European migrants became European survivors

The Migration Museum is a place full of stories, of survivors, of split-up families, of poor people, of desperate people, of people accepting Australia as their new homeland.

Alessandro and I have spent five days in the air-conditioned offices of the Migration Museum in Adelaide, researching families, objects and fates in the old police barracks, now home to three curators and a lot of volunteers. It has been time-consuming, and boring at times, but the stories that people have shared and are now saved in the digitalized archives are incredible.

I read about a family who saved money for two years so that the husband could go over to Australia from Greece in the end of 1930s. The plan was for him to get a job in the country of possibilities and then send money home for his wife and 9-month old son to join him. History wanted something different. As his wife decided to stay till 1939 to look after her mum, World War II broke out and prevented her and her baby from going anywhere. It would take another 11 years until they could finally board a ship and head to Adelaide where her husband was waiting, in a newly purchase housed. The little son, soon to be a teenager by that time, must have been anxious to finally get to know his father at the age of 12.

It is very hard for me to understand what it must have been like to pack up all you belongings, grab your family and head for the unknown, a world so far away that back in the 1800s it took three months for the ships from Europe to get here. The very first emigrants had no idea what they were in for, they could not Google Australia before they left, and they had usually not heard anything about it.

People were struggling with money, with the language, with getting a job and with the fact that they only owned what had fit into a wooden suitcase. Most of them managed though. They survived the initial tough times in the migration hostels, they found work, they saved money and they bought the house they always dreamed of. And although many never really felt Australian, when they could afford to visit their old hometowns, they did not really feel at home there either anymore.

I am secretly thankful that my friends and family are only a Skype call away.

About Jessica Sjöstedt

I am a 26 year old Swede who is normally studying for a Bachelor of English at Malmö University. Right now however, I am outside of Adelaide, spending a semester at the Flinders University. I like writing, baking, languages, friendships, literature, babies, nail polish, social science and cheese.
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