Jennings German's 60th Anniversary 2012

It is with great pleasure that I rise today to speak about the German community here in Canberra, particularly the Jennings Germans, who celebrated their 60th anniversary of arriving in our nation's capital last month.

After the end of the Second World War, Germany's reputation was understandably at a low point. However, German tradesmen were still renowned for their work ethic and outstanding technical skills and education and were attractive to companies here in Australia and to companies here in Canberra. There was a skills shortage here in Canberra then, as there is now, and the idea of recruiting migrants from overseas was a particularly attractive one.

So, in the early 1950s, 150 German carpenters and bricklayers were recruited by construction company AV Jennings. They came here to build 1,800 houses, many of which still stand today in O'Connor, Ainslie, Narrabundah—in my electorate—Harman and Yarralumla. In fact, there are a number of them just around the corner. They have a very distinctive look about them. They are weatherboard and they have a very distinctive look about them. They are very, very well built houses that have withstood the test of time.

The Jennings Germans made an important contribution to the construction of the Australian national capital, so much so that their reputation quickly spread throughout the country. Not only did they help build our beautiful city here in Canberra—which I think is the best city in Australia—but they also helped to rebuild the image of German Australians and thus added a new chapter to the long list of contributions made by German people and German companies and associations to Australia's history. I know from my own family—my own family came out here in the 1850s, as did my husband's—that there is a long history of Germans contributing to Australia and to the nation's capital.

I can appreciate that coming here to Australia following the end of a bloody war would not have been easy for these German tradesmen. They were transported into a strange new environment with a vastly different culture. They came to a very underdone city. Canberra in the 1950s was very underdone. Menzies can be commended for the great investment that he made in building this city. It was, from all reports, at the instigation of Dame Pattie Menzies, who made the well-known remark, 'Bob, you've got to do something about this town.' Apparently, that was from wheeling Heather along a bumpy road one day. So Bob got on and did something with this town and, as a result of those efforts, we have the beautiful city we have here today.

There were many problems of adjustment on both sides, particularly given that it was so soon after the end of the Second World War. Australians had to overcome a post-war anti-German prejudice and the tradesmen had to overcome isolation, homesickness and the language barrier. Yet both parties did overcome these barriers. Upon the end of the building contract, 100 of the tradesmen decided to stay on in Australia. They settled into Australian life, and before long they married, had families and formed strong ties to local community. Many of the men married local women; others went back to Germany and brought their new brides back to Canberra, Queanbeyan and the region.

On 21 April, I had the pleasure of attending the Jennings Germans 60th anniversary celebrations at the Harmonie German Club in my electorate. It was hosted by the Jennings Germans Association. Hundreds of Jennings Germans and their families and friends turned out for it, including Minister Sonn from the German Embassy. I would like to thank the president of the association, Klaus Scharrer, for inviting me, as well as Patricia and Karl Cloos, who continue to give so much to their local community.

There was a lunch at the Harmonie German Club and there were hundreds of children and grandchildren there. It was a real pleasure to go around and meet the Jennings Germans and their families, who have made a huge contribution to Australian society and have gone on to succeed in a broad range of fields such as in business, building and medicine. They have made a significant contribution to every facet of Australian life.

I also took the opportunity to present a Hansard. I spoke about the Jennings Germans in the House of Representatives last year and I presented the Hansard to them, and that was a great pleasure.

Today the Jennings Germans community is spread far and wide. Twenty-two still live here in Canberra and 16 live in other parts of Australia. Many went back to Germany. Their contribution to our community is remarkable and I congratulate them on their 60th anniversary.

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