Senior Curator of Migration, Moya McFadzean, contributed to the exhibition during its initial development and subsequent updates. On the eve of its closure, she reflects on Station Pier.
When Station Pier opened at the Immigration Museum in 2004 it was only supposed to be for a year. Six years and one refurbishment later, Station Pier finally lifts the gangplank!
Station Pier was planned to open as part of the 150th anniversary celebration of Station Pier itself – which first opened as Railway Pier in 1854. Since then it has evolved from a wooden pier mooring clipper ships, then ocean steamers, to its complete reconstruction from 1923-1930, its seeing off soldiers leaving for two world wars, the arrival of thousands of post-war migrants, and the final government assisted migrant ship in 1978.
Station Pier holds a special place in the memories of innumerable migrants and their associations with hopes and expectations, fears and anxieties, first unions and reunions. In the Immigration Museum, this was a story worth telling. The exhibition commenced with a community callout for stories, photographs, film and objects and the Museum Victoria team created a modest but effective exhibition containing the historical narrative of Railway/Station Pier’s history from its beginnings to the present day; personal stories via diaries in the19th century and oral histories in the 20th century; tales of departures, ship journeys (with technology changing the nature of those trips over time), port stopover experiences, crossing the equator celebrations, and arrival and processing.
Objects include wonderful ship models, 19th century navigation equipment, the personal travel diary of Ally Heathcote from 1874, post-war shipboard souvenirs, luggage, and objects brought by migrants symbolising their expectations and plans. Photographs, home video shot onboard during the 1960s and a recreated slide show of the journey all have added flavour to the experiences leading up to the final arrival at Station Pier.
The exhibition has proved enormously successful and when limited budgets and a shortage of touring exhibitions meant that replacing Station Pier proved difficult, it simply lived on. In 2006 the Museum launched a touring exhibition Destination Australia, which incorporated content from Station Pier as well as histories of other Australian migrant ports. With the assistance of Visions Australia and the Helen MacPherson Smith Trust, it travelled to all states and territories for two years. When the exhibition came off the road, elements of that exhibition were incorporated into a refreshed Station Pier exhibition in 2008, enriching the content. Now nearly all the objects on display are from the museum’s own collection.
While it is sad to see it go, we are now immersed in the excitement of preparing to launch a new exhibition, so different, yet also with personal voices and reflections at its heart. We will also be launching a virtual Station Pier: Gateway to a New Life exhibition on our website in 2011 which will keep the exhibition sailing on.....