Industrial sites and immigrant architectures. A case study approach.

By Anoma Pieris, Mirjana Lozanovska, Alexandra Dellios, Renee Miller-Yeaman, Erik Eklund, David Beynon, Richard Tuffin

This article has been accepted for publication in Fabrications, The Journal of the Society of Architectural historians, Australia and New Zealand, 29: 2, 2019, 257-72. Published by Taylor & Francis.

Anoma Pieris, The University of Melbourne []
Prof. Anoma Pieris, Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning, The University of Melbourne, VIC 3010.

Mirjana Lozanovska, Deakin University []
Associate Prof. Mirjana Lozanovska, School of Architecture and Built Environment, Deakin University.

Alexandra Dellios. The Australian National University []
Dr Alexandra Dellios, Centre for Heritage and Museum Studies, School of Archaeology and Anthropology, ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences, The Australian National University, Room 3.35, Sir Roland Wilson Building, 120 McCoy Circuit, Acton ACT 2601.

Erik Eklund, Federation University of Australia []
Prof. Erik Eklund, School of Arts, Federation University of Australia, Centre for Gippsland Studies, Gippsland campus.

Renee Miller-Yeaman, The University of Melbourne []
Renee Miller-Yeaman, Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning, The University of Melbourne, VIC 3010.

David Beynon, The University of Tasmania []
Associate Professor David Beynon. Architecture & Design | School of Technology, Environments & Design, College of Sciences and Engineering, Inveresk Campus, Locked Bag 1323, Launceston TAS 7250.

Richard Tuffin, University of New England []
Dr Richard Tuffin, Research Fellow, School of Humanities, University of New England, Armidale, NSW, 2351.


Migration labour history linked to industry and national growth and how it intersects architectural narratives is yet to be comprehensively explored for the Australian context. The ephemerality, lack of authorship and generalised or prefabricated nature of industrial sites prove challenging to architectural historians, as do labour histories and experiences in such sites. However, sites such as these are significant for temporal transformation of physical places, and the subjectivity of those persons largely unrecorded in authorised histories. The sites and their physical structures and landscapes come to stand for architects, their works or their reception. Greater historical forces can be traced through changes to these sites.

This forum invited contributions on environments that accommodated immigrants to Australia, the industries that employed them, and the architectural, landscape, and urban spaces that were transformed by their presence. We asked for brief discussions of key case studies (or building types) that might provide a foundation for developing this area as a subfield within architectural studies. Contributions were asked to cover, but were not limited to, immigrant hostels and reception centres and detention facilities, industrial sites, infrastructure projects, manufacturing, farming, mining, or commerce. We asked contributors to identify the immigrant cultures and nationalities linked to the selected sites and the migrant centres and residential neighbourhoods of their domicile. We invited contributions that consider Anglophone and non-Anglophone migrants as well as recent refugee and immigrant arrivals in Australia, limiting our selection to the Australian geography. Our aim was to deepen historical understanding of the larger collectives who are typically excluded from architectural histories, rather than individual refugee or immigrant architects or their custom-designed buildings. The several discursive contributions that follow offer innovative explorations of how these neglected spaces and people might enter architectural histories.

Part of the complexity of histories of labour migration, industry, and architecture is its various scales, and this includes spatial scales of geographies, distance, mobility, and localities, but it also includes transnational capital, global economies, and those scales related to the migrant and their historical inheritance – kinship, communities (physical and virtual), and family. The contributions below unfold this discussion on industrial sites and immigrant architectures, providing approaches to this architectural history offered by the particularity of the case study. The fields of enquiry extend to Migration Acts and policies for national growth (Dellios, Miller-Yeaman) as well as to oral histories, to the monolithic  structures inserted into picturesque rural landscapes, as well as to narrative and fiction informing history (Pieris), to the diverse networks of immigrant workforce that transform locality and unsettle any quaint notions that might be associated with that term (Eklund, Lozanovska), and the ongoing yet discontinuous temporal inscriptions that animate existing architectures producing new spatial environments (Beynon). From the realities of the spatial constructions accommodating immigrant labour, the architectural history of industry should not stop at the systematic, machinic, robotic, or flexible economies of production and its modernising agenda, but open onto questions about how such architectural histories are contingent on the capacities of labour migrants, as individuals and as collectives.

