If the walls of the Yungaba Immigration Centre (Digital Image ID 1588) could talk, there would be many stories to tell; stories of happiness, hope, and new beginnings; but also some of sadness, suffering, and loss. Since its erection in 1887, alongside the Brisbane River in Main Street, Kangaroo Point, Yungaba has fulfilled a number of roles.
Initially built as an immigration reception centre, it accepted its first residents on 6 December 1887 when passengers on the migrant ship, ‘Duke of Buccleuch’ landed. While its primary purpose always remained the same, the timing and number of new arrivals in the state varied greatly over the years.
That irregularity meant that the centre has, at various times in its history, also been used for a range of different purposes. It has operated as a temporary refuge for the destitute; a reception centre for troops returning from the Boer War; an assembly and departure point for Pacific Islanders being repatriated as a result of the White Australia Policy in the early 1900s; an accommodation centre for workers building the new Story Bridge during the 1930s; and as a hospital that focused on treating venereal diseases during World War II.
Records held by Queensland State Archives reveal that during the 1920s, Yungaba was extremely important as “the immigration programme had stepped up and accommodation generally is paramount.” For many thousands of new arrivals, both before and after that time, Yungaba was their first home in Queensland. Among them was a young Margaret Pendleton who arrived on 27 September 1930 under the Empire Settlement Act, after receiving free passage on the ‘Oronsay’. Like a large number of young women from England, she moved on to work as a domestic in a Queensland country town.
The original building that provided both office and accommodation facilities, was built by William Peter Clark. Constructed with an Italianate elevation, it includes some architectural features strongly associated with Queensland; most particularly, the wide verandahs with their galvanised iron hoods offering protection from the harsh summer sun and heavy seasonal rains. More buildings were added as time went by. Accommodation was initially offered only in dormitory style but during the 1970s, remodelling allowed for a range of lodgings to include some suitable for couples and families. That change was a direct response to the Commonwealth government’s immigration policy that gave preference to families over unmarried persons.
Although Yungaba was a government-run institution, there was always an obvious concern for the comfort and welfare of its residents; not just for compassionate reasons, but also because of the competition that existed between the states as they each attempted to attract migrants who could boost their labour force. A letter from David Muir, Director, Dept of Industrial Development to C.N. Barton, the Coordinator General of Public Works, 27 Feb 1970 confirms that when it states:
The State Migration Office at Kangaroo Point and the Hostel there is the initial point at which thousands of migrants have their first real contact with Queensland and Queenslanders. Therefore it is imperative that the standard of accommodation and surroundings is comparable with those of other states. Competition between states, and indeed between various countries, in the attraction of migrants is ever increasing and we must be in a position of being able to offer at least reception and initial accommodation facilities second to none.
Extensions and improvements to the centre continued on a regular basis “to present a favourable and helpful atmosphere to incoming migrants”. Evidence of thoughtful consideration includes the installation of playground equipment for small children that included a merry-go-round, as well as the supply of “multi-colour check blankets” instead of the usual institutional grey”.
The historical and cultural significance of Yungaba was officially recognised when it was selected as part of the National Estate Program 1977/78. In March 1978, Brisbane architect John Girard was commissioned to undertake a survey including a photographic record of the main building’s exterior, selected interior views; and a report on the history of the building. It achieved heritage listing in 1988. During the 1990s, Yungaba acted as a space more broadly available to the public, especially for community-based multicultural and ethnic organisations. Confirmation of its significance was confirmed again in 2009 when Yungaba Immigration Centre was rated #1 for the public’s choice of people or organisations that have influenced or made a significant contribution to the state.
Dr. Julie Ustinoff
- Queensland State Archives Item ID 959110, Correspondence
- Queensland State Archives Item ID 601483, Batch file, public buildings
- Queensland State Archives Item ID 601488, Batch file, public buildings
- Queensland State Archives Item ID 601482, Batch file, public buildings
- “Yungaba” Immigration Centre, Kangaroo Point, September 1950. Queensland State Archives Item ID 1084399 (Digital Image ID 1589)
- Architectural plans and perspective drawing of the Immigration Depot, Brisbane, 1888. Queensland State Archives Item ID 1110687 (Digital Image ID 2580)
- Family quarters at Yungaba Migrant Hostel, 16 November 1967. Queensland State Archives Item ID 1243123 (Digital Image ID 3547)
- Family accommodation at Yungaba Migrant Hostel, 16 November 1967. Queensland State Archives Item ID 1243121 (Digital Image ID 3545)
- Family quarters at Yungaba Migrant Hostel, 16 November 1967. Queensland State Archives Item ID 1243125 (Digital Image ID 3549)