families were terribly unhappy at Warcol a few went directly back to England using all they had to get back home. My family and I only stayed a couple of weeks at Warcol as we had the money to rent a house in Fairfield. I was the only one working to bring in some money at the time I was 18 years old. My dad was a bricklayer but found a job in an abattoir all he could get. My mum found a job in a rag factory ripping up rags. We felt we had been brought out to Australia under force pretences really as it was nothing like what was portrait at Australia House London. As a family we never settled in Australia and after saving up for two years so not to pay the government back! we saved enough to make another new life in New Zealand where we all live now.

  • Steve TRUDE

    Hi Louis Toorenburg,

    I remember the old tin huts at the back entrance to Wacol just set back a bit in the bush from the path which I believe went to Darra, there were others on the otherside of the railway tracks with piles of stubby beer bottles out side..me and a couple of boys from the Hostel plucked up the courage to approach the ones over the railway tracks as we believed the old swagger men who lived there had blunderbusses and would shoot us…We stayed a while and spoke to one of them who was shaving and getting ready to go into Brisbane he told us they were old railway workers huts…(we never got shot)

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