If a picture tells a thousand words, then the Archives is sharing hundreds of stories of migrants and their journeys to Australia. More than 21,000 photographs produced by the Department of Immigration are now available online through the Destination: Australia website. Archives researcher Amy Lay uncovers the story behind a photograph of one Dutch family.
I stumbled across the Hoogenhout family quite by accident, while browsing photographs of Dutch migrants. I was searching the Immigration Photographic Archive, transferred to the Archives from the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs in 2002. The collection of more than 26,000 photographs, mostly dating from the end of World War II to the 1990s, depicts the lives, journeys and experiences of some of the six million migrants who came to Australia during that time.
The pictures themselves say so much, but are often missing the most important piece of information – who is in the picture. So we created Destination: Australia – sharing our post-war migrant stories, to allow users to contribute their own information about the people and places in the photographs.
We started by seeking out some of these stories ourselves, rather than simply waiting for them to come to us. With curator Tracey Clarke, I set about discovering some of the characters and stories behind the photographs on Destination: Australia.
A few turns around the block
The first photograph of the Hoogenhouts caught my eye because there seemed to be an inordinately large number of people walking one dog. Three generations of a Dutch family are pictured side by side, arm in arm, walking a boxer along a suburban street in Sheffield, Tasmania. Further photographs of the family revealed that Jan and Nieske Hoogenhout ran a small bakery in the town.
My interest piqued, further research put me in touch with Eddie, the youngest Hoogenhout son. Eddie is a warm and personable fellow still living in Tasmania, who was happy to share some more stories about his family.
I met with Eddie and his sister Ineke in Kingston, Tasmania in January 2012. I was greeted at the door by a very friendly and inquisitive boxer who later spent the evening out on the deck looking forlorn that she had not been included. Eddie later told me that boxers had been in the family for as long as he could remember – his parents had loved them and so did he.
Eddie and Ineke regaled me with stories of their parents and of their experiences as children of Dutch migrants in Australia. The photograph that led me to them was taken in 1968, and the primary focus had been their brother John, who now lives in Queensland. As a child, John suffered from a rare kind of cancer that resulted in the amputation of his right leg. He was one of only a handful of sufferers in Australia to undergo a full leg amputation, and had not only survived but recovered with remarkable speed.
Ineke and Eddie could remember vividly the day the photograph was taken. Because of John’s new prosthesis, it took a few turns around the block to get the natural-looking walk right. According to Ineke, the new leg swung right out.
Embracing a new life in Australia
It wasn’t just John’s recovery that caught the eye of the Immigration Department: the Hoogenhouts were a perfect example of a migrant family who had prospered and embraced their new life in Australia.
Jan and Nieske Hoogenhout had arrived in Australia from the Netherlands in 1951. Jan had long had a feeling about Australia, developed after spending time in Indonesia, and the pull was enough for him to convince his fiancée Nieske to emigrate with him from their home in Utrecht in the Netherlands. Nieske had not been so sure – in fact she refused to marry Jan until she had seen her new home and decided that she would be happy in Australia. They married in Ulverstone, Tasmania in 1951, and when they later moved to Sheffield to open a bakery, Jan and Nieske became well-known and well-liked in the community.
The photographs in the Immigration Photographic Archive were used to foster support for immigrants and immigration at home, as well as to promote Australia as an emigration destination. The Hoogenhouts could be shown as prosperous and successful migrants to a local audience as well as an international one.
Eddie Hoogenhout knows his parents made the right decision to come to Australia, and he and his sister are both proud of their heritage.
Share your stories
Destination: Australia will, we hope, gather contributions that represent a wide range of migrant experiences. With your help, we’d like to get under the surface of the glossy photographs taken by the Department of Immigration, and learn a little more about the people who make Australia a multicultural and diverse community. We invite you to share your stories.