Andrea Witcomb
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Curating relations between ‘us’ and ‘them’
The changing role of migration museums in Australia
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Australia’s first Migration Museum in Adelaide recognised from its inception in 1986 that representing migration history could not be done without acknowledging its intimate association with colonisation and the dispossession of indigenous people. Its first move, therefore, was to create a distinction between all migrants, a category that included British ‘settlers’, and Indigenous Australians. This was significant not only because it implicated colonisation within migration history but because it made all non-Indigenous Australians migrants. The move though, was not easy to establish, largely because, in the public imagination, migrants were the other to mainstream or ‘British Australia’. In the mid-1990s, however, it seemed to work as Australia was indeed seen as a country that was relatively successful in integrating various waves of migration into its historical narratives while valuing cultural diversity and recognising the prior occupation of the land by Aboriginal people. The ‘War on terror’, the arrival of asylum seekers and the threat of internal terrorist attacks, along with changes in immigration policy and a general climate of fear have changed that, and migration museums are now working to combat a new wave of racism. To do so, I argue, they have developed a new set of curatorial strategies that aim to facilitate an exploration of the complexity of contemporary forms of identity. This chapter provides a history of the development of curatorial strategies that have helped to change the ways in which relations between ‘us’ and ‘them’ have changed over the years in response to changes in the wider public discourse. My focus is on both collecting and display practices, from changes to what is collected and how it is displayed, to the changing role of personal stories, the relationship between curators and the communities they work with, and the role of exhibition design in structuring the visitor experience.

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Museums and the future of curatorship


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