A Brief Guide To Australia's Immigration Museum

Immigration Museum | © Johntorcasio/WikiCommons
Immigration Museum | © Johntorcasio/WikiCommons
Photo of Monique La Terra
9 February 2017

Established in 1998, the Immigration Museum showcases Australia’s 200-year-old story of immigration and poses the questions: ‘Why do people leave their countries of birth to live here? What is their experience in their new country? And how do communities adapt to new arrivals?’ In Victoria, 200 different countries and cultures are represented, 260 languages and dialects are spoken, and 135 religious faiths are followed. This diversity has contributed to Victoria’s multicultural identity.


The Immigration Museum is housed within Victoria’s Old Customs House on Flinders Street, which was ironically designed by Scottish immigrant Peter Kerr. Construction began in 1855, and after economic tumbles, the building was finally completed in 1876, becoming a fine example of Renaissance Revival architecture. The story of the Old Customs House can be traced in the permanent exhibition Customs Gallery.

Journeys of a Lifetime

Set within the opulent Long Room, which features giant colonnades modelled after the Erechtheion temple in Athens, high ceilings and hand-laid tessellated tiles, Journeys of a Lifetime is one of the museum’s permanent exhibitions. The room features a 17-metre replica ship which provides visitors with an insight into the living conditions at sea faced by the many immigrants who travelled to Australia by ships between the 1840s and 1950s.

The Immigration Discovery Centre

Discover your family’s history and conduct genealogical research at the Immigration Museum’s Discovery Centre, located within the restored 19th-century vaults of Customs House. Browse the reference library and explore the online resources. Staff members are also on hand to assist with research.

Identity - Photographer Rich Macdonald | Leaving home 2 - Photographer Taryn Ellis | Leaving home - Photographer Taryn Ellis | Photographer by Taryn Ellis All Images courtesy Museums Victoria

Leaving Home

The permanent exhibition Leaving Home explores the many reasons why people have migrated to Australia, whether escaping a war-torn homeland, religious persecution, political repression, or in search of adventure and opportunity. Through audio clips, film and keepsakes, Leaving Home presents the stories of immigrants and the objects they brought with them.

Immigrant Stories and Timeline

Victoria’s history is not complete without the stories of immigrants, and in the Immigrant Stories and Timeline exhibit, visitors can learn about individuals from a diverse range of backgrounds and time periods, each with their own story to tell, and with stories changing annually, there is always a new tale to discover. Currently showing are the stories of an English ornithologist, Italian textile maker, German pastry chef, Lebanese taxi drivers and a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Getting In

Not every immigrant with dreams of moving to the lucky country is fortunate enough to get in. Through photographs, historical objects, and personal stories, Getting In explores the ways in which Australia’s immigration policies have changed.

Tribute Garden

Designed by Melbourne-based artist Evangelos Sakaris, this free, public artwork is a tribute to the 7,000 people who have migrated to Victoria, with names of people from more than 90 countries inscribed on the wall. Names date from the 1800s to the present day.