Four ships, one lifeboat

<em>Skaubryn</em> survivors were transferred to Aden in one of <em>Roma</em>’s lifeboats, 1958. ANMM Collection Gift from Barbara Alysen ANMS0214[022]. Reproduced courtesy International Organisation for Migration.

Skaubryn survivors were transferred to Aden in one of Roma’s lifeboats, 1958. ANMM Collection Gift from Barbara Alysen ANMS0214[022]. 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.

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Migration and photography: The Skaubryn archive

Port bow view of the Norwegian liner Skaubryn on fire in the Indian Ocean, 1958. ANMM Collection Gift from Barbara Alysen ANMS0214[002]. Reproduced courtesy International Organisation for Migration.

Port bow view of Skaubryn on fire in the Indian Ocean, 1958. ANMM Collection Gift from Barbara Alysen ANMS0214[002]. 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.

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Waves of migration returns on Australia Day

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 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

Suitcases, boats and bridges

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

Suitcases and boats in Passengers, the museum’s permanent exhibition about Australia’s immigration history. Photographer Andrew Frolows

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Stories of growing up in Australia

Earlier this month I was delighted to receive a copy of the new book by award-winning author Nadia Wheatley called Australians All: A history of growing up from the Ice Age to the apology (Allen & Unwin 2013). The book explores the history of growing up in Australia through 80 personal stories, ranging from prominent people such as Ethel Turner and Eddie Mabo, to many lesser-known Australians.

Australians All cover

Australians All by Nadia Wheatley. Courtesy Allen & Unwin

The stories are set against a chronology of significant events including the arrival of the first boat people, the gold rush, the Great Depression, the two world wars, the Vietnam War and the national apology to the Stolen Generations. They are woven together with a rich selection of historical images as well as evocative new illustrations by artist Ken Searle.

In Australians All, Nadia Wheatley has effectively situated personal lived experiences within a broader context of local, national and international histories. This helps to reinforce the notion that history is not a series of disparate events but a fascinating intersection of stories, causes and effects that have resonance in both local and global communities. Wheatley has also succeeded in drawing out shared childhood experiences across place and time, cultures and generations, and because of this I think Australians All will become a very valuable social history resource for young readers today and in the future.

Tu Do by Ken Searle

Illustration of Vietnamese refugee boat Tu Do. Copyright Ken Searle. Courtesy Allen & Unwin

One thing that makes this book even more special is that it features the story of sisters Dzung and Dao Lu, who fled South Vietnam with their family in 1977 in the fishing boat Tu Do, which is now part of our museum’s floating vessel collection. Dzung and Dao’s father, Tan Lu, had built Tu Do (meaning ‘Freedom’) at the end of the Vietnam War, specifically to escape life under the new communist regime.

Lu family on Tu Do

Tan Lu (left) and Dzung and Dao (standing and sitting on hatch) on Tu Do, 1977. Photographer Michael Jensen. ANMM Collection

Prior to departure in September 1977 Tan staged an engine breakdown so that surveillance of Tu Do would be relaxed. He installed a more powerful replacement engine and his group of 38 passengers set off in the dark. Dzung, six, and Dao, four, had been given cough medicine to keep them quiet, and chaos erupted several hours out to sea when they realised Dzung had been left behind! They returned to find her, crying and mosquito-bitten in the mangroves. The voyage resumed, with Tu Do eventually making landfall near Darwin on 21 November 1977. The Lu family were transferred to a migrant hostel in Brisbane and were later granted asylum.

Dao, Dzung and Tuyet Lu

Dao and Dzung Lu with their mother Tuyet, 2010. Photographer Andrew Frolows. ANMM Collection

Dzung and Dao Lu were among the 137,000 Indochinese refugees who were resettled in Australia in the 1970s and 1980s. Their story, along with others in Australians All, highlights the importance of childhood journeys and experiences in shaping, and understanding, our national history. The museum is pleased that this story will be more accessible to younger audiences.

