British migrants crowd the deck on the P&O ship Beltana.
Source: Museum Victoria
Question: I am a visitor from the UK and was very interested by the idea of an immigration museum. I don't think we have such a concept at home. What are the origins of the museum and is this a unique notion?
Answer: In the 1980s discussion began about the idea of a museum that would concentrate on the rich history of immigration to Victoria. In 1998 Immigration Museum opened in Old Customs House, Melbourne, Australia.
The Immigration Museum “explore[s] the moving stories of people from all over the world who have migrated to Australia through a program of exhibitions and events.” We hold a wide range of permanent and temporary exhibitions that examine the immigration experience in Australia over the last 200 years. They focus on diverse topics and celebrate the multicultural diversity of Australia, the many dimensions of the migration experience across time and across cultures.
The exhibition program is supported by a wide variety of events and activities, such as regular community festivals, school holiday activities and an extensive array of education programs. We have a comprehensive website which allows people to delve deeper into the concepts and themes presented at the museum.
We also provide opportunities for further learning through the Immigration Discovery Centre, which attracts students, family historians, and immigrants, who want to contextualise their experience through our information resources.
The concept of a museum that concentrates on immigration is not unique to Melbourne. Adelaide’s Migration Museum, the Migration Heritage Centre in Sydney and Bonegilla Migrant Reception and Training Centre in Albury are examples of museums and cultural sites that specifically examine the immigrant experience in the Australian context.
There are many other Australian museums and sites that focus on the history of specific communities, groups, or places where the migration experience and cultural diversity are intrinsic to their identity. Some of these include the Chinese Museum in Melbourne, the Sydney Jewish Museum, Hyde Park Barracks Museum;, and Port Arthur Historic site in Tasmania.
In 2007 UNESCO and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) launched the Migration Institutions website. The site has links to many institutions and organisations, including a couple in Ireland and England, and it shows that the idea of an immigration museum is broad. It can be big or small, focus or single or multiple community groups, and may be a real or virtual museum or cultural site.