Standing up for Canberra

Canberra's German Community 2011

It is once again my privilege to rise today to speak about some more legends in the Canberra community. Today I wish to speak about a group of people in my community who call themselves the 'Jennings Germans', a group of tradesmen who this year will be celebrating 60 years of being in Australia.

I was contacted recently by Patricia Kloos to tell me the interesting story of this group. Patricia's husband, Karl, was one of 150 German tradesmen recruited between November 1951 and March 1952 by the construction company AV Jennings. They came here to build 1,800 houses in Canberra over a two-year period. This was not a migration program but a temporary employment contract to bring out much needed skills in a time of great growth for this country and indeed for this city. Many of these people returned to Germany, but some hundred migrated permanently at the invitation of the Australian government, with some 75 deciding to settle in Canberra, the community they had just helped to build. They came to a country that I think is fair to say was very isolated. They came from a country that just a few years beforehand had been at war with us, and many did not speak the language. It was a brave choice, but I am glad they made it.

In Karl's book on his migration story—and I was fortunate recently to be given a copy of that—he tells of the isolation he felt at coming to the new country. He talks about the immense heat, which was very different from his experience in his native Germany, and the difference in the size of the flies and, of course, the inevitable language problems. But he also settled in well. As he says:

The town somehow began to look more pleasant and the landscape more inviting. In the hostel our rooms were spartan. I spent my early wages on material for curtains for my room, two table cloths, and erected a shelf for my books.

Karl also talks about how he bought a radio for the princely sum of £47, which he notes 'was a lot of money, but it was company'. Another of Karl's stories I found particularly touching was his desire to continue and connect with his Catholic faith in this country. He found great unity with the Catholic community, and it made his move here a lot easier. He talks about how, in finding a local church, he needed to find an English prayer book because the only one he had was in German. He, along with a friend, spent quality time with the shopkeepers of Canberra and a German-English phrasebook before finding one at a local chemist's.

I wish to pay tribute to Karl Kloos and his colleagues from the Jennings Germans. They are people who literally built this city. We can still see them around Canberra today. Their children and grandchildren are still very, very active in the Canberra community. Some of them are friends of ours. Some of them are very active in the Catholic community. They are a great tribute. I thank Patricia for bringing this amazing group to my attention, and I would like to congratulate them on 60 years in the country and wish them well for their celebrations.

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