The architectural history of industry must also provide an account for the trans-national texture to its modernising programme brought about by labour migrants from a vast array of source countries. The resulting ethnic plurality of settlements transformed Australia’s cultural foundations, and projected non-Anglo-Celtic futures. Distinctions between Anglo-Celtic and non-Anglo-Celtic migrants are significant, evident in the processes of migration (Miller-Yeaman) and implemented as unequal access to social structures (Dellios) or public housing (Lozanovska), in addition to the profound lack of access to benefits due to lack of English, and the little known illnesses that befell many. Division between one type of migrant and another is evident within the Anglo-Celtic immigrant labour in Australia’s national growth on the back of convict labour (Tuffin). From logging to work in quarries and assigned to the private sector, the corporeal histories of this unwilling workforce are inscribed onto the stone steeples and guard towers of penal sites such as Port Arthur and in the infrastructure/roads that trace the continent.

Migrant Success in Post-war Australia: Camps, Industry and Lived Experience

Alexandra Dellios, Australian National University

The migrant success story is a popular and enduring trope in modern multicultural Australia; but these social histories often focus on the successes of a few—artists or professional figures whose integration into and recognisable contribution to an Anglophone Australia is more easily told than the hardships faced by ordinary refugees and migrants. Focussing on place and place-making offers new histories of migrant mobility and settlement in Australia. For example, how did respective waves of refugees and assisted migrants engage with their physical environments and the constraints placed on their mobility, settlement, and work life? Such a focus may help us to produce histories that examine non-elite contributions, and to consider the lived experiences of those migrant workers and families that came as part of Australia’s mass post-war immigration scheme, a scheme subsequently described as an ambitious and successful exercise in nation building and post-war reconstruction.[i]

An extensive range of legislation and institutions in post-war Australia distinguished and favoured British from non-British (alien) migrants. Assisted British migrants passed through urban (and often better equipped) hostels, rather than large Reception and Training Centres like Bonegilla. The Migration Act 1958 andthe Nationality and Citizenship Act 1948 defined who was considered to be an “alien”: any non-British arrival. The Aliens Act 1947 regulated what this group could do, making it compulsory for all alien residents over the age of 16 to register with local authorities and to report any change of name, address, or occupation.[ii] In combination, these three acts regulated the lives of non-British migrants, setting legislative boundaries intended to contain and control alien cultural norms and social practices, regulating their access to social structures and social benefits, and placing them under surveillance. Understanding this bureaucratic context is also important to understanding their responses and resistance, and migrants’ engagements with their environment.

Australia mandated a two-year work contract as a condition of entry for new Commonwealth-assisted arrivals. These conditions remained in place for much of the post-war immigration scheme, from 1947 to the 1960s. The work contract secured new arrivals subsidised (but still financially onerous) accommodation in Department of Immigration centres across Australia. Migrant men were classified officially as “breadwinners” for their “dependants”. They could be separated from spouses and family when they were relocated to work on remote projects and heavy industry. This included fruit picking in the vineyards of Mildura or Tatura in regional Victoria; working on the Queensland cane fields; labouring on large schemes like the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Scheme, the BHP steelworks in Newcastle, New South Wales, or the coal-fired power stations established by the State Electricity Commission in the La Trobe Valley, Victoria. Men sent to work in these industries were accommodated in men-only workers’ hostels, which were deemed unsuitable for dependants. Workers’ hostels often had limited space and provisions for families, and the standards were below those offered at larger Commonwealth-run centres. Some employers, such as BHP steelworks and NSW Railways, also owned and managed many workers’ hostels. State governments administered some hostels, such as those exclusively for British migrants (accommodated as family units) in urban centres. Dependants (women and children) would find themselves transferred to a holding centre—commonly whichever one was closest to their breadwinner. For example, if a breadwinner was allocated to work on the Snowy Scheme, his dependants would be accommodated at Cowra Holding Centre—over 400 kilometres away. Of course, some families chose to leave hostels and camps and brave the private housing market in an attempt to stay together.

The networks and links between camp environments and federally-funded industry cannot be overstated. The pathways from camp to industry created “clusters” or concentrations of migrant workers and their families in particular regional areas—for example, from Greta migrant centre to the Newcastle steelworks. In some cases, these pathways, as part of a Department-led network driven by industry demands, were longer and multi-nodal—for example, a migrant family could be processed at Bonegilla, transferred to Parkes migrant centre, and then the main breadwinner could be sent to work on the Snowy Mountains.

Oral history must play an important part in recording these social histories—especially if we are to avoid homogenising the experience of ordinary migrant workers in these industrial and regional spaces. In addition to oral histories, memoirs and visual records can provide an intimate view of the transitory and permanent features of migrant life stories, and their processes of adaptation and place-making in both camps and in regional towns close to heavy industry, expanding our understanding of tangible and intangible heritage intrinsic to Australian modernisation.

