Immigration is a natural,instinctive activity, which has been the center of controversy for over acentury. Although humans have moved around the world since the Late Stone Age,immigration has a rich, extensive history. With terrorism on the rise, theworld’s most desirable countries to immigrate to have become focused oncreating strict policies regarding vetting, countries of origin, and capacity.
Forthis reason and others, it is particularly intriguing to explore the historyand culmination of Australian Immigration. With the help of Melbourne’sImmigration Museum, there is much to be discovered through its extensiveexhibits and interactive displays. The museum poses a thought-provokingexperience and answers a variety of questions about hardship, diversity, andidentity. This Field Report will examine the history of the Immigration Museum,assess my experience as a visitor, and evaluate the depiction the Museumportrays of Australian Immigration itself. According to theImmigration Museum, its purpose is to showcase the history of AustralianImmigration and celebrate the diversity and culture that encapsulates Australiatoday.
First opened in the “beautifully restored Old Customs House” in 1998, theMuseum’s location seemed to be the perfect fit due to the sentiment of the immigrantswho had passed through decades ago. Working to increase community engagement,the Museum is proud to “collaborate with culturally and linguistically diversecommunities … in order to … developstrong and sustainable relationships within Victoria” (Immigration Museum,2018). In the true respectable fashion, theMuseum’s staff and board legitimize its intended purpose outside ofexhibitions. According to Dr. Moya McFadzean (2012), “genuinely desires to berelevant and responsive to changing visitor demands, changing social, politicaland cultural environments and changing museological communication techniques.” Withoutthis factor, it would be extremely difficult for the Museum to foster authenticrelationships within the community. Within the walls, thecontents are filled with vast amounts of information and eye-catchingcollections to educate visitors in creative ways.
“Museum facilities andactivities include a discovery centre, community gallery, touring exhibitionsand public and educational programs, including community festivals, exhibitionsand many community engagement activities” (McFadzean, M., 2012). TheImmigration Museum is considered to be In fact, the exceptionally modern andtechnologically advanced. Patrizia Schettino, a Multimedia Design and VisualCommunication Expert, has published a case study identifying “SuccessfulStrategies for Dealing With New Technology in Museums” using the MelbourneImmigration Museum as an example. Here she states, “new technologies not onlyhave an impact on visitors, but also on museum staff as they have to deal everyday both with visitors and the digital interactive object itself.
” Patriiziarefers to a specific exhibition designed by Profs. Sarah Kenderdine and JeffreyShaw, titled “PLACE-Hampi” where visitors entered an immersive environmentallowing them “to explore 360° digital panoramas in an interactive way.” Theresults of the exhibition were incredibly useful to the Museum’s staff in termsof learning about their customers. Here, they “recognized different types ofvisitors: those who liked to be guided and those who preferred to explore …and … learnt how tobetter engage with cultural diversity from their mistakes” (Schettino, 2016). Consideringthe following, it’s easy to affirm the Immigration Museum is constantly lookingfor ways to improve their facility as well as the visitor’s experience.As a first time visitor,nearly all aspects of the Immigration Museum blew me away. When my classmatesand I first approached the courtyard filled with random toys for children Iimmediately felt welcomed. The back entrance of the museum was through anenclosure covered entirely by glass; this area included café tables and boardgames for young kids, although shamelessly, we had our fun with the games too.
AsI reflect upon the entrance, with a large looming tunnel leading to the firstexhibit, I can’t help but ponder the feeling of walking out of the tunnel intothe courtyard. I believe this was strategically constructed to replicate thefeeling of an immigrant becoming into Australia and being greeted by the warm,bright sun as they stepped out of the Old Customs House. Throughout the museum therewere several exhibits and galleries where I learned about immigrant vetting,the history of Australian immigration, and culture-identity crisis. One of myfavorite features was in the permanent exhibition, “Getting In.” Within the exhibit is “an interactive theatreexperience whereby visitors find themselves in the role of a governmentofficial charged with the responsibility of interviewing people applying tomigrate to Australia, and discovering whether or not they ‘get in” (ImmigrationMuseum, 2018). This experience was one of the most emotionally draining andeducating experiences I’ve had in my life.
Sitting with my friend by my side,we were truly immersed in our roles as immigration agents, with the life of ahopeful Iranian refugee in our hands. We carefully listened to theinterrogation and paced back and forth the room, plagued with the tough decisionto accept or reject the applicant. Evidently, our emotions got the best of us,and we chose to accept, which was the incorrect decision due to manycontradictions in the applicant’s testimony. He was formally rejected by thesystem and our hearts sank. The look of defeat in the man’s eyes inducedoverwhelming sadness.
We walked away nearly in tears, warning others to be waryof partaking in the same experience. It was an unsettling realization thatpolicies and extreme vetting of applicants can squander chances of theopportunity for a prosperous and safe life. Nevertheless, I understood theimportance of such measures to ensure peace and neutralize threats, however itdid not make me feel any better. Undoubtedly, I’ve never been to a museum withsuch an exhibit that left such a lasting impression with me.The Immigration Museumcarries a particularly important duty; to preserve the countless stories ofmigration and highlight issues in the past. The museum depicts these stories invarious ways, such as writings, audio scraps, videos, art, and everyday items.
Dr. Philipp Schorch (2014), a Marie Curie Research Fellow, has remarked thatthe stories tell a lot more than just the experiences of migrants; “theempirical evidence emphasizes that the humanization of migration throughstories and faces renders possible an understanding, explanation, and critiqueof sociopolitical contexts through the experience of human beings.” As visitorswalk through the museum, stories are spotlighted based on their personalculture, hardships, or past. Every visitor’s experience in the Museum is likelysingular because each visitor emotionally connects to the stories uniquely.
Dr.Schorch continued his analytical study about the Immigration Museum stating thegroup, “shifted … its focus from the”stories of migration” to the ” ‘issues associated withmigration’ ” (Schorch 2014).Thousands of people eachyear visit the Immigration Museum of Melbourne. There’s no doubt that most leavewith a lasting impression, filled with emotions, and an extensive understandingof the history of Australian Immigration.