Land Ahoy

The first sighting of land—whether that has been by sea or from the air, has always been momentous for new arrivals to Australia. For those with long-held assumptions about what their adopted homeland might be like, the coastline could trigger delight or despair.

All we saw were trees and greenery and I just fell into my mother's arms crying. We were both crying because we thought we had come to the end of the earth. There was no city in sight.
— Mariam Baker migrated from Egypt in 1966.
I remember flying into Sydney and it was really early in the morning. The plane banked, and all I remember is the sun on the cliffs, and the beaches. It was so beautiful.
— Juliet Wilson migrated from Canada in 1992.

Arrival by sea was an exciting experience. Streamers sailed through the air, creating colourful paper spider webs. Teeming crowds jostled for position, with friends, relatives, prospective husbands and employers waving, shouting, laughing and crying. Eager migrants leaned over the ship rails searching the crowd for loved ones while the band played anything from Waltzing Matilda to Greek music.

The wharf was always crowded when a migrant ship docked. There were immigration and customs officials, baggage handlers and delivery personnel, photographers, industry representatives spruiking for new recruits, welcoming parties and sightseers. Hostesses employed by the Harbour Trusts known as the 'blue' or 'red' ladies (according to the colour of their hats) were on hand to guide and assist, while community organisations such as travellers aid societies provided support, especially for the more needy. Inside the terminals, the shops and information booths opened for business.

The excitement of disembarking, however, was tempered by farewells to new shipboard friends.

Soon, the people you had made friends with while on board went their separate ways, either to meet family members or sponsors; most never to be seen again.
— Connie McQuade migrated from Denmark in 1960.

The end of many journeys, however, have been cause for celebration.

We all yell(ed) "Ahhh!". All yell and then all the people underneath there they try to climb up and all of us yell and clap hands and laugh and hug each other, yeah and hugging each other and say that "Yeah, we made it, we made it, we made it!" And all the sailor was singing and thanking God and all of us at that time all kneel, all kneel and pray to God and thank God that we already reach the safe land.
— Mai Ho migrated from Vietnam in 1981.


Read about the experiences of a sample of post-war migrants on the website of the Migration Heritage Centre of New South Wales:

What do you think the feelings of these people were as they arrived in Australia?