The Snowy Mountains Scheme: Popular and Spatial Histories

Anoma Pieris, The University of Melbourne

Built in the post war era with immigrant workers from over thirty countries, the Snowy Mountains hydroelectricity and irrigation complex(1949–74)was the last government funded mega project in Australia. The network of sixteen dams, eight power or pressure stations, and twelve trans-mountain tunnels transformed the alpine region and was supported by a vast architectural infrastructure of 121 camps and worksites, the creation of new towns, and expansion of older townships.[iii] Cooma (the Scheme’s headquarters) housed a vast engineering staff. Cabramurra and Khancoban were constructed for the scheme. The inundation and relocation of Adaminaby, Jindabyne and Talbingo reshaped the surrounding geography. A multiscalar architectural study of this project would potentially cut across town planning, housing, and construction work camps, in addition to the more obvious contribution to immigrant place-making. It would include the work of the local and foreign contractors employed in creating these buildings. But at the heart of such a study is the question of how we might spatialise immigrant lived experiences in environments created for labour- accommodation as a constituent part of architectural history.

One approach is to argue for the sheer scale and impact of the project. The scheme employed over 100,000 post-war immigrant workers, from Britain and from other war-affected European countries including Germany, Norway and Italy, alongside Australian and foreign experts. Their experiences are captured in oral histories and popular culture, particularly since the 1970s shift towards multicultural social histories and popular heritage,[iv] but not in many spatial analyses. One of these sources, the popular ditties of “The Settlers”, a group formed by Irish concreter, Ulick O’Boyle, serves as an example of the predominantly male, beer drinking culture associated with camp life.[v] Work was hard and the terrain rough, so the social life of workers, particularly on pay day, revolved around night clubs with sex workers bussed in from Sydney. In the song “The Cooma Cavaliers”, for example – sung imitating the thick accents of the different European ethnicities – “Four Italians, three Germans, two Yugoslavs and me” converge at a bar and are gradually converted to drinking schooners.[vi] As they drift from their more particular cultural songs to familiar Australian refrains, growing ever more boisterous, the Cooma police storm in and arrest them; their pay is spent on bail. These songs and others, many of which follow this theme, would seem light hearted, if not for the shadow of alcoholism on immigrant lives poignantly captured in Richard Flannagan’s The Sound of One Hand Clapping, the story of a Slovenian migrant worker on the Tasmanian hydro-electric scheme; although one might argue that alcoholism was also prevalent in the wider Australian community and that many “new” British immigrants were part of the workforce.[vii]

There are other dimensions to even these simple sentimental ditties. Workers found themselves confronting an Anglophone settler legacy cemented under the White Australia Policy and embellished with the heroism of World War One veterans, in which non-Anglophone immigrants could barely make a dent. This is apparent in the repetitive line “…we may not be diggers but we’ll have you know, we’re digging your tunnels up here in the snow...”, in the above mentioned song. Similarly, the catastrophic accidents that took over a hundred lives are conveyed in “The Dozer Driver Man”:  “... drop blade, change gear, steady now, your waiting time is near, hoist the rock but watch the big cat if you can…” a song about Norwegian, Olaf Groden, a friend of O’Boyle’s who died in an accident while working on the Snowy scheme, among the 121 memorialised at Cooma. The inundation and displacement of Adaminaby, Jindabyne and Talbingo likewise create a poetic undercurrent to the broader narrative of human displacement, captured in “Farewell to Jyndabyne”: “... and they’ll dam the waters from those hills, even if an old man feels there’s things the Good Lord meant to stay – like Jyndabyne, old home of mine.”

The above examples, largely from Anglophone sources, highlight the need to accumulate accounts of the multi-ethnic and multi-lingual communities connected to this site. Although the region became depopulated once the project was completed in 1975, its social subtext of modernisation through immigrant industry persists in social memory and regional identity. We need to be equally mindful of how, by injecting their stories of hard labour in harsh conditions into a nation-building narrative of progress, we may efface the underlying histories of displaced Traditional Owner communities, and ecological disruption caused by the Snowy scheme. Proposals for Snowy 2.0, and expansion of the scheme mooted since 2017, suggest the continuing relevance of this topic, including new awareness of environmental and social costs, posing new challenges to retrospective accounts.

