After the long journey, the new immigrants were confronted with the housing crisis Australia was experiencing as a result of a shortage of labour and construction materials. Buying a house was often not possible. Until the early 1960s, the Dutch government did not allow emigrants to export capital to their new country because the unchecked export of capital would have aggravated the Netherlands’ currency position and hampered recovery. Without financial resources, the immigrant was forced to turn to outside help for accommodation.
Report by the Dutch consul-general in Australia about his visit to a reception camp for migrants, January 1953
The Australian government sought to alleviate the housing problem by first settling immigrants in immigration centres. A small percentage of the newcomers did not need such assistance because they already had an employer or family in the country to act as a guarantor who could provide accommodation. This was also the case with many Dutch women migrants whose husbands had gone to Australia ahead of them.
The Australian government housed immigrants who did not have a social and economic network in Australia in immigration centres set up specifically for that purpose. The centres might be hostels in cities or large camps in the open, remote Australian backcountry. British immigrants received preferential treatment and were the first to be placed in hostels, which were open to other European immigrants only if there was room. Most Dutch were in fact accommodated in camps.
In the 1950s, over half of all immigrants were housed in these camps, frequently former army barracks that had been converted, though not very well, for their new purpose. In 1951, 23 camps throughout Australia had been converted. The largest and best known was Bonegilla in Victoria, where about 320,000 immigrants were accommodated between 1947 and 1971.
The camps offered few amenities and were run like a military facility, with inspections and wardens. The immigrants had no privacy. The barracks walls were thin, only 1.8 metres high and had no ceiling. Men were initially housed apart from the women and children, although rules were later relaxed and families were able to live together in separate sections.
Meals were prepared military style in a central kitchen. Each immigrant received a specific daily amount of food based on army rations. During the week, the women and children did not eat with the men, who were given larger rations. Although the meals were regular and balanced, many immigrants found that the food left much to be desired.