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Research Guides

Good British Stock: Child and Youth Migration to Australia

YMCA youth migration

The YMCA is a non-sectarian, non-political Christian lay movement whose object is to develop high standards of Christian character through group activities and citizenship training. It was founded in 1844 in London when twelve young men led by George Williams, a drapery store employee, established a club for 'the improvement of the spiritual condition of young men in the drapery and other trades'. The association grew rapidly especially in the United States and it is now a massive worldwide movement with a presence in most countries. Its headquarters is in Geneva, Switzerland.

Gold-rush immigrants brought the YMCA to Australia during the 1850s. The YMCA's programs include sports and physical training, formal and informal education, camping and citizenship activities. Its branches maintain an international range of youth hostels.

YMCA involvement in youth migration to Australia was peripheral to its many other activities. However, some young people came to Australia under its auspices both during the 1920s and after World War II.

The records held by the National Archives cover reasonably fully the YMCA's part in bringing some young people to Australia, principally during the 1920s. The material concerns policy in the main and is of little interest to genealogists.

Series: A458
Quantity: 49.77 metres
Recorded by: 1923–34: Prime Minister's Department (CA 12)
Immigration Encouragement. Oversea Settlement Scheme Agreement between British Government and YMCA, 1923–24 [13 pages]
This contains an eight-page outline of the YMCA Scheme for Youth Migration to Australia, dated 15 June 1923 and signed by Cyril Bavin, General Secretary, Migration Department of the English National Council of YMCAs. This advocated the broadening of the basis of individual nomination of a prospective migrant to its extension from individuals to Church congregations, service clubs, friendly societies and lodges. Bavin stressed that the Migration Department of the English YMCA worked 'in closest co-operation' with the Oversea Settlement Committee of the Imperial government and with the London Agents-General of the dominion governments. There is a copy of an agreement conveyed by the Secretary of State at the Dominions Office, the Duke of Devonshire to the Governor-General of Australia, Lord Forster, between the YMCA and HMG:

… providing for the payment for a period of one year of the expenses of two representatives of the Association to enable them to organise and develop the “Collective Nomination Scheme”… which will contribute towards solving the difficult problem of assimilating settlers into the life of a new country.

In fact, three representatives were placed by the YMCA, one each in Victoria, NSW and South Australia.

A458, E154/12
Series: D400
Quantity: 435 metres
Recorded by: 1948–66: Department of Immigration, SA Branch (CA 959)
Young Men's Christian Association – Youth Migration, 1947–61 [9 pages]
The YMCA had proposed on 24 April 1947 to arrange for 100 teenagers to come from the UK to Australia. Arthur Calwell encouraged the idea but stressed that the normal procedures had to be followed. The young men were brought to South Australia and the Immigration Minister extended certain privileges to both the Young Women's Christian Association and the YMCA so that they could assist in the reception and placement of the youths. The last exchange is from Mr K J Smith at Australia House to the Department in Canberra and the departmental reply. Smith, the Acting CMO, 11 May 1960 suggests why youth migration under YMCA auspices has remained a small operation:

… apparent lack of cooperation between the organisation in Australia and the UK.

A mere 50 boys had come during the preceding decade. The Immigration Department was unconcerned, replying that youth migration had been 'particularly successful' overall, and unlike the migration of children, there had been few recruitment difficulties.

D400, SA1960/8091
SG149 YMCA SA126 YMCA Child Migration, 1957–60 D400, SA1960/1936
Series: C3939
Quantity: 38.7 metres
Recorded by: 1952–74: Department of Immigration, NSW Branch (CA 957)
Immigration – Youth Migration by YMCA, 1960 C 3939, N1960/75101
Series: PP6/1
Quantity: 20 metres
Recorded by: 1945–50 Department of Immigration, WA Branch (CA 962)
Youth Migration, 1947 [6 pages]
This concerns the YMCA initiative to explore the possibilities for youth migration to Australia as Australia's postwar immigration policy was commencing. YMCA National Secretary, Mr J T Massey wrote to Arthur Calwell, 24 April 1947 saying that his 'Migration Committee' wished to bring 100 boys, 14 to 18 years old, from the UK, in two batches of 50. He hoped to work in association with the YMCA Community Services in London, and requested advice. Calwell's reply stresses that responsibility for reception and after-care of migrants was a state responsibility and the YMCA should liaise with State Government departments. Shipping is mentioned as a problem. The organisation was advised to see whether it possessed the accommodation facilities and financial resources to assist in youth migration. It is not clear whether the YMCA took its plans any further than this initial approach.
PP6/1, 1947/H/1318
Series: A436
Quantity: 5.04 metres
Recorded by: 1945: Department of the Interior (II) (CA 31)
Major C Bavin – YMCA Migration Representative, 1937–38 [28 pages]
The first item is a cutting from the Herald (Melbourne), 20 December 1937 mentioning that the YMCA in the UK is planning to resume its migration activities, and Major C Bavin, the YMCA Community Services Officer, is arriving to investigate the possibilities. Bavin is an executive member of many immigration societies, including the Overseas League and is also representing the Church of England Migration Council during his tour. He plans to spend three weeks in New Zealand and two months in Australia. Newspaper cuttings of Bavin's trip. There are two reports of Bavin's interviews with Mr H A Garrett of the Immigration Department, the second of which is the more informative. Bavin had found a ready response to his plans only in NSW, where the Scheyville farm would provide appropriate training for the boys. Girls were to be included in the scheme. Bavin planned to use the service of the British Settlers Welfare Committee for after-care. Overall, Bavin impressed departmental officers: Garrett wrote to the Secretary, Department of the Interior, 10 February 1938:

I am impressed with Mr Bavin's scheme for the co-ordination of the voluntary migration effort in NSW through the British Settlers Welfare Committee, particularly the after-care aspect… the after-care of girls will require special consideration; they present more problems than boys.

Bavin's 16-page report is in the file, dated 22 June 1938. Bavin concluded an agreement with the Department of Labour and Industry in Sydney concerning the placing of 200 boys for farm work. Its main points were: on arrival they would go to Scheyville, there to be trained and maintained for some eight weeks while they learned basic farm work; after their training they would be placed in employment by the department at wages of around £1 per week, the same as for Australian boys of the same age. After-care was to be as discussed.

A436, 1945/5/395 part 1


Chapter 3
Guide to the Records