During the course of Year Ten my students study a Stage 5 unit of history focused upon Immigration (NSW BOS Syllabus). One of the very first questions that I ask the students is “Which country do your ancestors hail from?” The students share their origins and there is a mixture of surprise and recognition as their various backgrounds are revealed. My own background is a mix of Irish and English heritage. It is not unusual for students in my class to have European, South American and Asian backgrounds. Some countries of origin predominate more than others within our school. Our region saw a great deal of immigration, particularly from Europe, after the Second World War.
There are some excellent resources on the Internet that I share with the students. One in particular is a web site established by the Migration Heritage Centre. Words almost fail me on this site. There is a wealth of primary historical source material. There are documents, photographs, community newspapers, video interviews and oral history reports. The site is well designed and the quality of the media is excellent. The content is relevant, rich and and varied. Anyone would enjoy exploring this site. There are dedicated stories within the site and I shall briefly look at some of these stories below.
The first, Half A World Away, looks at post war migration to a country town in NSW called Orange. It is located across the Blue Mountains, several hours west of Sydney by car. For migrants from Europe the country town of Orange would have been a whole new universe. A wonderful town yet so different to Europe. There are stories from more than 20 different families. Some of the topics covered include Europe After The War, Journey To The End Of The Earth, Jobs For Everyone and a Time To Relax. The stories and photographs are captivating and intriguing. Perhaps some of your relatives live there now?
Another story, Pai Nai Ma (Where Have You been?) deals with the expereinces of Thai migrants to Australia. One of the first Thais I ever met was Miss Suwana at Holy Cross College, Bellambi back in 1981. She taught Thai, French and German as well as having an excellent command of the English language. Thai immigration to Australia stretches back to the 1860s however after 1901 it slowed with the introduction of the most distasteful policy in Australia’s history, the White Australia Policy. This abhorrent issue is dealt with in Pai Nai Ma. This section looks at Thai brides, early Thai migration and The Colombo Plan among other topics. (This section is difficult to read as there is little contrast between the font and the background).
A third story is Packing To Leave ~ Saris, Suits and Spices. This section looks at migrants to Australia from South Asia, in particular the sub-continent. They originate from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. There are 8 video accounts that describe their experiences including the shock of the new, homesickness and the feelings of their children ~ quite often the only non-white kids in an entire school. The accounts are moving and intriguing. This material is inspiring for the students and acts as a launch pad for their own audio and video projects.
Now, I ask my readers out there, anywhere, any country, any journey… do you have any immigration stories to share with others, including my students? I would feel happy to read your own stories, those of your ancestors or friends. Please add your thoughts below.