One of the important strands of Migration Memories was to show the experience of individuals in its historical context. The exhibitions provided historical context alongside personal stories through the use of text by the curator and visual documentary material from national and state archives. In the 1950s and ‘60s, the Commonwealth Government put a lot of effort into advertising Australia to potential migrants. Official immigration documents played an important part in representing Gabor Nagy’s story as he had kept very little of his earlier life.
Records of pastoral settlement helped tell Joan Treweeke’s story of the cultural connections made during the nineteenth century in Lightning Ridge. The surgeon’s report for the voyage of the Henry Porcher, 1840, is held in records at The State Library of Victoria. Mary’s research to give a visual sense of the world that the Chinese gardeners on Angledool station had left behind started with the website of the Chinese Museum in Melbourne. John Katis had a vivid visual memory of the village of Leonidion in Greece which he left at the age of eleven in 1955. In Cambodia today museum exhibitions of the skulls exhumed from mass graves provide a shocking sense of the killing fields which dramatically marked Sothea’s young life.


The exhibition used panel graphics and fabrication to highlight the landscape of each locality. Pipeline construction, Robinvale irrigation settlement, 1957, State Rivers and Water Supply Commission.
Context for post-war migration stories was found in Commonwealth migration records held by the National Archives of Australia. Posters, pamphlets, photographs and films were all part of promotion campaigns that provided information in various European languages as well as in English. In this case they gave a sense of his personal story as well as its context in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War. Shipping records of the same period were used to show the context of John Grant’s migration to Robinvale.
It included the Historical Chinese Postcard Project 1896-1920 and ended with Hong Kong University academic, Michael Williams, who offered his own collection of postcards for use in the exhibition. A quick sketch he made brought his childhood memory and his love for his village into the present. But the skulls as they are shown in museums are not scenes that are part of Sothea’s memory of the Cambodia he left.


Image used in the slide show presented at the National Museum exhibition of Migration Memories.
As part of this it was seen as important to show the places that people left – as they were at the time of leaving.
Participants were provided with copies of their family records and through this often found out more about their migration history. The official photograph taken of Gabo at the Displaced Persons camp in Naples provided the Nagy family with the only photo they have of him as a young man.
As there were no images of the Angledool gardens, one of a typical Chinese garden in Brisbane was used with a memory of Angledool, to show how knowledge and skills from China shaped the Australian colonial landscape.
What qualities of Lightning Ridge and Robinvale shaped their migration histories and the experiences of people who came to live in them? The exhibitions sought to show this by providing a strong visual and aural sense of each place and its character as a culturally diverse community.




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