A New Port Kembla? Migration and change in an industrial port community, 1947-1975

Erik Eklund, Federation University of Australia

Post 1945, Port Kembla was on the cutting edge of major changes to Australian society. Waves of migrant workers from Europe and their families flowed into the town. These demographic shifts changed the economic, social, and retail landscape of the town. What had been an overwhelmingly Anglo-Celtic community, with a remarkably self-sufficient town-ship with civic, social, sporting, and political organisations prior to 1945 became one of the most ethnically diverse communities in New South Wales (NSW). [viii]

Port Kembla is an industrial and port town on the NSW south coast. The town developed as a coaling facility in the 1890s. The NSW Government began construction of the port from 1901, and industrial development began in 1908. The Hoskin Steel works relocated from inland Lithgow with production beginning in 1929. The new company, Australian Iron & Steel Pty Ltd (AI&S) was taken over by Broken Hill Proprietary Limited (BHP) in 1935. A commercial and residential area grew alongside the new industries with the first subdivision in 1908, the Wentworth estate. By 1921 the population had grown to 1,622. By 1924 there were already six boarding houses, typically run by women, which provided accommodation for short-term fluctuations in the labour force.[ix]

By 1947 the population was 4,960. As the system of migration became tied to government and company-sponsored programs for workforce needs, large migrant hostels for single men were built in nearby Cringila, and new, smaller, migrant-led private operations emerged.[x] The labour process at the Port Kembla steel works shaped post-war Port Kembla society. There were many jobs available for men. Opportunities for women were limited. Migrant women found their new lives in Australia framed by the domestic space, and to a lesser extent the retail space of Port Kembla. For migrant men the labour market was divided in two. Anglo-Celtic, Northern and Western European men dominated the professional trades, commerce, skilled trades, and occupations. Migrant men from Italy, Macedonia, Greece, and elsewhere were mostly found in unskilled industrial jobs. This was true even when men had skills and qualifications; these were often not recognised in Australia. A work gang of recent migrant workers, led by a leading hand of Anglo-Celtic or Western European origin was common.[xi]

Points of contact between a new migrant and older Anglo-Celtic town were few. The suburban landscape echoed the bifurcation of the labour market divided into skilled and unskilled. Migrant families moved to cheaper housing in nearby Warrawong and Cringila; Australian-born and British-origin migrants lived in the new housing commission suburbs of Berkeley and Lake Heights. New sporting clubs and codes too were often separate. New soccer clubs were set up by migrant fans. Cricket, rugby league, golf, and tennis remained Anglo preserves. The back and front yards of Port Kembla revealed new migrant influence. Macedonian families often kept pigs in their back yards. They grew tomatoes, cucumbers, and chillies. Italian families typically grew tomatoes, grapes, and zucchinis. Europeans more commonly used these spaces for extended family gatherings.[xii]

The arrival of Greek and Macedonian-owned small businesses - fish and chip shops, cafes, and fruit and vegetable stores - on the main Wentworth Street, from the early 1960s, changed the urban retail landscape of Port Kembla. They required small amounts of start-up capital, and migrant families often had existing expertise. In the face of competition from new shopping malls at Warrawong, Figtree and Wollongong, the lower commercial rents at Wentworth Street allowed migrant activity on the main street, despite the not ideal retail location.[xiii]

As a site of industrial and residential growth Port Kembla was at the forefront of nation-wide changes associated with diverse migration. Far from being a small overlooked portion of the urban landscape of the Illawarra region, Port Kembla was very much the focus of a new set of cultural impacts and influences. But what developed was an economic, social, and retail landscape with only tentative connections with the existing Anglo-Celtic Port Kembla.

Ford Geelong [xiv]

Mirjana Lozanovska, Deakin University

Ford Geelong’s iconic image of red brick fa├žade set behind lush palm trees, and gigantic “Ford” sign, is a lived memory for many passing on their way to the Bellarine coastline. An aerial photograph taken after the plant’s opening on 1st July 1925 shows a vast and empty field surrounding the site of this industry. This physical kind of vacancy illustrates how colonial agricultural settlement displaced and erased indigenous industries, and it contrasts the economic vacancy left in the wake of the closure of Geelong’s industries. Behind the front offices, four walls of the assembly plant missing roofs prompted workers to construct makeshift sheds from the crates used to ship parts to the plant from Canada.[xv] In the decades following Geelong would grow around this Ford Complex as it did around the shipping industry, the wool and paper mills, the timber sawmills, and Corio distillery. Industry has shaped Geelong, its agricultural industries continue in the hinterlands of greater Geelong, but it has been manufacturing industries – Geelong Cement Works, Pilkington Glass, carpet factories, and Alcoa Aluminium Smelter at Point Henry – that have shaped the city of Geelong, with immigrant labour providing immense growth in the post-war period.

