Education is about making the invisible visible

The Immigration Museum shows us that strong communities are built by sharing stories

Last month, an interesting exhibition entitled ‘Game Changers: Diversity in Football’ opened at Melbourne’s Immigration Museum. Τhis exhibition, showing until 15 October, aims to demonstrate footy’s power in breaking down national and ethnic barriers and promoting change, by uniting players of diverse backgrounds for a common goal. The story of Eleni Glouftsis, of Greek heritage and the first female Australian Rules football field umpire, is also presented since the exhibition illustrates footy’s role in combating gender stereotypes.

This particular exhibition only represents a small portion of the richness behind the big, timber doors of the neoclassical building at 400 Flinders Street. Approaching its 20th anniversary, the Immigration Museum has substantial experience in organising inspiring displays and implementing educational initiatives. Jan Molloy, Humanities Programs Coordinator at the Ιmmigration Museum, discusses the museum’s mission, educational programme, and its educational orientation. With unparalleled respect for the migration journey, experience, identity, and narrative, she refers to the educators’ role in developing children and their relationship and symbiosis with the Other. The full interview is as follows:

Next year will mark the Immigration Museum’s 20th anniversary. What was the museum’s purpose and mission when it was founded and what is its mission today?
Melbourne’s Immigration Museum opened in 1998 with an “initial focus to redefine immigration as an experience that was shared by the families of all non-Indigenous Australians”, as Richard Gillespie, Head of Humanities, Museum Victoria says in an introduction to the publication A Museum for the People. In 1998, the museum looked at the past through personal stories to connect the visitor to the similarities across the immigration experience and across time and cultures: leavings, journeys, arrivals, settling, impact and reunions. In 2011, we launched ‘Identity: Yours, Mine, Ours’, a permanent exhibition inciting a new conversation about the Australian people. The exhibition asks visitors to reflect on their personal identity and how they relate to their fellow Australians. Issues of identity and belonging in a complex, culturally diverse society are explored through personal stories.

In 2018 the museum will be 20 years old and the museum’s collections, programmes and exhibitions will undoubtedly continue to offer opportunities for visitors to explore and celebrate the cosmopolitan elements of our city and society.

The Immigration Museum is known for its innovative and interactive educational programmes, as well as using technology to give young people new learning opportunities. How do you approach learning? What government bodies support your learning programmes?
We are very aware of the initiatives that are supported in classrooms by the Department of Education in Victoria. We are also very aware of the Australian curriculum’s focus on hands-on experience and learning processes as well as outcomes.

For the last 11 years, since I have joined the museum, we have been responding to the initiatives that the state government curriculum bodies and the Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians 2008 have been emphasising, such as preparing students for the world that they will meet once they finish school. We really emphasise the notion of collaboration and working together towards solving problems. Ιt’s not about being didactic with students and when it comes to the interrogation of objects, it is about exploration, discovery, and modelling best practices so that students come to a story that is related to those who own these artefacts.

The museum’s education programming aims to inspire students to think deeply about the world they are a part of and the means by which they can understand and appreciate the world. The museum programmes push them to recognise that their environment and the products of human endeavours can be used to contact the past with their present and they can begin to think about their future. Students can understand how they sit within the context of the world that they are part of, in terms of time and space. This museum especially connects students to their heritage so they can understand that we are part of this amazing continent.

Jan Molloy, Coordinator of the Immigration Museum’s Programs in Humanities.

What kind of challenges do you face in developing projects for schools and youth?
The Immigration Museum is a heritage building, and we have a small capacity for concurrently organising many school programmes. To respond to the challenges, we have developed projects that can go into schools and use classroom methodologies to offer the opportunity to engage with objects and artefacts, and interrogate through research, questioning, hands-on experience and collaboration. Our ‘Sharing Stories’ project was created to serve the aforementioned purpose, and comes from the idea that every object has a story and the story leads you to further understand the complexity of society.
We are promoting the project to teachers and hoping to develop a large audience. We know that when teachers undergo the incursion experience, it is very useful and helpful, but we need to have more opportunities to speak to teachers to show them what is possible. So, we are at capacity onsite and coming up with solutions to engage both students and teachers is a priority for us.

Change and growth is a challenging and creative process. Is there state support?
Our education programmes are supported by the state government’s Strategic Partnership Program. We have just submitted our application for the next triennium.

A few months ago, ‘Our Odyssey: Ithacans in Melbourne’, an exhibition about Greek Ithacans in Melbourne and their experiences, was held in the Community Gallery. The exhibition was really successful but what impressed me more was the idea of a Community Gallery. Can you tell us more about its function and role?
The community exhibition space or Community Gallery is a very key part of what the Immigration Museum is about. Since the museum’s inception, there has always been a Community Gallery. It has always been there for collaborations between the exhibition developments, the curators of the migration collection, and communities who have their own collection of objects, artefacts, and stories. It presents a unique opportunity for the broader public to see those objects in a state museum.

