New exhibition sheds light on the lives of Australia’s post-war migrants

Butcher in kitchen 

Snakes in the laundry and dreary meals of mutton are just some of the memories post-war immigrants have shared in A Place to Call Home? Migrant Hostel Memories. This fascinating photographic exhibition rekindles memories of life in Australia's migrant hostels.

A Place to Call Home? Migrant Hostel Memories, a touring exhibition from the National Archives of Australia, is being hosted by the Whitlam Institute (opens in a new window) at the University of Western Sydney's Parramatta campus, and will be open to the public from 14 May to 24 July.

"While this latest exhibition is based around photographs held in our collection, it is these human recollections, both good and bad, that bring it to life," said National Archives curator Amy Lay.

"People recalled the tastes, the sights and smells (including the 'rotten' scent of mangoes) which, on our companion website Destination: Australia, evoked memories and strong responses from other immigrants.

"Such memories, with their depth of personal emotion and culture shock, give us an insight into what it meant to cross the world in hope of a new life."

One woman, 14 when she left England, recalls her mother 'crying and shaking' as they boarded the ship, leaving their extended family sobbing on the wharf. They had little hope of seeing each other again. As the family waited in Brisbane for 'processing', her mother murmured 'Whatever have we done, John?', later describing the migrant camp as 'this hellhole'.

The exhibition features highlights from a collection of around 22,000 photographs, taken by government photographers documenting the experiences of post-World War II migrants to Australia.

Woman in kitchen 

The photographs were taken between the late 1940s and the 1990s. Known as the Immigration Photographic Archive, the photographs form part of the National Archives of Australia collection.

Images from the archive were used to encourage re-location to Australia to prospective migrants and to help local Australians welcome new migrants into the community.

Director of the Whitlam Institute, Mr Eric Sidoti, says the Institute is delighted to bring the exhibition to the Parramatta campus.

"The Whitlam Institute is proud to continue its tradition of hosting national exhibitions that tell an important story about Australia's political, cultural and social history," says Mr Sidoti.

"This collection represents such an important time in Australia's multicultural history. Visitors will no doubt identify with the stunning images, and hopefully reflect a little on their own experiences.

"We encourage people to come, visit, and learn more about our post-war migration years and how they have shaped modern Australia as we know it."

A Place to Call Home? Migrant Hostel Memories will be officially opened by acclaimed poet Associate Professor Peter Skrzynecki OAM, at 6:30pm on Friday 8 May. The public is welcome to attend the opening, but RSVPs are essential by 1 May. Please email or call 02 9685 9210 to register.

This touring exhibition from the National Archives of Australia has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory board.

In association with the A Place to Call Home exhibition, the National Archives of Australia will be running a free one hour workshop at the Female Orphan School on Saturday 23 May from 11am on how you can contribute your migration story to the Destination Australia website. Bookings are required. Please contact 02 9685 9210 or email the Whitlam Institute.


27 April 2015

Amanda Whibley, Media Manager

By submitting a comment you acknowledge you agree with the Terms and Conditions.