Melbourne’s Immigration Museum

Not everyone gets to see interesting attractions in their own city. Yesterday, my Probus Club and I visited the Immigration Museum which is located in the grand old Customs House building on the bank of the Yarra River. It contains stories and histories of people from over 96 countries who have immigrated to Victoria since the colony was first established in the 1830s.

The Melbourne Customs House was constructed in stages between 1858 and 1876. The initial design was by Peter Kerr, with significant contributions by architect John James Clark – the same architect responsible for the design of Victoria’s Parliament House. It includes a grand staircase, high ceilings, and elaborate interior fittings, reflecting the prosperity and importance of Melbourne as a major port city during the 19th century.

The ‘Long Room’ where business was conducted and tarrifs paid.

A lithograph showing business being transacted n the Long Room in 1876

Ships moored outside the customs house in 1864

The first major wave of immigrants to Victoria came with the discovery of gold in Victoria in 1851. This led to a massive influx of people seeking their fortunes. Victoria’s population surged as people arrived from Britain, Europe, North America, and China. Melbourne, in particular, saw rapid growth and development during this period. It laid the foundation for Victoria’s diverse cultural landscape and significant economic development.

After World War II, Australia implemented policies to attract immigrants to boost the population and labor force. A large number of immigrants arrived from war-torn Europe, including Italians, Greeks, Dutch, and Germans, as well as displaced persons from Eastern Europe. This period contributed to the multicultural character of Victoria, with significant impacts on its social, cultural, and economic fabric.

The end of the Vietnam War in 1975 led to an influx of Vietnamese refugees who initially came by boat. It forced the government to discontinue its rather racist ‘White Australia Policy’. Many Vietnamese settled in Victoria, particularly in Melbourne, enriching the cultural diversity of the state even further. 

From the 1990s to the present day, economic growth has seen the need for a steady flow of skilled migrants from Asia, the Middle East, and other regions has continued to shape Victoria’s demographic and economic landscape.

Ongoing global conflicts and humanitarian crises have also led to waves of refugees seeking asylum in Australia. Victoria has welcomed refugees from various countries, including Sudan, Somalia, Iraq, and Syria.

On top of these times, we have consistently seen the arrival of people from Britain, many of whom came out as ‘£10 Poms’ This group included my own family with my Great, Great Grandparents Joseph and Caroline Wilson arriving in Melbourne in 1842.

In all these periods, migrants had one goal – to make a beter life for themselves and their families.

Of course, this didn’t happen without some level of racism from what had previously been a largely Anglo Saxon society. I couldn’t help but laugh at comedian Barry Humprey’s (Dame Edna) satirical comment on this.

Here are some of the images from my visit.

One thought on “Melbourne’s Immigration Museum”

  1. When we visited the museum several years ago we found the listing of the ship David and his mother and brother came to Australia in 1949 as 10 pound poms, his father had come earlier to buy land to build on in the southern suburbs of Sydney. It certainly was a very interesting and informative experience.

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