Northam Accommodation Centre
Northam Army Camp was chosen as a migrant camp because it provided ample accommodation. Northam was also an important railhead, enabling migrants to travel to work anywhere in the state with relative ease.
Although the camp was only ten years old many of the buildings were in disrepair. Fifty migrants from the Swanbourne Barracks were sent to Northam to prepare the camp. They built six large dining rooms, a canteen and post office and improved the hospital.
The first migrants berthed at Fremantle on 24 August 1949. They included Displaced Persons on the Anna Salen and sponsored immigrants from Western and Southern Europe on an Italian ship.
Three trains took the 1,599 migrants from Fremantle to Northam Railway Station the next day. hey then squeezed on to buses for the five kilometre journey to the Northam Accommodation Centre.
By 1950, the camp housed 4,000 people and two new blocks of huts were built to accommodate them all.
While the authorities called the migrant centre Northam Accommodation Centre, the migrants that lived there called it Northam Camp or Top Camp.
Organisation of Northam Army Camp
The organisation of the camp followed military practice, with lines, block leaders, reveille, inspection, lights out and bed checks. At first, most of the staff were ex-military. The militarism of the camp gradually diminished as staff were replaced by non-military and migrant labour.
The staff worked under the direction of the camp director, who reported to Canberra. The camp director was responsible for the administration of the camp, including staff rosters, staff appointments and the running of the camp.
The director was assisted by a catering officer, storeman, baggage man, cook, mess orderlies, kitchen men, hygiene officers, a watchmen, a butcher and assistant, a plumber and medical personnel (including duty and relief nurses).
Each migrant was allocated a wire stretcher bed, a mattress, two blankets, three sheets, two pillowslips, two pillows, one towel, two plates, one mug and a wash tub. Families were also given a child’s wash tub, buckets and a locker.
Immigrants were given a camp pass and a copy of the camp rules. They were to attend meals promptly, clear the huts for daily inspection, take care of their equipment and report any damage.
The camp was divided into areas, each with a block supervisor who took care of the needs of the people in their area. They allocated newcomers to a hut and mess, and gave them a bed number. They also made sure that immigrants leaving the camp handed everything back.