Mara Moustafine and Maria Tence.
16 April 2009
source not available
The museum was an initiative by the then premier, Jeff Kennett. It was at a time when One Nation was gathering momentum. And questions about the value of our cultural diversity were being debated. It was seen as an opportunity by Victoria to publicly make a statement about the value of our cultural diversity and how it has worked for Australian society generally. And to think of cultural diversity in a way that contributes across society and not just in folk dances and music and food.
So, Jeff Kennett gave Museum Victoria funding to open the Immigration Museum. And the customs Ė the old Customs House was vacant at the time and it was a Ė an appropriate site because of its connection to immigration, being the first place where the dictation test was undertaken and the customs officers who acted as immigration officers, before the Immigration Restriction Act of the first Commonwealth of Victoria Ė sorry, the first federal government. So it was an opportunity to take advantage of this beautiful building in Victoria and to publicly say that cultural diversity has benefited society. Unfortunately, we did have, you know a number of protest marches when we first opened, because of One Nation and because of the force of Pauline Hanson and the issues that were being raised at the time.
It was also a time when I think a lot of immigrant communities themselves became complacent, so there wasnít any strong leadership from the more established communities about what was happening at the time in relation to refugees. And it was also a problem for the Museum Victoria because the Museum Victoria had a very, very, very small collection that reflected cultural diversity. In fact, it was an interesting time because museums generally across Australia did not have in their collections, material culture that reflected the history of culturally diverse communities.
It was a way for us to understand that our collections were lacking, do something positive about collecting in a way that reflected our culturally diverse histories and heritages and to make a statement not only in Australian cultural institutions but globally that collecting institutions and repositories have an obligation to reflect their communities and their societies. And that meant collecting in a way that allows communities to reflect their histories. And not just what the curators or the institutions say. So it brought about that discussion as well, so it was a very interesting time.
My personal belief is that it Ė an institution like this will perhaps decrease or dilute the argument, the perennial arguments we have about the value of immigration. I hope that when people come to the museum and they see the contributions and the stories, the happy and the sad stories, the complexities involved with immigration and itís not just about numbers and itís not just about dry government policy that fuels economic growth, itís about humanity. I hope that people get an understanding of the need as a society to accommodate people who are in despair from other parts of the world.
Thatís my personal hope and I hope that the exhibitions that we do are reminders to people who do become complacent, to those communities and the generations and the descendents of immigrants, who see themselves as being part and parcel of the fabric of the community which is Ė which is right Ėbut to remind the descendants that the complexity of immigration is something that is a responsibility of society and itís not just a family history but itís an understanding and a responsibility that we all have to each other. And, you know, to other societies around the world and not just our own.