Multilingual toilets at Station Pier

23 October, 2011

Station Pier toilets
Station Pier toilets
Image: Max Strating
Source: Museum Victoria

Question: Why do the toilets near Station Pier have ‘Men’ and ‘Ladies’ written in Italian and Greek as well as English?

Answer: Almost from the beginning, Station Pier, or Railway Pier as it was known until the early 20th century, has been the main place of entry for immigrants arriving in Victoria. However, it was in the post World War II period (1946 – 1960) that the largest wave of migrants arrived.

As Italian and Greek migrants formed the majority of new arrivals, it was thought pertinent to include signage in Italian and Greek. An assisted passage scheme brought out 42 000 Italian born immigrants between 1951 and 1968, though this was eclipsed by unassisted Italian migration during the same period.

Assisted Greek migration between 1952 and 1982 saw 75 000 Greeks arrive in Australia. By 1971, Italian born immigrants outnumbered Greek born immigrants nationally - 289 476 Italian to 160 200 Greek. However, the 1976 census showed Port Melbourne’s Italian-born population at only 213 compared with 1 422 Greek-born. Interestingly, in 1954 Italians had made up just 1.4 % of Port Melbourne’s population and no Greeks were recorded at all!

The toilets were probably built after World War I as they are made in a similar style and of similar materials to the nearby band rotunda, built by members of the Port Melbourne Women’s Welcome Home Committee to honour returning soldiers. The palm trees next to the toilets are another reminder of the Great War, brought home by soldiers who served in the Middle East. The multi-lingual signage is likely to have appeared in the late 1940s as the first wave of migrants began arriving.

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