Prime Minister Julia Gillard recently launched the website Destination: Australia – sharing our post-war migrant stories, which features more than 20,000 photographs of what Prime Minister Gillard referred to as ‘the faces of our migrant nation’. Curator Tracey Clarke shares some of her favourite images from this vast archive.
The Australian Government embarked on its mass migration program after World War II with a camera in hand. Between the late 1940s and the 1990s photographers working for the Department of Immigration captured thousands of photographs of migrants arriving and settling in Australia. Publicists used the images in campaigns to promote Australia as a prosperous nation to potential migrants and to reassure the Australian public that new arrivals would readily settle into the Australian way of life.
This rich photographic record tells the stories of many of the seven million migrants who made Australia their home after World War II.
A journey never forgotten
The reasons why people have migrated to Australia are many. Some have fled war, disaster, famine or persecution. Others have been attracted by the prospect of a better life or the opportunity to reunite with loved ones.
Photographers recorded the experiences of hundreds of families as they left their homeland and travelled to Australia. Until the 1960s most migrants destined for Australia faced a long journey by ship – and for many it was an adventure never forgotten. Overcrowding was common on the converted wartime ships used to transport migrants in the early post-war years. Later, shipping companies began using large passenger liners with facilities like swimming pools and cinemas.
Charted flights for migrants were available from the late 1940s, making the journey from home to a new life in a strange land much shorter.
From the late 1970s, photographers recorded the Australian Government’s humanitarian efforts in settling refugees, initially from war-torn Indochina and later from Central America, Africa and elsewhere.
This selection of images captures the excitement, and the trepidation, of the journey, and first steps in a new land. They show families reunited and the sometimes uncertain beginning to a new life.
Settling in, and making a home, is an important part of the migration experience. Government publicists frequently used photographs of migrants living in large modern homes, with big backyards, vegetable gardens and swimming pools. These images were presented to potential migrants to show they could also share in Australia’s post-war prosperity and own their own home.
Images of migrants settling in to the ‘Australian way of life’ – having a ‘cuppa’, hanging out washing on the Hills Hoist, picnicking at the beach – also reassured the local audience that migrants were embracing their new homeland.
Building a nation
Photographs of thousands of migrants at work highlight the important part they played in Australia’s economic development and post-war prosperity. Migrants provided the labour necessary to expand Australia’s steel, coal and manufacturing industries and to complete major engineering projects like the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Scheme (1949–74). Many opened small businesses, while others found work in factories or on farms. Some succeeded in the professions.
The photographs on Destination: Australia showcase the significant and diverse contributions migrants have made to Australia’s strong sporting tradition and in the performing and visual arts.
They show how many migrants maintained cultural traditions and ties to their homelands and helped build Australia’s culturally diverse society.
Share your stories
These are some of my favourite photos from the thousands featured on the Destination: Australia website. We would love to hear about the images that capture your imagination or stir your memories, and invite you to find a familiar face and share your migration stories at Destination: Australia.