Shocked survivors from the wrecked ship Clan Ranald sitting amongst rocks at Troubridge Hill on the Yorke Peninsula, South Australia, 1909. Some are wrapped in blankets and a policeman stands with them. Courtesy State Library of South Australia PRG 280/1/43/84.
Acts of the White Australia policy
Today marks the 60th anniversary of the abolition of the controversial dictation test, which was a central feature of the Immigration Restriction Act 1901. This was one of three pieces of legislation, together with the Pacific Island Labourers Act and the Post and Telegraph Act, which were passed after Federation in 1901 and colloquially known as the White Australia policy. Together these acts placed restrictions on immigration and sought to remove prohibited immigrants, namely those from Asia and the Pacific Islands, from the new Commonwealth. On 8 October 1958, the Immigration Restriction Act was replaced by the Migration Act 1958, which introduced a simpler system of entry permits.
The dictation test required non-European immigrants to write out a passage of 50 words in any European language (later any prescribed language) as dictated by the immigration officer. Since the choice of language was at the discretion of the officer, undesirable immigrants were destined to fail the test. They could then be declared prohibited immigrants and deported. One of the most infamous cases of the application of the dictation test dates to 1909 and involved the Scottish cargo ship SS Clan Ranald, its Asian and Indian crew (known as lascars), and one of South Australia’s worst maritime disasters.
The Camenzuli family in Paola, Malta, a few days before their departure for Australia on Skaubryn, 1958. From left: Lucy, Lina, Georgina, Zaren, Mary and Joyce. Reproduced courtesy Camenzuli family.
It’s International Museum Day, an annual event that raises awareness about the role of museums in cultural exchange and the development of mutual understanding. This year’s theme of ‘hyperconnected museums’ focuses on how museums can make their collections accessible and connect with local communities. It’s a theme that is pertinent to our Remembering Skaubryn: 60 years on exhibition, which is drawn from an important collection of photographs documenting the fire and rescue on the Norwegian migrant liner Skaubryn in 1958. Skaubryn was carrying 1,080 passengers, mostly German and Maltese migrants, and was the only vessel lost at sea during the era of post-war migration to Australia.
We have been amazed by the public response to Remembering Skaubryn, with offers of material for our collection, oral history interviews, and visits from survivors, their families and descendants, as well as local community groups such as the Australian-German Welfare Society. It has been wonderful to hear from visitors who have found a personal connection to the exhibition, reminding us that immigration is lived history but also living history, where the impacts of life-changing migrant voyages resonate right down through the generations. Continue reading →
Skaubryn survivors were transferred to Aden in one of Roma’s lifeboats, 1958. ANMM Collection Gift from Barbara Alysen ANMS0214. Reproduced courtesy International Organisation for Migration.
The 60th anniversary of the Skaubryn sinking
The Norwegian liner Skaubryn was the only vessel lost at sea during the era of post-war migration to Australia, when it caught fire in 1958 with 1,288 people on board, including more than 200 children. Two of the survivors, who were both eight years old at the time of their voyage, recently registered for the Welcome Wall and shared their stories with the museum.
Port bow view of Skaubryn on fire in the Indian Ocean, 1958. ANMM Collection Gift from Barbara Alysen ANMS0214. Reproduced courtesy International Organisation for Migration.
Photography has always played a critical role in documenting the movement of people across borders. The photographs linked to the vast archive of Certificates of Exemption from the Dictation Test, for instance, put a face to those impacted by the Immigration Restriction Act (White Australia policy) for the first half of the 20th century. In more recent times, the 2015 photograph of the body of three-year-old Alan Kurdi washed up on a Turkish beach brought the horrors of the Syrian refugee crisis to a global audience. Photographs, as material (and now increasingly digital) objects, also cross borders to bear witness to the lived experiences of migration and diaspora.
The museum holds a rich archive of photographs relating to migration (many of which are in the process of being digitised), ranging from informal family snapshots to official portraits promoting government mass migration schemes after World War II. One of our most significant collections documents the fire and rescue on the Norwegian liner Skaubryn in the Indian Ocean in 1958. A selection of these photographs is now displayed in our Tasman Light Gallery to mark the 60th anniversary of the Skaubryn disaster.
John Shying on the Welcome Wall at the Australian National Maritime Museum. Image: ANMM.
It’s coming up to Lunar New Year and the so-called world’s largest annual human migration, as hundreds of millions of people (particularly China’s urban-based migrant workers) head home to spend the holiday with their families. It’s also coming up to a special milestone in Australia’s immigration history as it is 200 years since one of the first documented Chinese-born free settlers arrived in New South Wales.
Mak Sai Ying (later anglicised to John Pong Shying) arrived in Sydney on 27 February 1818, just 30 years after the First Fleet and several decades before the 1850s gold rushes, which would bring thousands of Chinese fortune seekers to Australia. John Shying has the distinction of being the first Chinese landowner and publican in Sydney, and also the grandfather of the first Chinese-Australian serviceman.
Letter from W H Barnwell to Konstancija Brundzaite, 1947. ANMM Collection Gift from the Australian Lithuanian Community 00003842.
At the museum, we hold a rich collection of ephemera, which refers to written or printed materials that have short-term use, like letters, postcards, brochures, invitations and greeting cards. Many of these items go on to acquire a lasting historical or social significance, such as a letter that was sent to a passenger on the former troopship USAT General Stuart Heintzelman in 1947. Continue reading →
White Russians Eugene, Ilia and Katherine Seiz in Harbin, China, 1940s. Reproduced courtesy Natalie Seiz and Andrew Seiz.
