Deposit‘Still Children of the Dragon’? A review of three Chinese Australian heritage museums in Victoria

The Museum of Chinese Australian History reopened on 29th August 2010 with newly refurbished exhibitions displaying Chinese Australian history and contemporary Chinese Australian identities. This article reviews the new exhibitions in comparison with the Gum San Heritage Centre at Ararat and the Golden Dragon Museum at Bendigo and specifically examines the way each museum represents being Chinese and being Australian. This will be shown by interrogating the historical representations, text and methods of display.

MemberSophie Couchman

Sophie is a curator and public historian. She is an Honorary Research Fellow at La Trobe University and an Honorary Research Associate at Museums Victoria. She is interested in the place of migrants in Australia’s history and has researched and published in the field of Chinese-Australian history for many years. She has just completed work at Museums Victoria as exhibition curator on ‘British Migrants: Instant Australians?’, a travelling exhibition exploring British migration to Australia after World War II and its significance today. Sophie has a particular interest in the creation and circulation of visual representations and how they shape our understandings of Australia’s past. She developed the Chinese Australian Historical Images in Australia website ( as part of the completion of her doctorate. She is currently working on a joint project between La Trobe University and Museums Victoria, ‘The Camera at Work’, which explores how changes in photographic technologies and practices transformed the visual documentation of factory life in Melbourne, 1870s through to the present day. While Curator at the Chinese Museum in Melbourne Sophie led a number of notable projects including ‘Language, A Key to Survival: Cantonese-English Phrasebooks in Australia’, which won a Museums & Galleries National Award for ‘Interpretation, Learning and Audience Engagement’ in 2014. She also led the development of ‘Chungking Legation: Australia’s diplomatic mission in wartime China’ exhibition and book in 2015 and in 2014 the tour to six locations in China of ‘Bridge of Memories: Exploring identity, diversity, community — An Australian touring exhibition in China’.

DepositThe Book of Marriage: Histories of Muslim Women in Twentieth-Century Australia

From 1860 to the 1920s, Muslim merchants and workers from across British India and Afghanistan travelled to Australian shores to work in the extensive camel transportation network that underpinned the growth of capitalism in the Australian interior. Through marriage, South Asian women in addition to white women and Aboriginal women became part of families spanning the Indian Ocean. Yet, the life-worlds of these women are absent from Australian historiography and the field of Indian Ocean studies alike. When women do appear in Australian histories of Muslim communities, the orientalist accounts work to condemn Muslim men rather than shed light on women’s lives. Leading scholars of Indian Ocean mobilities on the other hand, have tended to equate masculinity with motion and femininity with stasis, omitting analyses of women’s life-trajectories across the Indian Ocean arena. In this article, I rethink the definitions of ‘motion’ that underpin Indian Ocean histories by reading marriage records as an archive of women’s motion. Using family archives spanning from Australia to South Asia, this article examines five women’s marriages to South Asian men in Australia. Challenging the racist accounts of gender relations that currently structure histories of Muslims in Australia, I turn to the intellectual traditions of colonised peoples in search of alternatives to orientalist narratives. Redeploying the Muslim narrative tradition of Kitab al-Nikah (Book of Marriage) to write feminist history, this article proposes a new framework to house histories of Muslim women.

DepositGlobalisation, Entrepreneurship and the South Pacific: Reframing Australian Colonial Architecture, 1800-1850

In 1957, Clinton Hartley Grattan, one of Australia’s most important foreign observers, wrote of the shadow of the “urban” in legends of the Australian “bush”.1 He argued that the early frontiers of Australian settlement were frontiers of men with private capital, or entrepreneurs, and those frontiers thus carried more elements of the urban than is commonly realised. Such early colonial enterprises around Australia’s south and southeastern coasts, and across the Tasman included sealing, whaling, milling and pastoralism, as well as missionary, trading and finance ventures. In advance of official settlements in the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries, entrepreneurs mapped coastlines, pioneered trade routes and colonised lands. Backed by private capital they established colonial infrastructural architecture effecting urban expansion in the Australian colonies, New Zealand and beyond. Yet this architecture is rarely a subject of architectural histories.