The recent loss of Ford Geelong has submerged its transnational corporation (TNC) history and how it imported to Australia the tenets of American manufacturing – standardisation, mechanisation, Taylorist scientific management and the assembly line. The Geelong Harbour Trust dredged parts of Corio Bay and constructed a jetty 121x7 metres enabling the largest vessels direct access to the Ford Plant.[xvi] Experimentation between the architect Albert Kahn (see article in this issue) and Henry Ford, in the period 1908–1918, identified the single storey structure to be the most efficient. The extruded mode of the building’s expansion mimicked the extrusion mode of the manufacturing processes of the Ford cars and the modularity and flexibility of the internal layout.

Before closure (October 2016) Ford Geelong was triple its original 1925 floor area to over 37000 metres squared. In 1956 54% of its 4500 strong labour force was provided by immigrants. Russians, Hungarians, Polish, Czechs, and Ukrainians settled in the nearby Corio municipality, often building their own weatherboard houses. Assisted immigrants from the Netherlands, Estonia, and Latvia settled in Geelong, with Grovedale as a German settlement. Until the mid 1970s only the British were eligible for the broadacre public housing built in Corio. An estranged aesthetic of the binding relationship between workers’ bodies and machinery in the Ford Plant is captured in the black and white sharpness of the photographs by the German migrant photographer Wolfgang Sievers (1952 and 1957 series). It defies the smell not merely of oil, but of anti-rust oil, anti-crack oil, or the intolerable white oil and black oil in the press shop, and the burnt oil for spot welding or the smell of petrol in the machine shop.[xvii] And the noise – loud, metallic, and continuous, piercing in the engine shop, with no acoustic protection until well into the 1970s. Ford’s production targets are recollected as the pace of a worker’s labouring body on the assembly line that could “cause a heart attack”. Immigrant workers held onto an unwritten law “we should not complain”, a factory cannot smell like roses, it was clean, and the women snuck out to the bathroom for a break and chat.

Past workers estimated that in the early 1970s 70–80% of workers at Ford Geelong were from Southern Europe. The largest single group, due to an agreement with Australia, were from Yugoslavia – Croatian, Serbian and Macedonian – 2600 of 4100 employees at Ford. A mural on the wall in the foyer of the Ford Plant shows the flags of at least 45 countries of origin. How did these migrant workers settle and shape Geelong? Many would claim that Geelong’s Macedonian community evolved from the employment at Ford Geelong. The post-war period experienced an escalation in dwelling construction – the same number of houses built in the period 1945–1961 as in the one hundred years prior. Macedonian immigrants arriving in the 1960s lived in West Geelong. They modernised run down old workers cottages. Small ethnic businesses in Pakington Street gave the place a European atmosphere. At first McHarrys Buslines, started by a Ford worker, took them to work, and before they could afford a Ford – even with the 22% discount – they car-pooled to work. One past Ford worker has a 1975 V8, a mustang from America, and a V8 Ford Falcon and, like many, is proud of his work at Ford (not yet articulated as a contribution to Australia). Daily interactions between the migrant workers developed into supportive community networks called upon for significant milestones including house building. Many would draw on this network to build new houses in Bell Park and Bell Post Hill, west of the Ford factory.

Villawood Migrant Hostel: Immigration and housing after the Second World War

Renee Miller-Yeaman, The University of Melbourne

The site of the operative Villawood Immigration Detention Centre, located in western Sydney, has a historical connection to the development of industry in Australia from previously being a munitions factory during the Second World War to then become one of Australia’s largest migrant hostels. The hostel provided temporary accommodation for migrants and refugees that worked in the booming post-war industries. Looking at the histories of this single site through its physical incarnations offers slices of Australian immigration histories as connected to economic imperatives through the lens of architecture. Being Australia’s longest running migrant hostel (1949–1984) and one of only two former hostel sites which overlap with adjunct histories of immigration detention, Villawood presents an experimental site which draws together discussions of migrancy with particular attention to the first point of entry for economically or politically disenfranchised migrants and refugees into Australia. Successive waves of immigration from Europe and later from Asia peopled the migrant hostel with nationals from Britain, Lithuania, Poland, and Malta, and later housed Turkish and Vietnamese refugees. The changing spatial and material conditions of the forms of accommodation provided at the site, over thirty-five years, suggest how various programs for housing – such as the camp, motel, house, and prison – intersect in this typology. An approach from architecture, rather than the social sciences, offers different insights into Australia's immigration history. The design strategies implemented are indicative of how government policies of accommodating new migrants and refugees entering Australia changed over time. Significantly, insular anxieties and political traditions manifest through various modes of housing allocated at Villawood, attached in varying degrees to domestic space ideals in Australia.

