• Migrants arriving in Sydney

    Migrants arriving in Sydney 1966

    David MOORE

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    Notes

    When he took this photograph, David Moore was Australia's best-known photojournalist. Having recently returned to Australia after working in Britain for seven years, Moore continued to produce photo essays for international magazines. This photograph, originally produced in colour, was commissioned for a National Geographic photo-essay about contemporary life in New South Wales.

    Moore's photograph shows a group of passengers aboard the ship Galileo Galilei as it docked in Sydney. The tightly framed faces of this group of southern European migrants are marked by the mixed emotions of trepidation, anticipation, joy and recognition as they embark on a new life in Australia.

  • An emigrant's thoughts of home

    An emigrant's thoughts of home 1859

    Marshall CLAXTON

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    Notes

    The emigration of millions of British people in the nineteenth century to countries throughout the world inspired a genre of painting that focused on the emotional impact of departure from home and arrival in a new land.

    While not specifically about Australia, Marshall Claxton's image represents the more sentimental aspects of migration. The young émigré depicted stands on the ship’s deck, her hands clasped demurely in front of her as she stares wistfully out to sea. She appears passive and vulnerable, caught between the world she has left behind and the uncertainty of the new world that lies ahead.

    The painting is unusual in that it focuses on female emigration. Initially more men emigrated to Australia than women. To address this gender imbalance, the British Government developed incentives to encourage single women to emigrate.

  • Coming South

    Coming South 1886

    Tom ROBERTS

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    Notes

    Coming south is a definitive image of the migrant experience, and can be seen to be Tom Roberts's first exploration of one of the great themes of Australian life.

    Returning to Australia, Tom Roberts travelled aboard the S S Lusitania in 1885 after four years in Europe. His sketches of the crowded deck provided the basis for this painting. Note the dual sources of power, steam and sail. All saloon passengers paid more money for the privilege of space and privacy, ensuring a more comfortable journey. To relieve the monotony and the limited world of shipboard life their day time was spent in conversation, sketching, writing letters and diaries, playing cards and games and even shooting seagulls. Their evenings were spent enjoying formal meals in splendid dining rooms, amusing themselves with music and dancing.

  • International behaviour

    International behaviour 2000

    Jan NELSON

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    Notes

    The dark, ominous form of the overcrowded listing boat that dominates Jan Nelson’s painting is taken from a 1980s newspaper image of Vietnamese refugees in Australian waters. This image floats across a modernist, almost psychedelic ground.

    Nelson has said of the painting, ‘I wanted to create a space between the desire for populist culture, as in the modernist pattern, reminiscent of such as magazines as Wallpaper and the emotional resonance of the Vietnamese boat. The image not only has personal significance to me but I believe to the essence of our Australian culture.’

    Nelson’s painting possesses an emotional resonance that reminds us of how long and complex the issues surrounding refugees, social crisis and immigration have been lodged in the Australian psyche. 

  • welcome to Australia

    welcome to Australia 2004

    Rosemary LAING

    Full details
    Notes

    This photograph depicts the exterior of the former Woomera Immigration Reception and Processing Centre in South Australia. In December 2004, Laing obtained permission to photograph the site, one that became notorious for the treatment of detainees. In 2003, as a result of intense public pressure, the Australian Government closed the centre and moved the detainees to Port Baxter. Woomera remains, however, a notorious place in the Australian consciousness.

    The artist has stated that Welcome to Australia represents ‘a wedge through the landscape – a blockage, an eyesore, an echo of controversy and a closing off in terms of both a view and a sense of possibilities of Australian identity’. 

  • Fake flag

    Fake flag (1994)

    Constanze ZIKOS

    Full details
    Notes

    Australia is a country founded on immigration. Since the end of the Second World War, Australian society has been subject to extraordinary transformation and development through the arrival and contribution of migrants from around the world.

    Fake flag emphasises a constantly evolving sense of national identity in Australia. It evokes a republican spirit that respects shared cultural origins while celebrating our social diversity.

