Perfect Migrant: an exhibition on forced migration

Monash University

An exhibition on forced migration by Monash’s School of Philosophical, Historical and International Studies, and Monash University Library Special Collections will run at the Sir Louis Matheson Library between 24 June and 18 October 2021.

The Perfect Migrant features artwork and stories from refugees, including internees who immigrated to Australia during World War II.

Nearly 3000 ‘enemy aliens’ came to Australia on the Dunera and Queen Mary, many of whom were Jewish refugees from Germany and Austria. They arrived feeling ambiguous and vulnerable; yet they persevered through internment camps and settlement.

Their contributions to Australian society and culture have led them to be held up as examples of ‘perfect’ migrants, despite their diversity in origin.

The Perfect Migrant draws its inspiration from Dunera internee Erwin Fabian’s artwork on his personal experience as an enemy alien, his internment in Australia, and life as a new migrant.

Fabian’s work sits amongst art and stories from both World War II and contemporary Australian refugees, responding to their own experiences of forced migration. Their journeys are woven together with digital elements by students from the Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture.

Walter Kaufmann was another Dunera internee “locked-up, down in the belly” of the ship as it set sail from the United Kingdom to Australia in 1940. He described it as “dark and miserable and crowded”.

“Compared to these [contemporary refugees], we were very privileged refugees. Once we could free ourselves from Hitler Germany, which was the greatest disaster the Jews ever lived through, we were privileged refugees. Privileged in the sense that the countries we came to gave us a chance to be somebody, to start anew,” Mr Kaufmann says in one of the digital features of the exhibit.

Exhibition Curator Dr Anne Holloway said The Perfect Migrant tells the human tale of refugees through powerful visual and audio journeys.

“In a time when Australia’s borders are shut and an increasing number of people are displaced around the world, it is important to engage with the humanity of refugees, past and present,” Dr Holloway said.

“The exhibition explores the pain and isolation of detainment, loss of homelands and family. It also reminds us of the adaptive capacity of people to rebuild their lives and start new journeys when given a chance.”

The Perfect Migrant is free and open to the public from 24 June until 18 October 2021. Accompanying publications Dunera Lives Volumes 1 and 2 are available for purchase online.

/Public Release. This material comes from the originating organization and may be of a point-in-time nature, edited for clarity, style and length.