Immigration Museum

I am back in Melbourne for a medical history writing workshop at the Geoffrey Kaye Museum. I’ve arrived a day early purely because my last trip to Melbourne was way too rushed! This afternoon, I went to the Immigration Museum. I have been wanting to visit this museum for years yet it has always slipped my mind when I’ve been in Melbourne. It’s located very centrally – right near Flinders Street Station. The building was originally Old Customs House. Today it’s a fusion of heritage building and museum which I believe definitely added to my experience.

Rather than focusing on the content of the museum, this blog post will be dedicated to exhibition design. There are many stories told in the various exhibitions of the museum. I would argue that they are all powerful and were amazing to read. I would be too overwhelmed talking about them in this space.


In saying that, I do want to write a few words on this absolutely incredible object in the Journeys of a Lifetime Hall (pictured below). When walking around the exhibition space it immediately caught my eye. It is quite spectacular and has been utilized to tell the story of early Jewish migration to Australia. The thematic panel revealed so much I did not know. For example, I never knew that the Jewish population of Australia boomed during the gold rush, particularly in Victoria. This specific object is a samples chest belonging to Simcha Baevski. Baevski would eventually transform his door-to-door sales business into the  empire known today as Myer. For those reading this blog who are overseas, Myer is one of Australia’s largest department stores!


Moving on now to exhibition design. I have a few points I want to briefly write about. Pictures will be included!

  • Journeys of a Lifetime exhibition space – out of all the exhibition spaces in the Immigration Museum, this one stood out to me as being the best organized. Rather than cramming the room with panels and display cases, its minimalism and simple design is what really resonated with me. The ship in the middle was interactive in that you could walk through and see different cabins. It was a great way to visualize how the journey to Australia might have looked depending on factors such as income etc. On one side of the room were little self-contained display areas. Some of which had displays (the Jewish object was in one) and others had computers. Visitors are welcomed to use the computers to research their family history.


  • Wall of Passports – another design feature that was attention-grabbing was the wall of passports in the Identity: Yours, Mine, Ours exhibition space. I had seen the wall in photographs throughout my studies, but, to see it with my own eyes was amazing. It is exactly what it’s called – a wall displaying the front cover of passports from around the world. It looks great and directly communicated the room’s message. As you can see from the photograph, some of the passports were accompanied by a panel with an individual’s story. Other panels had some quick facts on what it means to be an Australian citizen. In this room was a touch screen for visitors to take a practice citizenship test. I thought the use of digital technology in this space had great impact.


  • Digital Technology – I am a firm believer in not using digital technology unless it can be properly integrated. The technology in this museum is a fine example of how it can accentuate rather than detract from an exhibition. One of my favourite parts of the museum was the Interview Room. Visitors can walk behind a panel into a manufactured interview room and come face-to-face with an individual hoping to migrate to Australia. You can ask a series of questions, hear their responses, then decide whether or not you would accept them into the country. Whether or not you agree with role playing in this way, there is no doubt that it was not a superfluous piece of technology in the museum.


  • My Favourite Design Wall – linking back to my second point, I am going to talk about a wall again. Not just any wall, my favourite wall in the museum space. On entering the Immigration Stories and Timeline exhibition space, the first thing you see is the wall pictured below. It is very effective. We have spoken a considerable amount over the past semester about the power of using shoes in an exhibition space. That whole “put yourself in their shoes” motto is made tangible. Looking at shoes is so personal as you can begin to imagine the individual who wore them, their experiences, and their lives.


  • Integrating Old Maps and Sketches – this was another design technique that I thought was very effective. In the exhibition space on Old Customs House, original floor plans covered the walls of the room. They were not overwhelming nor did they detract from the objects and labels. A delicate balance that is not always achieved when using large-scale photographs in museum spaces!



I’ve said on this blog before that my purpose isn’t to be critical of museum spaces. If there is something that really disappoints me though I will mention it. I think each and every museum has its strengths and its weaknesses and I want this blog to celebrate the diversity of design, contents, and creative thought that exists in the sector.

End of Tangent

I had a wonderful afternoon at the Immigration Museum learning so many new design techniques. It will be interesting to see how the museum grows and develops over time to incorporate new stories and experiences.

3 thoughts on “Immigration Museum

  1. I think the heritage (however old that may be) of museum buildings and the sites they sit on is something that is largely unjustly overlooked, I’m glad you recognised it and felt it had an impact 🙂 Also glad you spent so much time talking about walls, a great reminder of the importance and impact of exhibition design.

    Liked by 1 person

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