Snakes in the laundry, dreary meals of mutton and a British reluctance to shower are just some of the memories post-war immigrants have shared in A Place to Call Home? Migrant hostel memories, now on show at the Alfred Deakin Prime Ministerial Library.
‘While this latest exhibition is based around photographs held in our collection, it is these human recollections, both good and bad, that bring it to life,’ said National Archives curator Amy Lay.
‘Such memories, with their depth of personal emotion and culture shock, give us an insight into what it meant to cross the world in hope of a new life.’
One woman, 14 when she left England, recalls her mother ‘crying and shaking’ as they boarded the ship, leaving their extended family sobbing on the wharf. They had little hope of seeing each other again. As the family waited in Brisbane for ‘processing’, her mother murmured ‘Whatever have we done, John?’, later describing the migrant camp as ‘this hellhole’.
At the end of World War II the Australian Government believed the nation needed a larger population if it was to survive and grow. As well as welcoming displaced persons, it launched a major campaign to entice other immigrants to Australia.
‘With hundreds of thousands of new arrivals, housing was at a premium,’ said Amy Lay. ‘Former army and air force camps were converted into hostels to provide temporary accommodation while immigrants found homes and jobs. The images were taken by government photographers and used to promote Australia overseas as an ideal destination.’
More than 7.5 million immigrants have arrived in Australia since World War II. This is a National Archives of Australia Touring Exhibition on until 21 December.
The exhibition is free and is open 10am – 4pm, Monday to Friday.
Alfred Deakin Prime Ministerial Library
Deakin University Waterfront Campus
cnr Cunningham Street and Western Beach Road, Geelong