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Teaching English to post-WWII migrants

Foreword | About this guide | Migrant education in New South Wales

In this guide

1 Adult Migrant Education

2 School Education

3 Related Records

Appendices and Bibliography

   1 Establishment files, 1948-55

   2 Establishment files, c.1950-72


The arrival of post World War II immigrants has had a profound effect on the nature and diversity of Australian society. This Guide helps to commemorate cultural diversity in NSW by bringing together State archives that document the provision of education to migrants in the latter part of the 20th century. The records listed in this Guide reflect the changing role of government administration in adapting to a new era in immigration.

By publishing this Guide we aim to make the records of the NSW Government more accessible to all those who live in, and have contributed to, the cultural growth of NSW. Gail Davis, Senior Archivist, Research, deserves special mention for her detailed work in researching and compiling the Guide.

State Records has a role to play in encouraging and promoting the use of records to facilitate a better awareness of our communities and society. We believe this Guide will be a valuable resource in helping to understand the interaction of Government and the people of NSW.

David Roberts

The Hon Justice David Levine RFD
Chairperson of the Board

About this guide

State Records manages the archives of the Government of New South Wales. The State's archives are a unique and irreplaceable part of our cultural heritage. They document the business of Government in New South Wales, and its interaction with individuals and groups in our society, from the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788 until today.

The Adult Migrant Education Program (AMEP) celebrated 50 years of service in 1998. This Guide aims to make the records concerning the operation of adult migrant education in New South Wales more accessible to researchers by bringing together records from the holdings of State Records. The records highlight the program's contribution to building a strong and diverse community in New South Wales.

The Guide lists the main series in our collection relating to adult migrant education. It also includes series from other agencies that further an understanding of the migrant education experience. These records date from the arrival of post World War II European migrants to the mid 1980s.

The Guide also includes records relating to the Colombo Plan as many overseas students attended courses in New South Wales under this Plan. The Plan originated from a meeting of the Commonwealth Foreign Ministers at Colombo in January 1950. The aim of the plan was to promote economic development in South and South-East Asia by providing technical training, assistance and equipment for programs developed by participating countries. In 1951 the Government of New South Wales agreed to participate and some financial assistance was received from the Commonwealth Government.

This website version will be updated when further records are identified.


The Guide

An archival record is usually part of a series of items created or maintained by an organisation, institution or individual. The State archives described in this Guide are arranged according to the Government agency that created and maintained them.

The Guide looks first at the records of the Adult Migrant Education Service (AMES) and the Department of School Education, as these agencies were responsible for creating and maintaining the majority of the records. The record series are listed chronologically under each agency.

The Guide then lists the records of those NSW Government offices that control related records. The agencies are arranged alphabetically and the series are listed chronologically underneath them.

The entries

The entries give the title of the record series and the date range of the series. Beneath the series title is a brief description of the contents of the records series. In the right hand column the reference numbers for the series are listed. The reference numbers are required when requesting records from State Records or citing them in written work and publications.

Migrant education in New South Wales

Since Federation, immigration has been the responsibility of the Commonwealth Government. In 1947 the Commonwealth signed an agreement with the International Refugee Organisation to bring Displaced Persons from Europe to Australia. This agreement dramatically changed the face of Australian immigration. Previously, immigration had been based largely on migration from the British Isles. After the agreement was signed significant numbers of European immigrants, many of whom did not speak or write English, immigrated to Australia.

The first group of European migrants from Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, arrived under the agreement in Perth on 28 November 1947. They were settled at the first Reception and Training Centre for migrants at Bonegilla, Victoria, in December 1947. Further centres were opened in 1948 in Bathurst and Greta in New South Wales and Greylands in Western Australia. The Commonwealth Government undertook to provide transportation and hostel accommodation and arranged employment placements.

The tuition of new arrivals in English was seen as a key factor in immigration policy. The Commonwealth Education Office originally ran and controlled the teaching of English and 'Australian Culture' in camps in Europe, on board ship to Australia and in the camps on arrival. After settling in the community the tuition of migrants in English continued through post placement continuation classes, correspondence courses and radio lessons.

From the outset, the various State Education Departments cooperated with the Commonwealth but had no official responsibility for any professional aspects of the program. The New South Wales Education Department provided volunteer teachers and assisted with the running of evening classes (also known as continuation classes).

At the 1949 Premiers' Conference the state Governments accepted responsibility for the after care of British and foreign migrants. After Care implied the responsibility for the education, hospitalisation and welfare of migrants in the same way as the States accepted this responsibility for other citizens.

