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2001 "Museums: building community"

- Celebrating Australia's multicultural history
Katherine Danylak
Audience Development, Melbourne Museum, Melbourne, Australia.
Helen McDonald
Marketing Manager, Immigration Museum, Melbourne, Australia.

Melbourne's Immigration Museum opened in November 1998 with the purpose of exploring and celebrating Australia's collective immigration history and experience, since Australia has one of the most culturally diverse populations in the world. The Museum is situated in the Old Customs House and stands adjacent to the point from which customs officials would oversee the arrival of thousands of immigrants during the 19th century. The building's connection with the story of immigration, including its many tensions, provides an evocative dimension to the experience of the Museum.

The Museum's core collections feature historical objects and photos, information on immigration schemes, oral recordings and personal stories. Recognising the previous ownership of this country, the Museum also endeavours to relate the impacts of immigration on indigenous peoples. Interactive computer devices are also used to present information on the settlement patterns and population statistics of Australia's diverse communities. Currently information on 48 immigrant communities is featured in English and a second language. Overall, the museum aims to recount the many experiences of immigration to Australia and its impact, rather than developing the history of culturally specific groups or presenting the history chronologically.
Melbourne's Immigration Museum also houses the Sarah and Baillieu Myer Immigration Discovery Centre, a library on migration and cross-cultural issues, with Internet access and workshops to assist with genealogical research; and the Tribute Garden records the names of people who have travelled from all over the world to make Victoria their home. Designed by Melbourne artist Evangelos Sakaris, the first stage of the Tribute Garden features names engraved in granite, over which a constant stream of water flows, symbolising the passage over water all immigrants must make to reach Australia.
A key project which the Immigration Museum is developing with the Melbourne Museum, with a view to increasing participation levels in the arts of audiences from culturally diverse communities, is the three-year national programme entitled the Multicultural Audience Development Strategy (MADS). Victoria is the most culturally diverse state in Australia, with one fifth of Victorians over 5 years old speaking a language other than English at home. In some municipalities this figure rises to over 50% of the population. There was an overwhelming preference amongst museum research participants to undertake leisure activities with their fellow compatriots and in their native language; a common language and a common migration experience bonded them together. In response, the Melbourne Museum has commenced a pilot museum guided tour for Italian speakers.
Outside Broadcasts have also been successful in bringing a culturally diverse public to the museums: the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS Radio), a national multilingual radio network broadcasting in 68 languages, brought their mobile unit to the Museum to broadcast a special programme. Journalists from the Tongan and Cook Islands brought their own unique perspective to bear in an interview with museum professionals from the Museum's Pacific Islander Gallery "Te Pasifika". In the case of the Russian Programme, due to the large number of new arrivals, a different strategy was adopted: listeners were earlier issued with promotional tickets to visit the museum, whereupon they reported on their impressions during the Russian programme. Hence the Melbourne Immigration Museum, in addition to the wealth of information it displays, provides the framework for diverse communities to participate actively, bringing their own language and cultural background to the Museum.

Immigration Museum, Museum Victoria
GPO Box 666 E, Melbourne, Vic 3000
Tel. (61 3) 9927 2700. Fax (61 3) 9927 2728
Email: immigration@museum.vic.gov.au

Articles around the theme:

EXCHANGE - Key to memory
INNOVATION - Cyberspace Communities: MUVA, the Virtual Museum Of Arts El País
DEVELOPEMENT - A model community museum in a village in the High Atlas
INTEGRATION - Celebrating Australia's multicultural history
PARTICIPATION - A community regulates its own heritage

Articles published in: "ICOM News", Volume 54 - 2001 N°1

Updated: 22 September 2005