Initially, the Villawood migrant hostel consisted of barrack-style accommodation including Nissen huts arranged in rows, with accommodation costs deducted from migrant’s unemployment benefits or employment income. In 1951, a government owned company, Commonwealth Hostels Limited, overtook management of all federally sponsored hostels. The company was responsible for daily operations including staff and at Villawood employed many former residents to work in the kitchens or as cleaning staff. Outside of the hostel, many migrants worked in factories on the outer edges of Sydney as the city expanded and diversified in the post-war decades. New hostels in Sydney, such as Randwick, were strategically located next to these developing hubs of industry. Migrant hostels provided a vital network of housing for a labour force that fuelled post-war industry and helped undergird Sydney’s development into an economically prosperous, cosmopolitan centre. The research on housing in Villawood examines the intersection between design and hospitality as construed by successive governments.

Villawood hostel underwent a series of additions and reconfigurations, the most significant being the staggered redevelopment that began in 1968, which saw the addition of modern, apartment-style buildings designed by the prominent Sydney firm Bunning and Madden. The site overhaul was part of a more extensive national program to redevelop existing and construct new Commonwealth funded migrant hostels. This program sees a direct link between on-arrival accommodation and the profession of architecture as these hostel additions were purposely designed either by established local firms or within the Commonwealth Public Works Department.  Scholarship on the design of these new migrant hostels and how these forms of transitory housing compare to other types of government-sponsored housing is negligible. Contributing to this lack is the absence of consolidated architectural or government archives due to the range of departments involved in the development of briefs and construction, exacerbated by the Federal government unrest in the early 1970s.

Additionally, the redevelopments occur in an overlooked period in migration housing histories, as they sit between the conclusion of the nation-building programs and the emergence of immigration detention networks across Australia. There exists a growing body of scholarship into the formative era of migrant hostels in Australia that documents the period from the late 1940s to the early 1960s.[xviii] This work originates from Australian History and Museum Studies and positions former migrant hostels as sites of contested memories. However, the following decades, when official migration recruitment drives in Europe ceased and selected hostels housed refugees from the Vietnam War, have tended to be overlooked in the existing research.[xix] This absence highlights the need to look at this period in more complexity, examining these social housing histories in the context of immigration policy and political discourse. Although from the early 1980s there is increasing government-sponsored studies on Vietnamese resettlement in Australia, there are limited recent studies that look at the intersection between housing policy, design and the experience of social housing by people arriving from Mainland Southeast Asia. [xx]

Suburbs in the Seventies: Refugees and Industrious Diversity

David Beynon, The University of Tasmania

Refugees provided a number of important contributions to industrial architecture and the built environment as they dispersed through Melbourne’s metropolitan area in the wake of the White Australia policy’s demise. From the mid-1960s onwards, many immigrants begin to filter into Melbourne’s urban economy from two immigrant reception centres – the Midway Migrant Hostel in Maribyrnong and the Enterprise Migrant Hostel in Springvale, and these institutions provide the initial case studies for this section. Together they were the initial places of settlement for many of Melbourne’s Vietnamese (and also Cambodian and Lao) refugees, and so were the immediate foci of new communities of Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Lao origins. The Midway Hostel was set up in 1969, replacing a collection of prefabricated Nissen and Romney huts. It comprised accommodation buildings, a school, childcare centre, detached houses and laundry buildings, constructed of concrete bricks with skillion roofs in the prevailing Modernist idiom. While the Midway Hostel closed in 1987, several of its buildings remain and are currently part of Victoria University. The Enterprise Hostel opened in 1970, similar in its accommodation and architectural expression, and operated until 1992. Most of its buildings still exist but have been cosmetically altered to comprise the privately owned Lexington Gardens Retirement Village.

By the 1960s federally-funded projects no longer supported or provided en masse employment for refugees or immigrants, shifting the burden of broad governmental economic support to the development of individualised pathways and community frameworks. Unlike the immigrants who had previously arrived to work on major government-financed or supported industries or infrastructure, these new arrivals relied firstly on state or local government assistance for their settlement and on local communities (and increasingly, their own immigrant communities) to develop economic independence. Many were channelled into a range of small manufacturing and service industries, most immediately around the two hostels in the cities of Maribyrnong and Greater Dandenong as well as other areas of government housing such as Richmond and St Albans. As a result, these new immigrants of colour reinscribed white-working class, suburban neighbourhoods and local public housing complexes with their distinctive cultural and economic imprint.

