Migrant communities from non-English speaking backgrounds have contributed enormously to the development of rural and regional communities across the state. However there has been little recognition of their contribution in the listing of State and local heritage items. A new program will help to redress the balance, bringing the cultural diversity of heritage in NSW into greater focus. A successful workshop under the program was recently completed in the border town of Albury-Wodonga, which has provided new insights into the area's heritage.
Some of Albury's special places identified in the workshop, with comments by the participants. Albury Railway Station represents a place of arrival for newcomers to Albury. Memorial of the historic KLM "Uiver" DC2. This photo shows the place where the Bonegilla Railway Station used to be. Arriving here in 1956 was the first step to a new life in Australia.
The Migration Heritage Community Consultation Program aims to foster new awareness of the heritage of ethnic communities. It is essential that their experiences are recognised and celebrated as an integral part of the state's common history.
The Program is funded by the Migration Heritage Centre, the Centre being a NSW Government initiative through a partnership of Premier's Department, Ministry for the Arts, Ethnic Affairs Commission and the Heritage Office.
This cross cultural program is being managed by Kate Rea in the Heritage Office and will build on the Heritage Office's Ethnic Communities Consultation Program, which has already established close links with Chinese, Ukrainian and Italo-Australian communities around the State. The Migration Heritage Centre has also supported and been involved with this program.
Workshops have been held in regional and rural centres across the State, including Albury and Broken Hill, with further meetings planned for Orange and the north coast later in the year.
The workshops will test the most effective ways for people from non-English speaking backgrounds to identify and assess heritage items from their own cultural perspectives. The workshops take a cross cultural approach, looking at how different communities have contributed to the heritage of their region.
The experiences of the workshops will be used to develop models of consultation with ethnic communities to be utilised by a range of agencies that engage in heritage. In particular, they will link into local heritage studies and build on heritage schedules attached to local environment plans.
The Australian-Croatian Club in Mill Street, Wodonga. This is the oldest ethnic community club in Australia. It started in 1952 and was officially opened in 1959.
The first (and only) Lao Buddhist Temple in Albury. It is a place of worship for Buddhist followers in the Albury-Wodonga area. It has been in existence since 1980 when the first Lao refugees arrived in the area.
The program got off to a flying start in early September, when Albury hosted the first of the workshops. Albury was selected to hold the workshop because of its history as a destination point for migrants.
"As a transport hub Albury has attracted many migrants from non-English speaking backgrounds. In last century Chinese, Lebanese and German migrants contributed to the social, economic and cultural development of the area", said project coordinator, Kate Rea.
This pattern has been repeated in the twentieth century, particularly in the post-war period when Eastern European migrants assigned to Bonegilla settled in the area.
Albury-Wodonga was chosen as a migrant destination point in the 1950s because of the large Army accommodation facilities that had been built at Bonegilla during the war.
According to historian, Dr Bruce Pennay, the huge influx of people had a major impact on what was then a small country town.
"It is interesting to look at the adjustments people made to the new migrants appearing in their midst. Some are wary and some are particularly welcoming, such as the Rotary Club and the Country Women's Association."
"What is interesting, is that if you are a migrant, your first landfall in Australia is very significant to you. If you can, you look for jobs or places near it. And a lot of the new migrants did stay in Albury or Wodonga."
In later decades the designation of Albury-Wodonga as the National Growth Centre attracted migrants from a range of countries, particularly the Asia-Pacific region.
Representatives of Albury's ethnic communities participated in the first workshop. Roko Vlasic, project officer of the Albury-Wodonga Ethnic Community Council provided invaluable support, linking the Heritage Office with Albury's culturally diverse community. These included representatives of the Greek, Laotian, Filipino, German, Ukrainian, Dutch and Maori and Croatian communities.
The program recognises the value of building community-wide, cross cultural partnerships among individuals and organisations that contribute to heritage practice. In Albury representatives of Albury City Council, the Albury Regional Museum and Historical Society were also invited to contribute to the workshop.
Following a short presentation from the NSW Heritage Office and a brief on the heritage of Albury by Tony Newland, Town Planner at Albury City Council, participants were given cameras and invited to spend the following hour and a half photographing the sites and items that are important to their communities.
"In this way participants were taking the first steps in identifying the sites and items that are special to their communities. One of the advantages of using photography is that people enjoy taking the photographs. It is a process that is accessible and non-intimidating", said Kate Rea.
The process comes from a community consultation model developed by historian Meredith Walker and used in Queensland and which is now being adapted for cross-cultural consultation.
The photographs were developed while participants had lunch and swapped stories about what they had seen. Then it was time to assess the items that they had photographed. This involved writing a short caption underneath the photograph stating why the item was significant to the community.
A wonderful range of items were identified, including the Croatian Club in Wodonga, the Slovenian Club in Albury, a Laotian temple and a 1930s Dutch plane which was a participant in the 1934 London to Melbourne Air Race. During the race the Uiver had made an emergency landing at the local racecourse with the help of the citizens of Albury who lit the improvised runway with their carlights. Mr Herman Blom of the Dutch community saw the plane as an particularly important item. "It brought the entire community together and Europe closer to Australia," said Mr Blom.
For some participants, particularly those whose migration had been more recent, Albury Railway Station was identified as a site of great importance. Ms Natalie Woods of the Maori community saw its significance as a place that marked her family's arrival and symbolised a new beginning.
The Albury Railway Station is already listed on the State Heritage Inventory. For the different ethnic groups in Albury, the station has additional meanings and significance. This illustrates how readings of existing heritage items are given greater depth and more comprehensive meaning through consultation with ethnic communities.
"Meanings for heritage sites are as diverse as the community itself." said Kate Rea. "The workshop aims to explore the different layers."
By the day's end participants had produced a mini exhibition. The exhibition showed places of importance to each community and explained their significance.
The workshop was a first step towards developing culturally diverse heritage practises in the Albury-Wodonga region. The next step in this important process is a public meeting where representatives of ethnic communities, museums, history and heritage organisations will be invited to form a cross cultural working party.
Council's Town Planner, Tony Newland, says that the working party will play an important role in documenting significant sites in the Albury area. This vital work will contribute to the community-based heritage study which Albury is undertaking next year.
"We hope to incorporate the work of the ethnic community working party into the major city-wide heritage study. The community will decide what places or buildings have a special meaning or place in their heart and then conduct some basic research. The whole point is for us all to appreciate that there is more to the heritage of the Albury area than the traditional Anglo-Saxon 19th century buildings and monuments."
At the completion of the first workshops in the Community Consultation Program, an important first step has been taken to preserve the heritage of ethnic communities from their own cultural perspectives. As participant, Dr Bruce Pennay, said,
"This was an opportunity for ethnic communities to affirm their connection to a specific place, to be part of its story".
Page last updated: 01 September 2012