Immigration museum

The immigration museum surprised me in the fact that it showcased a large array of amazingly comprehensive exhibits, presenting the drastic policy changes that have occurred throughout Australia’s immigration history. I found that the museum had a very clear and easy to follow layout and I’m not sure that many people could find an area that was not covered. The almost life-sized ship in the long room showcasing the boat exhibit was particularly fascinating to look at.

I was not surprised however by the racist, pro-white European immigration history that Australia had in the past. Although as a native Australian I have never had to personally deal with the issue of immigration, I was well aware of the inflexible nature of Australia’s early immigration policy, especially the ‘white Australia policy’. In Australia restrictions on immigration preceded federation, during the goldrushes of 1850s Australia had an influx of Chinese families thus anti-chinese legislation was introduced as was the  White Australia policy with the Regulation of Chinese residents in Victoria in 1857, this particular period in Australia’s immigration policy history was very racist. This proves my suspicions of tough immigration policy to be correct. I did not know however that the term ‘white Australia policy’ was penned in 1988 by William Lane in his book Boomerang.

It was interesting to learn about the way Australian society used immigration to its advantage to help with rebuilding their economy after the depression in 1929 and the end of World War II. The depression initially halted all assisted immigration schemes simply because Australia could not afford to pay to help families possibly with low skill bases assimilate into society, and as I already stated, before the end of WWII Australia was very intent on keeping their European heritage.  However the end of WWII left millions of Europeans uprooted and in ‘displaced persons’ camps. In 1947-1955, 250,000 displaced persons arrived in Australia, their intake second only to the US. Australia hoped to rapidly increase their population for national security and to secure an instant workforce in a rapidly expanding post war economy. Australia took in almost three million people, most were unskilled migrants and worked in unpopular government jobs to help repay their costs of assisted immigration.

It seems that Australia’s immigration policy really turned around for the better with the change of immigration minister between 1945 and 1949.  The introduction of Arthur Caldwell as minister saw the continuity of large numbers of unskilled migrants coming into Australia with assisted passage including many Asians to try and dispell the negative impacts of the ‘White Australia Policy’. ‘Australia wants, and will welcome, new healthy citizens who are determined to become good Australians’. Arthur was also famously quoted as saying ‘Australia must populate or perish”.

 However, I was surprised to notice that the museum deals with immigration on a fairly personal level, with quotes such as “Immigrants to Victoria have always found ways to keep their diverse cultural traditions alive in their new home” and “To migrate is rarely as simple as leaving one place to settle down permanently in another” prominant in the “Immigrants stories and timeline” exhibit, forcing you to consider immigration on a human level. These excerpts have familiar family connotations and images of large families struggling in a new foreign country were conjured up in my head. By taking the politics out of immigration I found it difficult to look at immigrants as faceless ‘others’ which is easier to do when talking about policy. The museum did this exceptionally well with the computerised interactive test in the ‘Getting In’ exhibit.  It highlighted how difficult the immigration officers jobs are, I unsuccessfully attempted this activity twice each time being surprised with how emotionally involved I felt with the applications feeling very strongly that they either should or should not ‘get in’ to Australia. It surprised me to hear the descriptions of who the ‘perfect candidates’ were. This test showed a very real side to immigration, one that many people who like me, have never had to deal with immigration, would not immediately associate immigration policy with.

The museum did well to walk a very fine line between being very comprehensive and informative but note overtly opinionated. It managed to stay quietly apolitical whilst still providing all the information. As someone who has quite strong personal political ideals, I appreciated the neutrality of the exhibits.



~ by caitlin08 on March 19, 2008.

One Response to “Immigration museum”

  1. Nice one.

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