In December 1951 agreements were made between the Commonwealth and State Education Departments:

that led to the States taking over all aspects of adult migrant education subject to the undertaking of the Commonwealth Government to reimburse the states for the expenditure incurred, with overall coordination of policy by the Commonwealth. This agreement was a tripartite system with the Department of Immigration having overall control through coordination of policy and funding, the Commonwealth Office of Education being responsible for the provision of materials and teacher training and advisory teachers and the State Education Departments selecting and appointing staff.

The New South Wales Adult Migrant Education Service had its origins in the Education Department's University Branch Office which was established in November 1951 in the grounds of Sydney University. It took over the practical side of running classes in reception and holding centres, the continuation classes in schools, hostels, clubs and factories by providing teachers and school classrooms. By 1955 there were 4,300 people enrolled in the program.

A major employer of migrants at this time was the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme. During its construction in the years 1949-74 two thirds of the Scheme's 100,000 employees were European migrants. Records in our collection show English classes were regarded as essential for reasons of occupational health and safety.

As the education of school age children is a State responsibility, and due to the large numbers of children in the holding centres/migrant camps, the Commonwealth Government made buildings available to the State Education Department to establish schools. It was intended that these schools would familiarise children with the Australian school routine and that eventually they would attend local schools. Ten such state run schools were established:

SchoolOpening dateClosing date
Bathurst Holding Centre Jan 1949 May 1952
Uranquinty Migrant Camp Jan 1949 Oct 1951
Cowra Migrant Apr 1949 Dec1955
Greta Migrant Camp No. 1 Jun 1949 Dec 1959
Parkes Migrant Camp Jul 1949 May 1952
Greta Migrant Camp No. 2 Mar 1950 Dec 1952
Wallgrove Holding Centre Apr 1950 Mar 1962
Scheyville Holding Centre Sep 1950 Dec 1965
Nelson Bay Holding Centre Jan 1951 Dec 1954
Villawood Holding Centre Sep 1952 Aug 1956

The mid-1960s saw the expansion and diversification of the Adult Migrant Education Program as the Commonwealth Government broadened its migrant selection criteria to increase migration. This era witnessed a change in Government policies from assimilation to integration and the assertion of ethnic rights.

The first full time or 'intensive courses' were offered in 1969. The courses were aimed to equip professional and semi professional migrants with adequate English for employment. The first of these courses was held in Sydney for a group of professionally qualified Czech migrants. Full time courses also coincided with the Migrant Education Section moving from the University of Sydney to Blackfriars Street, Chippendale.

The 1970s saw the emergence of multicultural policies in response to the increasing diversity of Australian society. This diversity was reflected by the most significant growth period for English language tuition in Australia including the introduction of bilingual programs and the making of the television series, You Say the Word with WIN Channel 4, Wollongong. Special six week courses were developed for migrant workers in industry and unlike previous continuation classes they were conducted in work time. In 1971 Commonwealth assistance for English courses in schools for migrant children became available.

In 1973 a Diploma in Migrant Teaching was established by the Armidale College of Advanced Education. At the same time the Adult Migrant Education section was relocated in the City of Sydney and appears to have become a Branch of the Education Department. By 1975 it had became a separate office known as the Adult Migrant Education Service of New South Wales.

The Home Tutor Scheme was launched in 1974 by the then Minister for Immigration, Mr Al Grassby. This allowed people who were unable to attend formal language classes to learn at home. At the same time, in New South Wales, the Inner Western Suburbs Regional Ethnic Communities Group was formed which, in July 1975, became the Ethnic Communities Council. The same year also witnessed the arrival of refugees from Vietnam and Timor. As the number of Indo-Chinese refugees increased the Commonwealth Department of Education produced a series of Asian language notes to assist teachers.

On 21 June 1976 the new Labor Premier of New South Wales, Neville Wran, announced his cabinet's decision to establish an Ethnic Affairs Commission. The Ethnic Affairs Commission interacted with a number of new government bodies all concerned with equal opportunity issues in society. These include the:

  • Anti-Discrimination Board which came into operation in June 1977 and addressed racial discrimination
  • Review of New South Wales Government Administration under the direction of Dr Peter Wilenski which deal with recruitment, promotion, equality of opportunity, qualifications, and
  • Women's Coordination Unit of the Premier's Department whose responsibilities included creating opportunities for migrant women.