Their diffusion across the economy likewise multiplied and diversified local cultures of manufacturing and commerce. Migrants not only successfully adapted to work in the existing industries in suburban areas but, more importantly, developed many of their own businesses. Through their entrepreneurial abilities, and the need within culturally distinctive communities for products and services that were previously unavailable or unknown in Australia, many of these immigrants succeeded in transforming local manufacturing, commercial, and retail landscapes. Since the late 1970s, products and services from a growing number of cultures have become widely available in many other parts of the nation, and increasingly providing these products and services has involved local growing, processing, and manufacturing as well as importing. The factories, processing and manufacturing plants, workshops, warehouses, studios, shops, restaurants, and entertainment establishments constructed or adapted to house these new industries are numerous, important but under-recognised elements of the contemporary Australian built environment. While not often as formally distinctive as the Buddhist or Hindu temples and mosques of Melbourne’s culturally diversifying population, their industrial and commercial buildings combine culturally-specific signage, symbolic elements, decoration, and spatial usage in ways that have extensively altered the city’s built and urban environment.

Australia’s unwilling immigrants: unfree labour and the colonial project

Richard Tuffin, University of New England

Between 1788–1868, some 170,000 people were forcefully removed to the Australian colonies from origin points throughout the British Empire, transported over land and sea conduits that could stretch for thousands of miles.[xxi] This act of unwilling dislocation was couched in terms of punishment for crimes against the State and a deterrent to those left behind. Less overt, though just as active, was the stimulation of the antipodean colonial project through the provision of an unfree labour force. Each unwilling immigrant brought with them skills or raw labour power that both the colony and private settlers eagerly attempted to co-opt. Through engagement with the processes and products of this labour, we can go some way in understanding the multi-scalar dimensions which characterised the deployment and management of convict labour in Australia.

Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) received 68,500 transportees during 1803–54.[xxii] What awaited them was a system of assignment to the private sector, or service under the government, the whole designed to ensure that both sectors benefitted from the labour power of this unfree workforce. For many today, the convict experience is defined by the retributive centres established by the colonial governments to ensure a quiescent bond population: penal stations like Norfolk Island (1824–55), Moreton Bay (Queensland, 1824–42) and Port Arthur (Tasmania, 1830–77), have become synonymous with the more brutal and punitive aspects of the Australian convict system. Yet, even at these places, the processes and products of prisoner labour reflected not only the administrative environment within which they were confined, but also the application of convicts’ own skills and abilities, telling us much about the labour process. From the production of sawn planks and complex sailing craft, through to the construction of the very spaces within which convicts lived and laboured, a system of labour exploitation and management was instituted. The physicality of sites of extraction, transport, manufacturing, and construction can be compared to documentary records detailing products and processes. In the process, we understand more about how convict skills and labour power were directed in ostensibly punitive environments.

Recent work at Port Arthur, Tasmania, has been examining the core settlement’s landscape and the hinterland as a product of labour, using non-invasive archaeological prospection techniques coupled with the vast archive bequeathed by an obsessive bureaucracy.[xxiii] From its formation in 1830, Port Arthur was a place where retributive and rehabilitative forms of labour were involved in the alteration of the built and natural landscape. Today, the landscape is a palimpsest of structures and earthworks reflecting Port Arthur’s progression. Early timber buildings have largely been lost, though their weathered dolerite fieldstone foundations, collected during initial land clearance, remain. The station’s consolidation as a penal station was marked by the opening of the first sandstone quarry in 1833, which provided the stone for the Guard Tower (1836) and Church (1837). On today’s site, the honey-coloured stone from this quarry sits at odds with the drab grey stone of a later quarry, started to facilitate the construction of the Separate Prison (1850) and alterations to the Military Barracks. Brick clay, a ubiquitous medium on the site, at times required the employment of over 40 men in its extraction and refinement, the brick-built Flour Mill and Granary (1842–44, later the Penitentiary) a reminder of this labour.

From extraction to construction, the buildings of Port Arthur become the embodiment of convict labour. By analytical deconstruction, we are able to learn much about how global, regional, and local influences were able to affect the deployment and management of this labour. These structures today form recognisable elements of the Port Arthur World Heritage site, its managers facing the challenge of not just interpreting them as components of a penal station, but also as the products of convict labour in their own right. Just like the nails produced by the settlement blacksmiths, or the shoes assembled by the shoemakers, each of the buildings resulted from the application of decisions, skills, and labour power on the part of the convicts and administrators. At Port Arthur, we are often able to trace these decisions from extraction, through to refinement and application, each step of the processes telling us about the efficiency and efficacy of the methods used to extract labour from an unwilling workforce.

[i] Deborah Stone, “Memories of Birthplace of a Migrant Nation”, Weekend Australian, May 28–9, 1988; Terry McGoverne, “Return to the Unforgettable”, Sun Herald, October 11, 1987; Australian Heritage Database, “Bonegilla Migrant Camp – Block 19, 76 Bonegilla Rd, Bonegilla, VIC, Australia”, Department of the Environment, Australian Government, 2014.

