Migrant experiences: a photo essay

The word “multicultural” likely had its heyday sometime in the 1990s in Australia. While debates on the perils of a so-called “Asian invasion” were had in Parliament House, thousands of non-white migrants moved to Australia. They moved not only from one country to another, but perhaps between states, or even from suburb to suburb. Among these thousands were our parents and grandparents, some of whom arrived even before the infamous nineties migration boom. Between us, we share a sense of nostalgia for the period of time during which our relatives found our feet in their new abodes – even though we weren’t necessarily alive at the time. That sentimental feeling is evoked by the pictures in this piece: an earnest sense of novelty, excitement and subdued fear.


My mother often recalls feeling lonely in her first few months in Australia. Compared to India, this country felt empty and there weren’t a lot of people; she could identify with. In her first few weeks here, she opened up a White Pages telephone book and called one of the only other Jhas in there, just to find someone to talk to. As more Indians migrated to Australia, a sense of community started to develop. This is a photo of my parents, celebrating my sister’s first birthday in a park, along with ten or so other young Indian families — Pranay Jha


Annie Zhang's mum (1)
Mum’s family is Hoklo and their ancestral home is Tangbeiyuan, a riverside village in Guangdong. Mum came to Sydney just before the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, after which she became one of thousands of Chinese students to be granted asylum by Bob Hawke. This is her visiting Canberra not long after the news. She was learning English at the time and had her first job: boiling rice in the school’s kitchen for $20 a day. — Annie Zhang



daany parents
This is my mum and dad on their second day in Australia; Mum had just joined Melbourne Uni as a research fellow. Both of my parents have had their adult lives defined by academia; both of them have PhDs, mum in biology and dad in genetics. Mum’s continued that theme through to this day – after my brother was born, she became a school teacher and is now a principal. With both my brother and I fully invested in academia as young adults, not only does this photo capture my parents’ migrant experience, but my entire family’s. — Daanyal Saeed



layla mkh - grandparents
This is an image of my Tayta and my Jedo in the middle of the 1970s in an unknown location. They were only supposed to be in Australia for one year, but forty-three years on, my Jedo swears that he will only lay to rest here. My Jedo was a farmer by trade in Lebnan and he told me that in background on the left there is a Zaytoon (olive) tree. Zaytoon trees can survive in neglect for hundreds of years, with some living as old as 1500 years. — Layla Mkh



online jess parents
Here, my parents are waiting for a train at Gymea station sometime in the early 1990s, around the time they moved to Australia. They have been living in Gymea, a suburb in the Sutherland Shire, for over 25 years. They were one of few ethnic families to migrate to this traditionally white enclave – not much has changed. I catch the train to university from this station, too. The rose bushes have been replaced with lavender and camellia.



My dad had come to Australia in 1986, having well established a life as a bachelor who worked at Timezone and spent his money on clothes, cricket and travelling. My dad travelled home eight years later after he had gotten his citizenship and had an arranged marriage with my mum. My parents lived apart for a year, waiting for my mum to come over to Australia. My mum, a quiet introvert came one year after marriage to this fast paced life her husband had, both excited and in awe. — Rameen Hayat
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