Keepsakes and Necessities

In 1926, Eileen Wyke brought 'Ruthie' with her to Australia.
This doll, named 'Ruthie', was bought by Eileen Wyke in England when she was 11 years old, using money she received as an Easter present. When her family immigrated to Australia in 1926 Eileen brought Ruthie with her.
Image: Vincenzo Candela
Source: CO.AS.IT - Italian Historical Society

Over the years, migrants making the journey to Australia have often taken something with them to remind them of home, as well as to comfort them on the long journey. These keepsakes included photos, jewellery, items of national dress and gifts from loved ones. Children usually brought their favourite toy or book.

Individuals and families also brought a variety of items with them in anticipation of what they would need for the journey and for their new life in Australia. From little things like vegetable seeds, olive oil or salamis, to larger household items such as carpentry tools, coffee-makers and blankets, expectations about life in Australia were reflected in what migrants brought with them. People knew little about their new homeland and made assumptions about climate, food and employment—sometimes correct, sometimes misinformed.

New arrivals were often guilty of bringing in items that had to be confiscated by customs. Unfamiliar foodstuffs could be deemed contraband, suspect to a predominantly British cuisine culture. Plant seeds were a threat to the Australian natural environment. Doonas did not appear on lists of taxable goods and were seized. So migrants sometimes smuggled things in.

My mum knew she was doing something wrong, but she still stuffed her bra, girdle and the body cavity of my dolls with her favourite Italian vegie seeds and smuggled them in.
— Maria Attardi migrated from Italy in 1960.

Many items brought to Australia by immigrants were not readily available in Australia. Half a century later, they are now part of Australia's culture.


Download the Customs Service brochure: Guide for Travellers:

Make a list of items that people are prohibited from bringing into Australia.
Would these rules be a problem for migrants wanting to bring things from home?

Image Gallery

Neapolitan coffee maker brought from Italy in 1953