In the last seven to eight years, Greece has been experiencing one of the most extreme moments in its history due to a severe austerity crisis. As a result, a large number of Greeks have migrated to Australia in search of a better future. What can the Immigration Museum offer to newly-arrived Greek immigrants and their children?
What is important in this museum is that it offers the opportunity to reflect on the experiences of those who have moved from one homeland to another.
Migration has been part of our history in Victoria since the 1830s. In this museum, we are offering opportunities to share stories because we believe that by sharing stories, you build strong communities and classroom communities.

The Immigration Museum understands each new arrival to Victoria at one time experienced the loss of moving from a homeland and the appreciation and benefit of arriving in a new homeland.

To have a family who has lived for many generations within the community share their story with a family that is newly arrived is a powerful connector, and it is that connector we build.

Communities are stronger when there is a shared sense of experience. Those who have lived here for generations are the beneficiaries of the experiences our fore-mothers and fathers took on board.

The ones who have just arrived have to be given the opportunity to see that it is possible to move on and share that. Sharing is how people can accept and belong, and it is belonging that is important in the communities that migration stories happen.

We are not going to get benefits by putting up walls and making people feel they are the Other. We all need to feel that we are part of the continuum of this idea of movement, migration and mobility.

Can the museum have a therapeutic effect when dealing with migration trauma?
I think there is an opportunity for reflection. Individuals feel a great connection to a story they can see in the museum and that allows them to understand that their journey is not the only journey. The way we approach it from education, children can see how there are so many different layers of journeys in their classrooms.

We are modelling inclusive behaviours and giving individuals in our community the space to tell their story. From an educational point of view, the role of education is about making the invisible visible by providing the opportunity for people to tell their story. One of the most powerful exhibitions we had at the museum this year was ‘They Cannot Take the Sky: Stories from Detention’. This exhibition was emblematic of the notion that if you give people the opportunity to tell their story, the humanity is exposed. The world is made richer if we ensure every individual’s humanity is visible.

It’s those human stories that allow humanity to be revealed. We need to give people the opportunity to become visible. People do not become visible only by sharing migration stories. If you look at the museum’s current ‘Game Changers’ exhibition, it is about football, IFL, and the women’s league.

How do you feel about Australia’s decision to toughen the language requirements for obtaining a citizenship and the conversation around assimilation policies?
It is so hard to answer. This is such a difficult question and it is such a problem. Language is so vital for connecting to our heritage, and the capacity for individuals to speak a language other than English in Australia is limited. To have a family that allows and offers the opportunity to speak in your family’s mother tongue is a positive.

How nation states manage the capacity to have a national language and promote other languages as part of the cultural mix is complex. The regeneration of First Peoples’ languages in this country, and the fact that there were over 200 Indigenous languages spoken before colonisation shows how complicated it is to think about which language is promoted.

We as a nation offer the opportunity for people to speak many languages and one (English) connects us and offers an opportunity for communication and social cohesion.

However, you would never want one language to overwhelm and dominate because the consequences of that are too extreme to even consider. We are a world with many languages. We have to understand that those languages are important to maintaining culture, but we also have to understand that if we choose to live in a particular place, we have to make an attempt to participate in the lingua franca.

Since we are both educators, I feel that my last question should be about children and their future. In a world that is constantly changing and becoming even more globalised, many believe that intercultural education is often used only as a buzzword, although it is so much more. What do you think?
Yes, it is not just a buzzword. We can use it to build bridges and convince teachers to practice intercultural education. One of the things intercultural education can do is offer teachers opportunities to understand that they can also take risks.

As educators, we need to be constantly vigilant of the notion that education should be about opening one’s mind. A formal classroom, during the formal education years, should be about offering the greatest opportunities to learn, enquire, and look at other ways of thinking, speaking and seeing, as this equips you to be an individual and achieve the best. In education, you are building resilient individuals who are not afraid of the Other, the Unknown, of difference and failure.

We want children to be strong and aware that there are not necessarily easy answers and it is okay to feel unsure. It is the fear of failure that we want students to not have.

We want them to be brave and take on challenges. A challenge is taking on something which you do not understand and seeing that it can be understood. So if there is someone who looks different, you have faith that the difference can be overcome.

* Jan Molloy was a teacher in secondary education for more than 30 years, teaching History, Psychology, Geography and English. In 2006, she began working for the Immigration Museum (Victoria), and is now the Coordinator of the Museum’s Programs in Humanities. In 2011, Jan received the Victorian Multicultural Award for Excellence.

* Μaria Filio Tridimas is a sociologist, with a strong interest in immigration policies, inclusion and migrant education. She has studied Human Rights, European Studies and International Relations and Educational Policy at the University of Warwick (UK) and University of Athens (Greece). She is responsible for the design and coordination of the educational initiative ‘Melbourne – Athens: A Journey of Friendship’ that was implemented by the Greek Community of Melbourne’s Language and Culture Schools in collaboration with the Hellenic American Educational Foundation (HAEF) (Psychico College). She has worked as a sociology teacher and project coordinator in disability education and inclusion initiatives funded by the European Union.