Conference examines migrant stories in Australian museums

An academic from the Department of Politics, Languages and International Studies has organised a conference in Australia to examine how Antipodean museums portray the stories of migrants in the country.

Dr Nina Parish, who lectures in French Studies, has joined forces with Dr Chiara O’Reilly, of the University of Sydney, to put on ‘Suitcases, Boats and Bridges: Telling Migrant Stories in Australian Museums’ at Sydney’s Australian National Maritime Museum on 2 August.

The conference is part of a project, funded by an Erasmus Mundus grant and an International Researcher Mobility Award, which aims to help UK and EU museums learn from Australia’s experience of representing multicultural societies within the museum space.

Speakers on the day also include Dr Aurelien Mondon, who lectures in French Studies. His work focuses on the extreme right and the impact of neo-racist and right wing rhetoric on liberal democracies both in Europe and Australia. Also speaking on the day is Padmini Sebastian, Director of Melbourne’s Immigration Museum, Kim Tao, Curator at the Australian National Maritime Museum, and Dr Gwenda Tavan, from La Trobe University.

“The conference brings together academics, museum professionals and Museum Studies students to discuss our research questions and to disseminate our findings. The day will promote provocative and thoughtful discussion about multiculturalism and museums which will be relevant to museum practice and scholarship in this area in both Australia and Europe,” explained Dr Parish.

“Today four out of every 10 Australians are either migrants or the children of migrants. The challenges this has brought about in constructing identity coupled with long-running debates around the value of a multicultural society are highly relevant to debates in Europe as the EU deals with its expansion and growing immigrant population.

“A crisis of confidence in multiculturalism has been expressed at many levels of European society. Moreover, many EU member-states have a colourful history of failing to deal with migrant stories. Examples from Australian museums are instructive with regard to representing integration and different communities within the museum space. Much can also be learnt from Australian museological experiences in articulating an often traumatic history with indigenous peoples.

“Building on a series of interviews conducted last summer in New South Wales and Melbourne, the next step of the project investigates further how migrant stories (in particular European post-WWII but not exclusively) have been collected, constructed and articulated in museums in New South Wales, ranging from large institutions with governmental support to smaller regional and suburban, and sometimes volunteer-run, museums.”

As part of her research project Dr Parish will now travel to travel to Adelaide to visit the first Migration Museum and interview its current curator as well as the key players when it was set up. She will also return to Canberra and Melbourne to continue work on the relevant museums in these cities. She and Dr O’Reilly are then planning a number of papers and to write a book based on their findings.

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