All kinds of weather for British Migrants

Seduced by promises of sun, surf and abundance – and cheap fares, almost 1.5 million Brits migrated to Australia in the decades following World War II with hopes for a dream life. 

Window display advertising 10 pound passage to Australia, Department of Immigration Offices, London, 1962

With all the advantages of a shared language, culture and history, newcomers from Britain were expected to easily assimilate. The reality of migration is never that simple.

Now some of the most personal responses to British migration are shared for the first time in British Migrants: Instant Australians? which opens on 25 November 2017.

The Immigration Museum exhibition explores the personal stories, social history and contemporary impacts of this cohort of British migrants on Australian society whose backgrounds and experiences were more diverse than is often assumed.

Among them are children, young adults and families, nurses, labourers, adventurers, returnees, musicians, and even a snake dancer.

The exhibition is the first for the Immigration Museum’s new General Manager Rohini Kappadath, appointed to lead the transformation of the Museum into a living, vibrant multicultural hub that celebrates our rich cultural diversity and drives social cohesion.

Kappadath believes this exhibition, which captures the first wave of post-war migration into Australia, will raise awareness and trigger an important national conversation on Australia’s history as a nation built on immigration.

"The stories behind the British Migrants exhibition, together with contributions of multicultural and Indigenous commentators and academics, explore the meaning and impact of British migration to Australia," Ms Kappadath said.

"We invite you to visit the iconic Immigration Museum and add to the conversation on migration by reflecting on the questions posed at the British Migrants exhibition, 'Did British migrants have it easier than other migrants that followed?' and 'Can you become an instant Australian?'"

The British who arrived in Australia between 1947 and 1981 were the largest migrant wave from any one place in Australian history. Most came via the Assisted Package Migration Scheme specifically designed to shore up a white Australia with an energetic Government marketing campaign.

But with their sheer number and seeming absence of a separate ethnicity, British migrants were simultaneously visible and invisible, all-pervasive yet rarely identified.

The exhibition's narrative constantly flips stories and histories to show that the experience of British migrants, and the resulting impact on Australian identity, is far more complicated than people might imagine.

The exhibition's historical and personal narrative threads are drawn together to provide the basis for a conversation about British migration and its contemporary meanings, relevance and ongoing impacts. A range of people, some very familiar, share their responses to issues and visitors are invited to do the same. These people have lived, written about, performed, commentated upon or continue to be impacted by questions relating to British and Australian identity, First Peoples rights and recognition in a colonised space, citizenship and belonging, intergenerational inheritances and impacts, Australia’s ambivalent relationship with Britain, British migrant experiences compared to other migrants’ experiences, 'whingeing poms' and British privilege.

An opening weekend program, including exhibition floor talks from historians and curators, Devonshire Tea sittings in the grand atmosphere of the Long Room and a panel talk with British migrants sharing their diverse personal stories of migrating and settling in Australia, is available on the Museums Victoria website.

British Migrants: Instant Australians?

Immigration Museum
400 Flinders St, Melbourne
25 November to 15 April 2018.
Adults $14, Concession & kids FREE 
More information

Interviews are available with Rohini Kappadath, General Manager, Immigration Museum and Dr Moya McFadzean, Senior Curator, Museums Victoria. For all media enquiries, please contact Museums Victoria.

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