Diggers on way to Bendigo
'Diggers on way to Bendigo'.
Image: S.T Gill
Source: State Library of Victoria
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
– Lao-tzu, 604-531 BC

The motivations of people departing their homelands have varied greatly over time, from those seeking adventure and their fortunes on the goldfields of the 1850s, to those fleeing war-torn homelands today.

Generations of immigrants have shared many reasons for leaving home and setting out for a new life in a distant land. 'Leaving Home', a permanent exhibition at the Immigration Museum, identifies the following key motivations for why people migrate from one country to another:

• A better life • Family • Freedom • Disaster • War & Conflict

The decision to migrate and make a new life far away is followed by the heartache of having to say goodbye to home and loved ones. This has always been difficult for people, regardless of when the journey was made. Prior to the development of international air travel, people were very conscious of the fact that they would probably never see their friends and relatives again.

It was very affecting to see those who had friends waving handkerchiefs and weeping as they gazed at them, perhaps for the last time on earth.
– Anne Gratton migrated from England in 1858.
Needless to say there will be many heartaches and tears [in secret] on my own part. Sometimes my heart seems to turn to water.
– Susannah Nicholls migrated from London in 1923.
Starting out at 11p.m. and listening to the people on the piers saying "Will ye no come back again?" And tears dripping from everybody's face, making me feel nearly as bad as I had the night before.
– Alex Morrison migrated from Ireland in 1948.

Others, however, have been excited by the adventure of coming to a new land and a new beginning. The people who flocked to Victoria for the gold rush were particularly eager to get to the diggings. Many people in the days of sailing ships were just glad to have arrived safely, while others were pleased to be far away from the problems and worries that they had faced at home.

The thrill and the challenge to be on my own.
– Anne Gratton migrated from England in 1858.


  • Read extracts from the diary of Annie Duckles on the website of the National Library of Australia:
    Annie and her family migrated from England to Australia in 1912.
    What were their main reasons for choosing to start a new life in Australia?

  • Read about the experiences of a sample of post-war migrants on the website of the Migration Heritage Centre of New South Wales: http://www.migrationheritage.nsw.gov.au/belongings/

    Describe the departure of these people from their homelands.
    Was their decision to leave difficult?

Image Gallery

Travellers kissing Assisted passages poster, 1963