    Zikos's references to ethnic identity and cultural difference are never heavy-handed. His fascination with decorative patterns connects to the history and forms of classical Greek art, while his use of unconventional materials like Laminex, enamel paint and adhesive tape reflect contemporary artists' enduring interests in aspects of modernity and the everyday – in this case, interior décor and suburban taste.

  • Good government

    Good government 1999-2000

    Raafat ISHAK

    Full details
    Notes

    Raafat Ishak emigrated from Egypt as a teenager in 1982. His work collages references from contemporary media and art history to comment on the fragility of democracy and personal identity within rapidly changing cultures and political systems.

    The disparate sources and reconfigurations of visual material in Ishak’s works reflect his experience of two cultures: his childhood in Egypt and formative adolescence and adulthood in Australia. Ishak’s visual language draws on contemporary imagery derived from mass media and popular culture yet his painstaking painting technique adheres to age-old traditions. Good government reflects Ishak’s interest in the continual evolution of contemporary culture, political systems and personal identity.


Identity

Migration and multiculturalism

Migration and multiculturalism have played a key role in Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australian history and identity.

  • Indigenous nations

    Towards the end of the eighteenth century there were around 250 independent Indigenous nations across the continent, each with their own distinctive language and culture.15 Since British colonisation Indigenous Australians have needed to move constantly due to dispersal and loss of their ancestral lands.

    The first migrants to arrive after British colonisation were convicts and free settlers from England. Since then migrants have come to Australia from all corners of the world, enticed by adventure, economic opportunity or family reunion, or to flee the horrors of war and persecution.

  • Colonial journeys

    The emigration of millions of British people in the nineteenth century to countries throughout the world inspired a genre of painting that focused on the emotional impact of migration. While not specifically about Australia, Marshall Claxton's An emigrant's thoughts of home 1859 is an example of the genre, depicting a young émigré staring wistfully out to sea from the ship’s deck.

    Tom Roberts was no stranger to shipboard life, having twice made the long journey from Europe to Australia. In 1885, he travelled aboard the Lusitania to Australia and his sketches of the ship’s crowded deck provided the basis for Coming South 1886.

  • Migration in the twentieth century

    Migration to Australia continued into the twentieth century with an unprecedented influx of immigrants after the Second World War. David Moore’s image Migrants arriving in Sydney 1966 captures a moment in time from this period. The faces of this group of European migrants are marked by the mixed emotions of trepidation and anticipation as they embark on a new life in Australia.16

    In the 1970s and 1980s, refugees came from countries such as Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos to escape revolution and persecution. Jan Nelson’s painting International behaviour 2000 depicts an enlarged newspaper photograph from the 1980s of a Vietnamese boat in Australian waters. This image floats across a modernist, almost psychedelic ground.17

  • A new generation of Australians

    Constanze Zikos and his family emigrated from Greece to Melbourne in 1966. Here they encountered a new generation of Australians of European origin whose domestic interiors combined the cultures of their homelands with the architecture and designs of Australia.

    In Fake Flag 1994, Zikos transforms the Australian flag using enamel house paint and by inserting stars that are symbolic of other cultures, in his representation of the Southern Cross.18

    Similarly, Egyptian-born artist Raafat Ishak explores this idea of an evolving national Australian identity in his work Good government 1999–2000.

  • Welcome to Australia?

    In December 2004, Rosemary Laing photographed the exterior of the Woomera Immigration Reception and Processing Centre in South Australia, which was notorious for the treatment of detainees. While the Australian Government closed the centre in 2003, Woomera remains a notorious place in the Australian consciousness.

Endnotes

  • 15 See Judith Ryan, Colour Power: Aboriginal art post 1984, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2004.
  • 16 Susan van Wyk in Isobel Crombie and Susan van Wyk, 2nd Sight: Australian Photography in the National Gallery Of Victoria, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2002

    17 Jason Smith, Art Bulletin of Victoria no. 42, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2002, pp. 68–69.

  • 18 Bernard Smith, Two Centuries of Australian Art, Thames & Hudson, Melbourne, 2003.