DepositIntersectionality, Resistance, and History-Making: A Conversation Between Carolyn D’Cruz, Ruth DeSouza, Samia Khatun, and Crystal McKinnon, Facilitated by Jordana Silverstein

A good, solid, history-writing practice is one which, I think, shakes people’s ideas of the world and their place in it, compelling them to imagine new social, cultural and political formations which can provide an account of life. Kimberle Crenshaw’s development of the term ‘intersectionality’, and the ways it has been taken up by people of colour within the academy internationally, as well as by activists, provides one example of such imaginative work. Because when you spend some time in the Australian History academic scene, at conferences, in departments, talking to other academics, it’s quickly noticeable that one of its key features is its hegemonic whiteness. Even in those spaces that aspire to avoid whiteness, it’s inescapable, visible daily, as well as in the themes at conferences, the keynote speakers chosen, the food served, the knowledge shared. When it came time for the Australian Women’s History Network conference in 2016, which carried the theme of ‘Intersections in History’, it felt like this could provide a way of modelling a different kind of Australian academic History space. What would a conversation look like that skipped over the presence of white Anglo Australians, I wondered? What if we just left them to the side? What if we gathered together some of the smartest, sharpest thinkers in Melbourne academia, and spoke amongst ourselves, coming up with new formations of knowledge? And so we did: Crystal, Samia, Ruth and Carolyn gathered together, I asked them some questions, and we had a conversation that, in numerous ways, challenged white hegemonies. We’ve recreated some of that conversation below, as a way of continuing to think together, and to find new ways of making this thinking public.

MemberStephen Gapps

  I have a long-standing interest in public history and the history of early colonial Sydney. My PhD thesis was a history of historical reenactments and public commemorations of the past. I taught Public History at the University of Technology, Sydney, and worked extensively as consultant historian.   In 2011 I won the NSW Premiers History Prize for Regional and Community history with my book Cabrogal to Fairfield – A history of a multicultural community.   Since then I have held a position as a curator at the Australian National Maritime Museum. In 2014 I developed the exhibition War at Sea – The Navy in WWI and in 2015 curated the highly successful Black Armada – Australian support for Indonesian independence 1945-1949. In 2018 I am working on concept development of the new permanent displays at the museum that explore deep time and Australian maritime history.   In 2017 I was awarded the NSW State Library Merewether Fellowship. I have been working on a project on Australian resistance warfare for publication in May 2018 called The Sydney Wars – Conflict in the early colony 1788-1817.    

MemberRuth Morgan

… trajectory of this environmental traffic to reassess the development of colonial understandings of the Australian environment, particularly its climates and waters, and the interventions and aspirations that these understandings produced. Examining colonial Australia in terms of these imperial webs of environmental connections will broaden perspectives on Australian history and illuminate the ways in which the Australian environment continues to bear the legacies of empire. This research is funded by the Australian Research Council Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (2016, 18-19). This research is also funded by the 2016 Allan Martin Award of the Australian Historical Association, a KCL Australian Bice…

Ruth A. Morgan is an environmental historian and historian of science with a particular focus on Australia, the British Empire, and the Indian Ocean world. Ruth holds an Australian Research Council Discovery Early Career Researcher Award and is a Research Fellow in the National Centre for Australian Studies at Monash University. During 2017, she is based at the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society at the LMU, Munich, Germany, where she holds an Alexander von Humboldt Foundation Postdoctoral Research Fellowship. Ruth is a member of the Executive Committee of the Australian Historical Association and the National Management Committee of the Australian Garden History Society. She is also Treasurer of the International Water History Association, Vice President of the International Commission on the History of Meteorology, and a member of the Monash Climate Change Communication Research Hub. She joined Monash in mid-2012 after completing her doctoral studies at The University of Western Australia in Perth.

MemberKaren Schamberger

Karen Schamberger is a curator and historian with a love of museums and public history. She is currently working at the National Museum of Australia as part of a team developing a new environmental history gallery. She has  previously worked on the Identity: Yours, Mine, Ours exhibition (2011) at the Immigration Museum and Journeys exhibition (2009) at the National Museum of Australia. Her PhD dissertation: Identity, belonging and cultural diversity in Australian Museums examined the ways that objects mediate relations between people of culturally diverse backgrounds in Australian society and history. This included an examination of the ways that museums, through their collections and exhibitions, are implicated in processes of inclusion and exclusion. Her interests include museology, transnationalism, migration, histories of place, colonisation, whiteness, human relationships with other species and material culture.