A new exhibition has opened it’s doors at Melbourne’s Immigration Museum and I can say with all my heart, it’s one of the most moving exhibitions I have had the pleasure of visiting.
‘Between 1947 and 1981 nearly 1.5 million Brits arrived in an Australia that was predominantly white and British – it had worked hard to be so’
A few weeks ago I went along to a preview of the new exhibition ‘British Migrants, Instant Australians?‘. We were treated to Devonshire Tea, a cup of Earl Grey, and some magnificent guest speakers, before heading in. It felt quintessentially British, although there was no driving rain or fog to be seen!
Paul Jennings, best known for his writing of many children’s books, got up to speak about his migration from the UK at the age of six. He told us of the distress he felt leaving behind his beloved Grandmother. Sitting there listening to his heartfelt words, I felt as if I was listening to my own children speaking in 30 years time. I could totally relate to his feelings of homesickness, longing, and upset at leaving the only home he’d known; I had a lump in my throat!
‘When I was six I left England, with my parents and my little sister Ruth, to come and live in Australia. That was in 1949. In those days, people came to Australia by boat. The one we came on was called the Ranchi. We sailed for five weeks before arriving in Melbourne’- Paul Jennings
His story was compelling, and a real tear jerker. It’s so easy to overlook what migration was to families back in the 40’s. It’s especially hard to consider what that journey must have been like whilst living in todays modern world of round the globe flights, and Skype calls! British Migrants in the 1940’s left home simply thinking it was ‘for the best!’ Expats still take this risk when they move far from home, although being more aware of the world possibly makes it less of a “culture shock”.
Red Symons also spoke about his migration from the UK. He told us of his everlasting memory of stepping into a land with an immense amount of sky. The single storey houses, the flat landscapes, and the endless blue skies. His words made me wonder what my children will remember from our early days Down Under? That moment we arrived in the dead of night, the sights, the sounds, the smells, the accents. So different to home!
‘Newcomers from Britain had all the advantages of a shared language, culture and history. So fitting in should be easy. But reality is never that simple’
The thing that struck me most about all the speakers at the grand unveiling of the latest exhibition was how their hearts broke at leaving family and friends behind; yet they recognised the opportunity they had been given. They all got stuck in, pushed their homesickness and worries to one side and made the best of their new lives. They went over and above to “fit in”, they changed their accents and worked hard to build friendships. The chance to leave behind post WW2 Britain, the grey skies and limited job opportunities, for a land which had everything they could wish for in abundance was too good to ignore.
The exhibition holds some wonderful, heartfelt stories of lives well lived, cherished friendships, and of the “migrant” feeling of being ‘too foreign for home, too foreign for here, and never enough for both’.
Whilst wandering through the exhibition, I couldn’t help but go back to those nagging thoughts in my mind… “Will my children grow up feeling like this?” “Will they look back with sadness at what they missed when we moved?” “Will my children grow up with a constant longing in their hearts?” Honestly, I’m not sure. Today’s “migrant” is so incredibly different from those who arrived in Australia all those years ago. The world is so much smaller and the internet bigger than ever. We can keep in touch without lifting a pen, or licking a stamp, and we can see distant loved ones at the touch of a button.
I’m not sure my children feel any different to their peers. No one comments on their accents (anymore), no one really even asks them where they’re from. We’re learning we’re not that different after all. This is an indication of just how migration has changed. My children are not really seen as ‘migrants’ in the classroom! I’m not sure any of us are! Is an expat a migrant anymore?
Not only is this new exhibition a fantastic insight into the lives of thousands of migrants and their voyage to Australia, but it’s a real showcase of bravery, courage, and human kindness which will teach all visitors a lesson in the need to show compassion to people migrating to this wonderful country!
The Immigration Museum has beautifully showcased artefacts from treasured family collections, with words spoken by those families themselves. They have taken time to cleverly and sympathetically tell people’s stories of migration, with a mixture of mediums including handwritten letters, memorabilia and old posters promising a life rich in work and sun.
As an expat myself, who has brought my British children to Australia, I found the exhibition moving to say the least. I cannot begin to imagine what the 1940’s migrant must have thought arriving in this warm, far away land, with nothing but the bare essentials; some of them not knowing what to expect. To think that they came here and managed to build new lives, away from everything they had ever known, with no modern technology to contact home is just mind blowing to me. Honestly, their courage astounds me, and I highly recommend this exhibition.
‘British Migrants, Instant Australians?’ is open now and runs until 15th April 2018 at Melbourne’s Immigration Museum.
Tickets are included with Museum Entry
Adults – $14
Child to 16 years – FREE
Concession – FREE