2017 British Migrants: Instant Australians?


Silvester family, 1961. Private collection: Lesley Silvester

This exhibition tells the story of over 1.5 million British migrants who came to Australia in the post-World War II period, many with assisted passages. One of the key challenges was to find a way to bring together two very different narratives: the story of how post-war British migration was part of the Australian government’s ongoing program of building a white Australia, and the emotional story of what it was like to be a British migrant at that time. We also wanted to raise questions about how this large cohort of migrants have shaped what it means to be Australian today.

Working on this project gave me the opportunity to draw on my understanding of Chinese Australian history and knowledge of Australian migration and white Australia in the new context of white British migration. It was also exciting to work in a prominent state museum and be part of a large community of highly skilled museum professionals.

The Museum was also keen to explore new methods of developing exhibitions and engaging audiences which was also exciting, and included a workshop with a range of creatives including theatre practitioners and circus performers. As part of the core project team I worked closely with Dr Moya McFadzean (Senior Curator, Migration & Cultural Diversity), Emily Kocaj (Project Manager, Exhibitions), and Hamish Palmer (Experience and Interpretation Manager). Together we explored new ways of developing audience-focussed exhibitions.

Role on project: Exhibition curator
Employment: Apr 2016 to Sep 2017 (0.8 EFT)

Exhibition venues:
Immigration Museum, Melbourne, 23 Nov 2017 to 15 Apr 2018

Website: British Migrants: Instant Australians?, Immigration Museum, Museums Victoria website

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