[ii] Partly amended in 1965 for diplomats and officials, tourist or business visitors.

[iii] Brad Collis, Snowy: the making of modern Australia (Sydney: Hodder & Stoughton, 1990).

[iv] Paul Ashton, “The Birthplace of Australian Multiculturalism? Retrospective Commemoration, Participatory Memorialisation and Official Heritage”, International Journal of Heritage Studies 15, no. 5  (2009): 381–398.

[v] The Settlers’ first album, Songs of the Snowy Mountains, was first recorded in 1966. The Settlers, available at

[vi] Shannon Boyle, ed., Songs of the Snowy Mountains, The Settlers (Cooma, NSW: Southeast Printing, 2014).

[vii] Richard Flanagan, The Sound of One Hand Clapping (Sydney: Pan Macmillan, 1997).

[viii] The focus here is on migrants arriving between 1945 and 1975. See Erik Eklund, Steel Town: the making and breaking of Port Kembla (Carlton, Victoria: Melbourne University Press, 2002) for a comprehensive study of Port Kembla.

[ix] The Anglican Church attempted to provide relief, social contact, and a respectable alternative to the hotels for seamen, and heavy drinking that characterised shore leave. Owen Dykes, Port Kembla, 1770–1992: a brief story of the port from the earliest days and a history of the work amongst seafarers in the port through the Missions to Seamen, 1942–1992 (Alexandria, NSW: Owen Dykes/J. A. Wales, 1992).

[x] Eklund, Steel Town.

[xi] MeredithWalker and John Pearson, ed., Every Story Counts. Recording Migration Heritage: A Wollongong Case Study (Wollongong, NSW: Illawarra Migration Heritage Project Inc, 2007) , and Eklund, Steel Town.

[xii] Eklund, Steel Town, andWalker, Meredith First accommodation for Migrants arriving in Wollongong post World War 2 (2007), accessed 7 January 2019,

[xiii] J.C. Steinke, Future Prospects of Port Kembla Shopping Centre (Wollongong, NSW: Wollongong University College, 1969?).

[xiv] The information in this contribution is extracted from the work in the Vacant Geelong Project, a collaborative project with team members Mirjana Lozanovska (lead), David Beynon, Cameron Bishop, Diego Fuallondo (2015–2017), Anne Wilson (2017 >), Ciro Marquez (2018–2019), Akari Nakai Kidd (2018 >), It draws on the work of three theses by Michael Faulks, Chay Siamphukdee, Megan Jones (Deakin University 2015), and on a workshop with past Ford workers of the Geelong Macedonian community (2017).

[xv] Tuckey, Bill, True Blue: 75 Years of Ford in Australia, (Edgecliff, Australia: Focus Publishing, Australia, 2000).

[xvi] “Ford Factories Work at Geelong: Unique Lighting and Ventilation,” The Argus, July 2, 1925, 14.

[xvii] See artistic works of the Vacant Geelong project, especially Sarah Duyshart, “Oil Arch” in M. Lozanovska, D. Beyon, C. Bishop, D. Fullaondo, and A. Wilson, eds., Iconic Industry: Exploring the industrial fabric of Geelong, (Geelong: Deakin University, 2017),

[xviii] Examples: Sara Wills, “Between the hostel and the detention centre: possible trajectories of migrant pain and shame in Australia,” in Places of Pain and Shame: Dealing with Difficult Heritage, eds. William Logan and Keir Reeves (New York: Routledge, 2009), 263–280; Alexandra Dellios, Histories of controversy: Bonegilla migrant centre (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2017).

[xix] One of the few comprehensive works is Pamie Ching Tsz Fung, “A place ‘midway between the old life and the new’: a case study of the migrant hostel at Maribyrnong,” (PhD diss. University of Melbourne, 2013).

[xx] Example: Australia. Dept. of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, “Please listen to what I'm not saying”: a report on the survey of settlement experiences of Indochinese refugees 1978–80 (Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service, 1982).

[xxi] Clare Anderson, "Transnational Histories of Penal Transportation: Punishment, Labour and Governance in the British Imperial World, 1788–1939," Australian Historical Studies 47, no. 3 (2016): 381-397.

[xxii] Clare Anderson, "Transnational Histories of Penal Transportation.

[xxiii] Richard Tuffin et al., "Landscapes of Production and Punishment: Convict Labour in the Australian Context," Journal of Social Archaeology 18, no. 1 (2018), 50-76.