“Dad, I really want to take you to the Immigration Museum. It’s really good.”
These words came from my ten year old son who recently went on a school excursion to the museum in the city. It is a place I have always been curious to explore given my background. My grandparents and their families traveled by boat from Italy at a time when Australia welcomed immigrants with open arms. Times have changed haven’t they?
Obviously a place such as this has the ability to celebrate all the good that comes from living in a county with so many cultural influences and backgrounds, however, it can also shine a light on all that is wrong with modern attitudes towards immigration. The selective nature some have and ease of assimilation others expect are topics that should not be ignored and are not in this setting. Without getting too political, there are reasons places such as the Immigration Museum are important, relevant and necessary.
Black (2012, p.3) notes the rapid changes occurring in cities where notable museums are located. Ethnic and racial make-up is being altered and demographics are shifting. To me, this makes the viability of such museums all the more important. Sure dinosaurs are impressive however, most of us can relate to our own family history on a personal level where culture comes to life.
More importantly, what made my son so eager to want to take me to this museum rather than the more traditional, familiar institution? Whilst museum audiences are ageing and declining (Black 2012, p.5) my son’s enthusiasm captured my interest enough to want to share this experience with him. The quest to appeal to a young person’s imagination is so much harder now, such experiences need to be “more open, willing, adventurous, engaging and collaborative” (Black 2012, p.7). Obviously something good was occurring at this museum and I needed to find out what that was.
Black (2012, p.10) highlights the importance of engagement and how it must play a dynamic role in these environments. And engaged we were. Touch screens allow active participants to choose a person to hear their personal family story. On-demand videos ranged from a local all-girl soccer team with players from many different backgrounds to others featuring cuisine from around the globe that are now so readily available in this city. I managed to fascinate my son by singing along to commercial jingles which are at least 25 years old. I even impressed him by taking an interactive multiple-choice citizenship test which took on the feel of a game-show. I got 96%; will the government let me in? This was fun.
The one thing my son wanted me to try and took great pleasure in observing was forcing me to lie in a replica bed imitating how the poorest of poor would have traveled. As I overplayed the uncomfortable nature of lying on what looked like potato sacks resting on a bed of rocks, my son took on what sounded like a museum tour guide. These travelers would have endured conditions such as this for months on rickety ships that had set sail with the hope of a better life at the other end. Entertaining for him, interactive for both of us and highly educational for everyone.
Name of my wife’s grandparents at the museum who migrated from Malta.
Taken by Joe Bovalino 25 April 2016
Being able to share this experience and engage with my own son was the thing I cherished the most. Being able to explain in a practical sense our own family history was much more important than merely passing on a story from memory. Museums cannot be left behind to become the very thing they display – history. They must remain relevant, contemporary and overall engaging. To be taken on an adventure by my own son to such a place encourages me. The Melbourne Immigration Museum is doing something right. I hope it continues to do so.
Black, G 2012, Transforming Museums in the Twenty-First Century, Milton Park, Abington and New York, pp. 1-12.