Migration Museum, Adelaide, Australia

The Migration Museum is a social history museum located in Adelaide, South Australia. It is one of the three museums operated by the History Trust of South Australia. It deals with the immigration and settlement history of South Australia, and maintains both a permanent and a rotating collection of works. Founded as an initiative of the State government in 1983, and with the museum opening in 1986, the Migration Museum in Adelaide is the oldest museum of its kind in Australia. The museum aims to promote cultural diversity and multiculturalism, which they define as including aspects of ethnicity, class, gender, age and region.

The Migration Museum works towards the preservation, understanding and enjoyment of South Australia’s diverse cultures. It is a place to discover the many identities of the people of South Australia through the stories of individuals and communities.

The site is located on Kintore Avenue between the State Library of South Australia, the South Australian Museum and the University of Adelaide, in a complex of early colonial bluestone buildings set around a courtyard, including the city’s former destitute asylum (from 1850–1918). Before this, the site was the location of the “Native School”, which aimed to educate aboriginal children.

The Migration Museum has a full program of activities including education programs for school groups, public events and family friendly fun.

Permanent Exhibitions

Leaving Britain & Establishing South Australia
The first of two nineteenth century galleries gives visitors a sense of what it was like for British settlers packing up and leaving home, making the journey to South Australia, and the first steps towards building a new colony. Among the varied foundation objects on display are personal items brought to South Australia in 1836, Colonel Light’s surveying chain and Charles Sturt’s paintbox. The story of the impact these arrivals had on the original inhabitants of what is now South Australia continues as visitors make their way through the galleries. There are also hidden treasures for young (and young at heart) visitors to discover.

Immigration In The 20th Century
In this gallery you will learn about the rapid changes in South Australia, and Australia, through the twentieth century when mass migration schemes made us the multicultural country we are today.

You can explore a large graphic timeline, a continue your chronological journey through South Australia’s migration history in the twentieth century. Using personal stories and artefacts the displays highlight how changing government policies affected the lives of ordinary people. Some of the topics looked at include people living as ‘aliens’ under the ‘White Australia’ policy, juvenile migration schemes, displaced persons migrating post Second World War, British migration schemes, migrant hostels, and the gradual shift from a policy of assimilation to the realities of integration and then multiculturalism.

Superdiversity: Twenty-First Century Migration
Over the last few decades migration to Australia has changed in fundamental ways. We have moved from the settler-society model of the post-Second World War period to a two-step system in which an ever-growing number of migrants are allocated temporary visas in order to meet changing economic and labour market needs. Temporary migration is uncapped and currently accounts for two-thirds of new arrivals. Most temporary migrants are fee-paying international students and sponsored skilled migrants, and most arrive with the hope of eventually becoming permanent residents in Australia.

The countries from which we draw migrants, both temporary and permanent, have also changed, with India, China and the United Kingdom now our major source countries.

Recent geopolitical events have impacted on Australia’s response to and treatment of refugees and asylum seekers, and have also resulted in the arrival of people from a range of countries including Myanmar, Syria, Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Iraq.

Migration pathways have also become much more complex, and there are now over sixty visa types that determine people’s migration status, entitlements, restrictions, obligations, living conditions, and future possibilities.

This gallery highlights these twenty-first century changes through the personal stories of people who arrived in South Australia since 2000.

This art exhibition provides an introduction to the Migration Museum galleries. Accomplished local artist Darryl Pfitzner Milika gives his own unique take on South Australian history, illustrating what immigration and colonisation has meant for Aboriginal people.

Darryl’s work is well known and perhaps best summed up by his statement about his values:

I refuse to be assimilated or appropriated, allocated or intimidated; to have my intellectual or emotional faculties severed from my physical and spiritual being: my Aboriginality (and ultimately my humanity) will always find a campsite.

In This Place
In this place: a history of the Migration Museum site

The buildings that now house the Migration Museum were once part of Adelaide’s Destitute Asylum. This site, which had been Kaurna land for millennia, was occupied by Europeans from the late 1830s. This exhibition tells the story of the site, from the early Native School Establishment, through the use as a Destitute Asylum, and later usage by the SA Government Department of Chemistry.

The exhibition is in the former Lying-in Home building, purpose built in 1878 to house expectant mothers. 1678 babies were born at the Destitute Asylum between 1880 and 1909, and we remember these children through a memorial artwork in the gallery. Touch-screen interactives allow visitors to explore some of the original documents used by the Destitute Board, and to investigate the stories of several families.

The exhibition inspired the development of If walls could speak, an eBook. If walls could speak is a multi-modal resource which features primary sources and is designed as an inquiry into the lives of 5 people who relied upon government welfare and were affected by government legislation between the 1830s and 1918.

The Migration Museum has a full program of activities including education programs for school groups, public events and family friendly fun.

The Migration Museum tells stories of South Australians and celebrates cultural diversity.

The Migration Museum research, collect and share the state’s history through exhibitions, education programs, and community and digital engagement.