It is the moment of arrival - at a ship's dock or an airport lounge. There are feelings of excitement, fear, disappointment and relief. Some carry a single suitcase: others wait for a shipping container. Alone or surrounded by family, it is a step into the unknown. The Journey has only just begun...'
Last Friday I finally got around to visiting the Immigration museum on Flinders Street and what an amazing experience it turned out to be. My girlfriend had been encouraging me to visit since I got to Melbourne, but I couldn't see the big fuss about it, my attitude was 'What am I going to learn about something I already know about, something I'm experiencing myself first hand?'. Not for the first time she was right, in this case so right I ended up spending about five hours in the place every display was equally as fascinating as the last. For a measly ten dollars, this special place is well worth a visit.
Personally I was interested in visiting the 'Leaving Dublin' exhibit by Irish photographer David Monahan. Who through his pictures and recorded stories tells the story of courage of the current generation of Irish migrants. It was a depressingly familiar experience for me to hear (again) about why my current generation of fellow countrymen & women are searching for a new life away from the Emerald Ilse. The same old blurbs, no work, no opportunities, no hope, we feel we have no alternative etc. What hits you straight away is the human angle of emigration, behind all these figures and statistics are people. People all with their own individual stories, no one story is truly the same.
What makes the 'Leaving Dublin' exhibit especially touching is the different backgrounds of those leaving, their professions, their reasons, their destinations. Film makers, IT specialists, teachers, photographers, psychiatric nurses, doctors, etc. just how did we let Ireland get so bad that this wave of talented and educated people had to leave home? Not just single unmarried either, but whole families and not just young people but the middle aged and old too. Nowhere is too far for the Irish diaspora north and south of the equator, across every sea and to every corner of the world. Mexico, Finland, New York, Brazil, Canada, Philippines, Kuwait, Dubai even the Shetland Islands - all these exotic countries and places that are benefiting from Ireland's loss. The feeling of loss and separation often surface when you away from home, one migrant that was recorded sums it up perfectly - 'I know the Ireland I imagine in my head is not the one that's will be there once I step off the plane'. A certain unintentional comedic factor arose from the use of subtitles under each person's account of leaving home.
One migrant told of how it's so easy to stay in touch with those at home, with the advent of Skype, Facebook, mobile phones etc ; family & friends are only ever a few moments away regardless of their positioning in the world. We complain about a 24 hour flight in uncomfortable economy seats with the dreaded in flight meals and entertainment. Imagine our first world modern day 'woes' versus that of a family that emigrated in the 1880s.
Steerage in a Squarer-Rigger/Wikimedia Commons
It's five weeks since you sailed from Ireland with 200 other assisted immigrants, but Australia still seems so far away. Your family has been allocated just one of four berths in this small corner of the steerage deck.
Each day is filled with the noise of chattering passengers and children playing and crying, while at night the stench of sweat and urine is overwhelming. Barely a week into the voyage your two-year-old daughter contracted scarlet fever and she is still very ill. This morning she asked 'Why did we have to leave home?' and you could find no words to reply.
Tales like this still apply for modern times, another display charts the arduous forced migration of an Afghan family from their war torn homes to Australia. Travelling by car, bus, boat and plane to reach the promised land. Of how they must travel through hostile lands, trust dangerous people, whilst caring and protecting for their families. Or the story of the Sudanese boy who has been living in Australia for the past five years, how he tells the viewer that back in his homeland you have to be prepared to walk 50-100 kilometres on any given day just to find water, to live to survive.
Another story describes a talented Iranian photographer who managed to find employment with TIME magazine, how he and his wife were forced to leave Iran, forced to leave without their two children. His wife had two children from a previous marriage and when their father heard they were leaving for Australia he demanded the kids stayed with him, to work on his farm to provide for him. It took two years of fighting and legal battles before he was paid off and the family was reunited in joyous scenes in Tullamarine airport.
It's easy for people to judge the perceived ease certain people find when they are settled in a new country, how their affecting their new home. The sheer lack of knowledge into the personal sacrifices these people undertake to find a better life for them and their families. Certain prejudices still remain in Australia (boat people, Cronulla riots), those against immigration state that the old (white) Australia with it's idealised values is fast disappearing amidst the waves of immigrants. But all these people barely conceal the big problem - misinformed misguided racism. Hypocritical in the fact seeing as original 'Australians' are from either a British or Irish background and how Australians settled on a land long owned by the native Aborigines. Australia should embrace this opportunity to be the world's most advanced and tolerant multicultural society. It's a land of equally tolerant and forward thinking people whose vast and beautiful land can accommodate all races and creeds under the one banner of a united Australia.
My day spent at the Immigration museum was truly inspiring, thought provoking and emotional. A day that really put it into perspective. Just how far people will go to better themselves and their families. How the human spirit can overcome almost any obstacle thrown in it's path. I often find myself thinking of home but I know my new home is Australia something I give thanks for everyday. A country that has given me so much and hopefully will continue to do so. A proud country built by Immigrants, a country well aware of it's history and how it's resilient people built a great land in the harshest of lands. Nine million people have Immigrated to Australia over the years, those people and their skills have helped shape the destiny of a truly amazing place.
'Excitement, fear, loss, joy, anxiety and relief are all sentiments common to the recorded memories of people who have been making the journey to Australia since 1780' .