The restored Tu Do at the museum

The restored Tu Do at the museum, 2012. Photographer Andrew Frolows

The fishing boat built by Dzung and Dao’s father is now displayed at the museum’s wharves and stands as testament to the courage, hope and ingenuity of all refugees. You might like to visit Tu Do during Refugee Week, which runs from 16-22 June 2013, and celebrate the many contributions made by refugees to Australian society.

Kim Tao
Curator, Post-Federation Immigration

Object of the Week: The Importance of Doors, the Lederer collection

In what situation do you think you would find yourself reflecting on the importance of the humble door? In the collection of the Australian National Maritime Museum is a handwritten poem titled ‘Doors’that begins with these lines:

Some doors have hearts it seems to me, they open so invitingly;

You feel they are quite kind – akin, to all the warmth you find within

Some doors so weather-beaten, gray.  swing open in a listless way

As if they wish you had not come, their stony silence leaves you dumb.

In 1938 in Vienna, Austria, the poem’s author can see the world darkening with war. Arthur Lederer, a Jewish tailor and owner of a business that created ‘gala uniforms’ for European royalty and high society, makes the difficult decision to uproot his family and leave their home as anti-Jewish sentiment continues to rise.

In November 1938 Arthur, his wife Valerie and their son Walter made an attempt to flee the escalating Jewish persecution in Nazi-occupied Austria. However on the border with Czechoslovakia the family was stopped by the German Gestapo and were thrown into jail. Upon their release three days later, the Lederers returned to Vienna.

Four weeks later the family left their home and again attempted to escape Austria. This time they successfully travelled to Prague where the League of Nations issued them with Nansen passports, internationally recognised identity cards that were provided to stateless refugees.

Tailor Arthur Lederer modelling an Ambassador's uniform.

Tailor Arthur Lederer modelling an Ambassador’s uniform. ANMM Collection Gift from Walter and Jean Lederer. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program

In Prague, their fate in suspension, Arthur Lederer wrote letter after letter to many of his influential and well-connected former clients. He wrote to kings, princes, diplomats and aristocrats appealing for assistance. Despite writing several letters a day, none of his contacts were willing or able to help him find exile in another country. The ANMM holds several examples of this correspondence, which makes for interesting reading. A letter written from a diplomat in Paraguay expresses disappointment at not being able to assist, while a postcard from family in Prague contains a request that the Lederers cease contact out of fears for their safety.

With all of these doors closing, one finally opened. Help came in the form of Countess Sehern-Thoss, a wealthy former client who placed Arthur in contact with English aristocrat Lady Max Muller. Through the Quaker relief organisation Germany Emergency Committee, Lady Muller arranged to pay the family’s fare to Australia as well as the £300 arrival money required by the Australian Government. In June 1939, the family began their journey to their new home, Australia.

Oh may mine be a friendly door, may all who cross the threshold o’er,

Within find sweet content and rest, and know each was a welcomed guest.

Arthur Lederer wrote his poem ‘Doors’ on board SS Orama as the liner wound its way to Australia. The long hours of the voyage, with his wife and son by his side, provided him with ample time for reflection. In this family’s experience doors were significant; the door of an abandoned home, the impenetrable door of a gaol cell and all the doors that had coldly closed in response to their pleas for assistance.

The poem contains the agony of the exiled, of those who have been turned away. In light of his experience Arthur Lederer’s wish is simple; a door, a home in which no one would feel cast out or unwelcome.

House door key belonging to Valerie Lederer

House door key belonging to Valerie Lederer. ANMM Collection Gift from Walter and Jean Lederer. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program

On leaving Austria, the Lederers had left almost all their belongings behind, taking with them only the slightest personal possessions. Interestingly, Valerie Lederer chose to take with her a very simple item. The front door key to their home in Vienna, an object she kept with her as she built her new life in Australia, as a reminder of the home that had been.

For more information and to view other objects relating to the Lederers, please head over to our eMuseum site.

Penny Hyde, Curatorial assistant