Text and Images: Elisabeth Anderson
In a fenced enclosure opposite the Stirling Hospital in Milan Terrace stands a rounded rock bearing a simple plaque, dated 1969, to commemorate Mary Williams MBE and her untiring work and help for overseas newcomers to South Australia. It is a reminder of an era of post-World War 2 immigration to Australia, during which Mary was a voice for the Good Neighbour Council for more than 20 years. Based in Adelaide as its South Australian Executive Secretary, she travelled the State to promote the cause of supporting new migrant settlers and she was present at a planning meeting in Stirling on 13th March 1959, leading to the formation of a local branch the following month.
The Good Neighbour Council had grown out of a need to co-ordinate the activities of churches, community groups and individuals providing friendship and practical assistance for the many hundreds of European migrants arriving in the country in the 1950s and 1960s. The Stirling branch of the Good Neighbour Council was therefore one of many and it would provide support and assistance to migrants in the local area.
The planning meeting was held in the home of Dragan and Tamara Miljanovic, themselves European migrants, and more than 50 people attended Aldgate Hall a month later, on 14th April, for the formation of the Stirling branch under the chairmanship of Group Captain John Thompson. Mr Payne and Mr Mulder were appointed secretaries. A week later a constitution was adopted and working sub committees were formed. Membership fees were fixed at 2/6d (30 cents).
The branch was to cover a wide area of the Hills, with personal contacts between new and old Australians a priority.
The first event was a social evening in the Aldgate Hall and about 100 people enjoyed an evening of parlour games and dances. It was the first of many activities drawing newcomers and long-time locals together. They included fancy dress frolics, a ‘monster Christmas break-up’ in the Stirling Institute, continental barbecues, an international show of arts and crafts and a ‘monster picnic’, held as a ‘thank-you’ from new Australians to old Australians. There were also fortnightly concerts in a club-like atmosphere, record playing evenings and film nights.
Meanwhile a reference group of about ten professional people undertook to advise migrants on legal and other problems.
The Chairman of the Stirling District Council from 1954 till 1960, Mr A.L. (‘Moss’) Vincent, and his wife were also branch members. Mr Vincent conducted naturalization ceremonies in an atmosphere of dignity and friendliness and he won great respect among the district’s new Australians by personally interviewing all candidates for naturalization and striving to make them feel welcome. Mrs Vincent, who led the branch’s entertainment subcommittee, arranged for a posy of flowers to be presented to every woman who became an Australian citizen and for the supper party that followed the ceremony she usually provided a magnificent cake made in the shape of Australia.
The manager of the local branch of the State Savings Bank, Mr Colin Pickering, chaired a subcommittee responsible for finance.
Migrants themselves were also actively involved in the branch’s activities and in May 1965 a group of them held a working bee on the corner of Milan Terrace and Druids Avenue to tidy an area which had become an eyesore, erected a retaining wall and planted the roadside verge with daffodils. This is also the location of the Mary Williams memorial, erected four years later. Mary died in 1968. She would always have a special place in the hearts of newcomers to Australia, Dragan Miljanovic said at the unveiling of her plaque.
The Stirling branch functioned for just over 13 years. On 24th July 1972 it was decided that the need for a local Good Neighbour Council branch was no longer so urgent as had been the case in the earlier days of migration and that problems of assimilation were now fewer. And so the branch went into recess. But it was resolved to maintain a liaison with the Good Neighbour Headquarters in Adelaide and for this Dragan Miljanovic, founding Vice President and always a driving force in the branch, was elected as its delegate.
The Good Neighbour Council ceased South Australian operation in 1989.
‘Dragan – A man to be Remembered’ by Tom Dyster 1992
‘Under Mount Lofty’ – A history of the Stirling District in South Australia by Robert Martin 1987, 1996.
Do you have memories of the The Good Neighbour Council, its members and events or its beneficiaries? Can you confirm the photo of Mr Payne from the Committee? Contact us at email@example.com or drop into the History Centre at the Coventry Library, 63 Mount Barker Road, Stirling.