A Place to Call Home? Migrant hostel memories
This photographic exhibition features highlights of a collection of around 22,000 photographs taken by government photographers documenting the experiences of post-World War II migrants to Australia
Snakes in the laundry, dreary meals of mutton and a British reluctance to shower are just some of the memories post-war immigrants have shared in A Place to Call Home? Migrant hostel memories
‘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’.
At the end of World War II the Australian Government believed the nation needed a larger population if it was to survive and grow. As well as welcoming displaced persons, it launched a major campaign to entice other immigrants to Australia.
‘With hundreds of thousands of new arrivals, housing was at a premium,’ said Amy Lay. ‘Former army and air force camps were converted into hostels to provide temporary accommodation while immigrants found homes and jobs. The images were taken by government photographers and used to promote Australia overseas as an ideal destination.’
More than 7.5 million immigrants have arrived in Australia since World War II. While some returned to their country of origin, the vast majority have chosen to remain, enriching the nation’s cultural diversity. Today about 46 per cent of Australians were either born overseas or have at least one parent who was.
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.
The photographs strongly represent a time in Australian history that shaped the face of modern multiculturalism. Individuals, families and community groups will identify strongly with the images and will be able to reflect on both their own individual and shared experiences.
Image Credit: Dressing up at Bonegilla New South Wales 1956 NAAA12111 2195622A28
A national touring exhibition developed and presented by the National Archives of Australia.
This project has been assisted by the Australian Government’s Visions of Australia program.