Museums, Society, Inequality

By Richard Sandell | Go to book overview

10

Representing diversity and challenging racism: the Migration Museum

Viv Szekeres

The Migration Museum in Adelaide, South Australia opened in 1986 with the brief to document, collect, preserve and present the evidence of South Australia’s immigration history. The museum also aims to create a greater awareness of the cultural traditions that survive and now contribute to the rich cultural diversity of the State.

These seemingly clear and simple aims do not perhaps immediately reveal the complexity that underlies them - unless of course questions are raised such as: Whose history? Told from which point(s) of view? Who is included and who left out? Whose voices are foregrounded and whose silenced - and is this typically the case? In fact, endless questions that are located in the arena of meaning-making and the construction and representation of reality.

It is these more difficult, though more interesting, questions that the twelve staff of the museum grapple with and debate. They do this not only from their own perspectives, but also from the perspective of operating within a State Government funded organisation, forming part of a larger South Australian History Trust that contains several divisions. The issues then, of voice, identity, and of who is speaking on whose behalf, surrounded the enterprise from the outset.

It is interesting that images and understandings about Australia from overseas often focus on the bizarre and exotic. There are the sharks, the cuddly koalas, the nasty snakes and spiders and some dubious cultural ambassadors, such as Dame Edna, Rolf Harris and Crocodile Dundee. Not to mention of course, the images and misinformation that surround Indigenous Australians. Given this picture alone it is difficult to contemplate what social inclusion might look like, so a brief demographic history providing some sense of a social and cultural framework is a useful backdrop.


Australian demography: an overview

Australia sits on the edge of the Pacific Rim. It is a somewhat ambivalent position because while this logically fits, at least in geographic and economic terms,

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