A Roof Over One's Head

The Maltese Government through its Department of Emigration was slowly building solid foundations for an orderly migration movement. The Assisted Passage Scheme not only -made settling abroad a possibility within the reach of everybody, but it also safeguarded the unity of the migrant family as it was now possible for all members of the same family to travel together. The availability of regular ships travelling between Malta and the receiving countries helped to facilitate the movement of migrants and in later years such a movement was greatly helped by the introduction of air flights to the receiving countries. One of the first recorded flights organised specifically for emigrants took place on October 2,1954. Flights were then increased until by 1960 travelling by air became the rule. (30)

There remained however one obstinate difficulty which greatly hampered the flow of emigrants to their new countries of destination: the lack of acceptable accommodation. Relatives and friends were anxious to nominate persons in Malta who were dear to them. Accommodation was spontaneously offered but in some cases generosity was not a wise policy. Newly-arrived relatives sometimes found that their new "home" was nothing more than a shed in the back garden. The closest of relatives could thus become estranged because of the cramped conditions they had to put up with. Complaints reached Malta and very often these were justified. The authorities had to intervene.

Speaking about emigration to the U.K. in 1947, the Lieutenant Governor of the time warned that although the Maltese were not subjected to any restrictions, the housing situation was acute and he urged those thinking of going to Great Britain not to do so unless their accommodation had been procured. In that same year, the newly-appointed minister responsible for emigration, Mr J.Cole,said that although some 13,000 had already decided to emigrate the lack of housing in the receiving countries was hampering the flow of emigration.

In Canada the housing accommodation was regulated by the National Housing Act of 1944. Hostels and camps were set up to receive immigrant families, but in 1948 some 30,000 displaced persons and more than 90,000 immigrants had been admitted. Most of these recent arrivals settled in the province of their entry, Ontario. As was to be expected such an influx in a very short time created serious difficulties for the Canadian authorities responsible for providing housing for the new arrivals. In Malta married couples with children were advised not to leave unless they had been promised suitable accommodation. (31)

When Mr Cole attended a special conference in Ottawa in 1948 he considered that prices for houses in-Ontario were very high with the average down payment hovering about the 2,000 dollars. He was convinced that most Maltese already settled in Canada had every wish to help those who wanted to join them but Mr Cole warned that those who intended to emigrate should not expect too much from those who provided accommodation for them.

Mr Cole thought that houses in Canada were, as a rule smaller than the average houses in Malta and a Canadian house was not built to accommodate two families with children. The minister said that in future he would insist on a written declaration that before departing migrants had suitable accommodation. It was the minister's impression that those who went back to Malta did so either because they were not satisfied with the places they were living in or because of tensions with the host family. (32)

It was a fact that could not be denied that some new arrivals were housed in cramped conditions so that those who received them could collect good rents from them. In Australia it was a common occurence for people to nominate others so that by the rent collected from them they could pay their mortgage. The Holroyd Council in N.S.W.,Australia, contacted Capt. Curmi in 1950 to investigate the hardship being suffered by a family of five who had to pay 1 a week for being put in a shed normally used for fowls in the back-garden.

Mr Edward Semini looked in vain for decent accommodation he could afford. Eventually he decided on an unusual solution: he went back to Malta where he built a prefabricated house and had it shipped to Australia. But Mr Semini's problems were not over yet. His crate was impounded by customs officials because he had failed to produce relevant documents indicating the origin and the value of the house in the crate. (33)

On January 31, 1954, a meeting was called at the Floriana Primary School for women whose husbands had already emigrated. The meeting was addressed Minister Cole and his Director of Emigration, Mr John Axisa. The women complained that it was taking them a very long time to be re-united with theiir husbands and they also said that their children missed their fathers. Both Cole and Axisa sympathised with the women but warned them against undue haste especially in cases were accommodation for the whole family was not as yetprocured. Cole and Axisa said that the long waiting was due to the shortage of houses, especially in Canada and in Australia. Mr Cole assured his listeners that his Government was determined to solve the problems created by the scarcity of houses he also urged them to be patient and not be deterred by the problem. He concluded by saying: "I can assure you I will not think twice to emigrate". Four years later he did just that when he with his wife and children emigrated to Australia on the ship Sydney. (34)

In August 1963, Mr Cole's successor, Dr Alexander Cachia Zammit, was in Australia trying to put together a new scheme by which Maltese immigrants would be helped financially to buy their own houses. When in Brisbane he said his Government wanted to send to Australia about 10,000 emigrants a year. Dr Cachia Zammit was then speaking in the name of the Nationalist Government which had been voted in by the Maltese electorate in 1962 under the leadership of Dr George Borg Olivier. This was a resumption of Self-Government after the constitution had been suspended in 1958. Dr Cachia Zammit told his listeners in Brisbane that the U.K. Government was about to contribute the sum of 20,000 to subsidise the cost of emigration and it was the minister's intention that a part of that money would be used to create a Housing Scheme.

In Malta questions were being asked whether local politicians knew that the U.K. Government was investigating the appalling conditions British immigrants were living under, especially in hostels for immigrants. It also transpired that the Australian authorities were building blocks of flats to accommodate recent arrivals from Great Britain. These flats were to be rented at rates 50% lower than those on the open market. Was it not the time for the Maltese Government to intervene on behalf of the Maltese living in cramped conditions in some suburbs in the western parts of Sydney and Melbourne? (35)

The Maltese Government approached Italian and Maltese entrepreneurs to examine the possibility of forming a company which would construct prefabricated houses in Malta and have them shipped to Australia. This would ease the problem of lack of accommodation in Australia, would encourage more people to emigrate and at the same time provide jobs for the Maltese workers. It was said that the Dutch Government had already done something on similar lines. Two Maltese businessmen and three Italians from the "Casa di Risparmio di Firenze" had shown interest in the proposal and the Australian Government was willing to put orders with the Italian company worth one million pounds. (36)

The idea was never put to practice. The Maltese Government felt that a better idea was that of setting up a House Ownership Scheme supported by the Governments of Malta and Australia who would offer soft loans to migrants willing to build or buy their own houses. It was thought that a capital of about half a million pounds would be sufficient to launch the H.O.S. and that it was not impossible for both Valletta and Canberra to share that cost between them.

On August 8, 1967, the H.O.S. was launched in Sydney as a joint venture between the Government of Malta and an Australian bank. It was planned that in five years 500 houses will be built in N.S.W. and in Victoria. The Australian Bank was to supervise the loans made to Building Societies. Loans to immigrants were at 51/2% to, be paid over a period of twenty-nine years. The Scheme was somewhat optimistically hailed in Malta as an important development in cooperation between Malta and Australia. By February 1968 the first house had been already occupied by Carmelo and Mikelina Scicluna who had left Malta two years before.

In 1972 a Maltese Home Loans Society came into being sponsored by the Maltese Governnent operated in N.S.W. and in Victoria where the bulk of the Maltese lived. Rates of interest offered were at 7% with an extension of thirty years for full payment. In N.S.W. loans were made up to 13,080 dollars whereas in Victoria the maximum was 10,000 dollars, or if one had up to five children, maximum was raised to 11,500 dollars.

Source: The Safety Valve (1997), author Fr Lawrence E. Attard, Publishers Enterprises Group (PEG) Ltd, ISBN 99909-0-081-7


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