One of the things I find most interesting about Australia’s immigration history is how political events and uprisings on the other side of the world can have a flow-on effect and shape our own history. Take for example the October Revolution in Russia, which occurred 100 years ago today on 7 November 1917 (or 25 October in the old Julian calendar) and would lead to the exodus of the refugees known as White Russians or white émigrés.
‘I do some soothsaying’, from Mrs Cherry’s illustrated journey from England to Australia on Ormonde, 1931. ANMM Collection 00029325.
I have recently finished reading Umbertina by Helen Barolini (1979), a classic novel about migration and identity as explored through the lives of three generations of Italian-American women. In the 1870s the title character, a Calabrian goatherd, commissions an intricate woven bedspread for her wedding to Serafino Longobardi. With its traditional design of grapes, fig leaves and ivy, ‘the bedspread was the one thing she would bring to her new home [in New York] and she wanted it beautiful and strong, to last forever’ (p 44). Circumstances force Umbertina to sell her treasured matrimonial bedspread, and decades later it ends up on display at the Ellis Island Immigration Museum with the label, ‘Origin: Calabria. Owner unknown’ (p 407). It’s a powerful reflection on the loss of cultural heritage and provenance, and the silence that characterises so many women’s stories and migrant collections.
In our own museum’s immigration collection are two intriguing watercolour albums that were created by traveller and amateur cartoonist, Mrs M E Cherry, in the 1930s. Together they contain more than 100 vibrant illustrations that capture Mrs Cherry’s voyage from London to Adelaide on Ormonde in 1931–1932, and her travels in the South Pacific and the south of France in 1932–1939.
Samuel Elyard, Burning of the Barque India, c 1841. Watercolour on paper, 41.7 x 55 cm. ANMM Collection 00004246.
One of the museum’s most-requested paintings for public viewing is a dramatic watercolour by Sydney landscape artist Samuel Elyard (1817–1910) titled Burning of the Barque India (c 1841). Recently we arranged a viewing for cousins Catherine Bell and John Grant. Their great-great-grandparents John Scott Grant and Ann Grant (née Kilpatrick) were survivors of the ill-fated migrant ship, which caught fire and sank in the South Atlantic Ocean on 19 July 1841.
Lois Carrington and her Little Guys. Image: Graham Tidy / Canberra Times.
“The more meetings there are, the more exchanges that take place between nations, the better individual relations are : collaboration, solidarity and comradeship are no longer empty words, but the foundations for a better understanding of human problems and a bringing together of nations.”
Dr. Vesely, 1932. Cited by Margareta Niculescu, “Once again… UNIMA”, in UNIMA 2000, UNion Internationale de la MArionnette (UNIMA), Charleville-Mézières, 2000, p.9
Lois Carrington (nee Griffiths) was a lover of language, she studied Russian, French and Latin at university, her other passion was teaching. It was a natural fit for her to answer the Australian government’s call for teachers to help smooth the transition to Australian life for the influx of post World War II migrants. So in 1949, fresh out of university, passionate and with few resources, Lois began her career to teach English “on the way”, aboard migrant ships and at reception centers across Australia.
Watermarks exhibition gallery, when it opened. Image: ANMM.
The museum is undergoing an exciting change to its permanent galleries. After more than 15 years, on 29 February the Watermarks Gallery set its sails for the last time (pardon the pun). The gallery first opened in 2001 and told the story of how water and the ocean plays a vital role in the lives of all Australians and how the coast has inspired our recreational lives.
One of my favourite objects in the museum’s collection is a charming needlework sampler made by 19-year-old assisted immigrant Julia Donovan on board the Carnatic in January 1879. Immigration records show that Julia arrived in Rockhampton, Queensland, from England on 5 February 1879, and presumably went into domestic service in the growing port town.
Needlework sampler made by Julia Donovan on board Carnatic en route to Australia, 1879
This week marks the fourth anniversary of the British Government’s apology to former child migrants who were sent to Commonwealth countries through government-sponsored child migration schemes. It also marks the return of our travelling exhibition On their own – Britain’s child migrants for a final showing at the museum before it begins a UK tour later this year.
The museum’s award-winning digital projection Waves of migration returns this Sunday, Australia Day, to once again illuminate the museum’s iconic roofline with a rich tapestry of migration stories drawn from our collection.
Waves of migration illuminates the roof of the museum in Darling Harbour
Waves of migration explores the history of migration to Australia and the compelling stories of those who’ve come across the seas – from British convicts and early settlers, to Jewish refugees and displaced persons; from post-war European migrants and Ten Pound Poms, to Indochinese boat people and seaborne asylum seekers from Afghanistan. Continue reading →
Last week I was invited to speak about the museum’s work at the Suitcases, boats and bridges: telling migrant stories in Australian museums workshop, organised by Dr Nina Parish from the University of Bath and Dr Chiara O’Reilly from the University of Sydney. The workshop brought together academics, museum professionals and museum studies students to discuss how migrant stories have been collected and articulated in a number of Australian museums, ranging from large government-funded institutions such as ours, to smaller regional, suburban or volunteer-run museums.
Suitcases and boats in Passengers, the museum’s permanent exhibition about Australia’s immigration history. Photographer Andrew Frolows