The Report of the Royal Commission into New South Wales Prisons, 1978 stated that prisoners who did not speak English (assessed as being 10.5% of the prison population) were at a 'marked disadvantage'. The prison authorities relied on communicating through officers or other prisoners who spoke the language. The Commission recommended that 'every effort should be made during a non-English speaking prisoner's incarceration to provide instruction in basic English.' Records of the Commission are held by State Records and are listed in the Concise Guide to State Archives of New South Wales.

Professor Peter Wilenski noted in his 1978 Review of the New South Wales Government Administration, Directions for Change: An Interim Report, that ethnic groups were disadvantaged in government employment due to recruiting procedures, entrance tests, the need for English language proficiency, slowness in recognition of overseas qualifications and prohibitions on the permanent employment of non British subjects. He also found:

In general, that NSW Government organisations do not provide English classes during working hours (an exception is the Public Transport Commission which provides weekly classes at its Eveleigh Workshop) or make study time available for employees to attend English classes.

In same year the Ethnic Affairs Commission submitted its report, Participation, which outlined a concept of multiculturalism that went beyond just preserving cultural heritage to a society where minority groups would achieve total participation in the New South Wales social and political system. To implement this philosophy of equal opportunity Participation recommended that a Commission should be established as a strong and stable body to ensure that all elements of the New South Wales Government Administration come to regard ethnic affairs as part of their ordinary, day to day attitudes and thinking.

The following year saw the establishment of a new Ethnic Affairs Commission as a permanent New South Wales Government authority under the provisions of the Ethnic Affairs Commission Act 1979 (NSW). The Overseas Qualification Unit of the Ethnic Affairs Commission was also established to assist migrants when they applied for recognition of their overseas qualifications. At the Commonwealth level, the Ethnic Affairs Branch was established in 1977 within the Department of Immigration.

The role of the Adult Migrant Education Service had also kept pace with these changes. Its responsibilities had expanded significantly since its inception and by 1978 the Service was providing:

  • free courses to migrants to give a working knowledge of the English language and a background of Australian institutions, service organisations and government laws and customs. The object of the courses was to assist the migrant to become integrated with the Australian community
  • a continuous program, not just for newly arrived migrants, but also to help established migrants to cope with their changing environment, employment aspirations and broadening of social contacts
  • a variety of courses ranging from full-time day courses to individual tuition in private homes, and
  • courses in various centres throughout the Sydney metropolitan area, in Wollongong, Newcastle and some other country centres.

The Commonwealth Government commissioned The Galbally Review of Post Arrival Services and Programs, which was published in 1978. It recognised that, 'knowledge of the English language was a critical factor in enabling successful settlement in Australia.' The Review led to the creation of a separate and extensive on-arrival program targeted at new arrivals and recommended the replacement of continuation classes with certificate courses at different levels of difficulty and a review of the correspondence course with the radio component being replaced by audio cassettes and records. In late 1978 a Joint Commonwealth/States Committee was established to develop the on-arrival component of the program.

In 1981 a review by the Australian Institute of Multicultural Affairs in part recommended the transfer of English for specific purposes courses to Technical and Further Education (TAFE). The TAFE sector had 'already provided English language courses for a number of years through its access program which was funded by the State Education System.'

In 1983 free child care was introduced to ease the difficulties associated in attending English language classes for those with family responsibilities. The Campbell Report of 1985 endorsed changes in the teaching staff from largely part time to permanent and in gearing the courses more to the individual needs of students.

Other records relating to migrant education

People wishing to undertake detailed research should also consult the main correspondence series of relevant agencies such as the Department of Education and Training (formerly School Education, formerly Education), Ethnic Affairs, the Premier's Department, and the Department of Technical and Further Education. As the Adult Migrant Education Program has been financed by the Commonwealth Government, researchers should also consult records held by the National Archives of Australia. For more information see its Web site at: (cited September 1999). As many welfare, volunteer and community groups have participated in the teaching of English the records of those various groups should also be consulted.

British child migrants

After World War II various approved schemes such as Dr Barnardo's Homes, the Big Brother Movement and Fairbridge Farm Schools brought large numbers of child migrants from the United Kingdom to New South Wales. State Records holds records relating to these children for the period 1947-76. These records can be found among the records of Community Services (formerly Youth and Community Services) and Department of Education and Communities (formerly Education and Training, formerly School Education, formerly Education). They are not included in this Guide.