One of Melbourne’s most important 19th century public buildings, Customs House, has witnessed the history of Victoria’s trade, immigration, social attitudes and government.

As Melbourne’s trade increased, a bluestone Customs House with a slate roof was completed on this site in 1841.

Customs House
Melbourne from the Falls, 1844.
Artist – Robert Russell
Source – Museums Victoria

One of Melbourne’s most important 19th century public buildings, Customs House, has witnessed the history of Victoria’s trade, immigration, social attitudes and government.

As Melbourne’s trade increased, a bluestone Customs House with a slate roof was completed on this site in 1841. It was a noisy, bustling place, where merchants and customs agents came to pay duty on imported goods. The Long Room was the heart of Melbourne’s trade for over 100 years.

Today, this historic building located in the heart of Melbourne’s CBD on Flinders Street is home to Museums Victoria’s Immigration Museum.

For more than twenty years, Melbourne’s iconic Immigration Museum has explored and celebrated Australia’s rich cultural diversity.

Since opening in Old Customs House in 1998, the museum has welcomed over two-million visitors and has worked with more than eighty communities to highlight the city’s origins and share the stories of those who have migrated here and the influences they have had in cultivating a rich, multicultural city.

Melbourne’s Immigration Museum presents a thoughtprovoking experience filled with stories that are sometimes sad, sometimes funny, but always compelling. And somewhere within, you will find your own story.

While Immigration Museum remains committed to sharing and exploring Victoria’s migration stories, we are also collaborating with people from diverse communities to explore universal themes that connect and unite us as humans.

Living our vision – ‘People connected to a shared humanity and embracing diversity for a just future’ – calls on the museum to be a provocateur, to boldly raise issues and hold powerful conversations that address them.

Today, two floors of exhibition galleries house temporary exhibitions and events, along with permanent experiences such as Identity: Yours, Mine, Ours, Leaving Home and Immigrant Stories and Timeline.

Throughout the year, in the Festival Courtyard, Immigration Museum hosts joyous community festivals that are alive with food, music and culture.

The museum also has a Tribute Garden, a tranquil oasis in the heart of the CBD that honours immigrants from over ninety countries.

Becoming You

An incomplete guide

Source – Museums Victoria

From first kisses to first paycheck and pushing the boundaries, 71 relatable real-life stories will be presented in unexpected and immersive environments, covering it all: the good, the bad, the embarrassing, the triumphant, the monumental and the seemingly mundane.

These personal stories have taken place in every decade since the 1940s, in schools and hospitals, kitchens and bedrooms, pubs and clubs, theatres and catwalks, cars and trams, playgrounds and streets.

Becoming You: An incomplete guide is reflective of the museum’s commitment to exploring the stories of all of Victoria and the wider nation’s diverse communities. This exhibition will be full of relatable memories and will highlight that there is no one correct way to become an adult.

Becoming You: An incomplete guide:

When the Immigration Museum reopens its doors in November 2020, we will be welcoming visitors into a sparkling clean Covid-safe environment, with a Visitor Engagement team equipped with all aspects of ensuring visitor safety, comfort and enjoyment

The museum will be reopening with two new exhibitions exploring crucially significant themes of identity and community in Becoming You: An incomplete guide and Atong Atem: To be real.

From the creators of LOVE (2018) and Our Bodies, Our Voices, Our Marks (2019) – Becoming You: An incomplete guide will explore the surprising, real-life coming-of-age stories of well-known and everyday Australians.

Following a call for public submissions in 2019, the exhibition will share 71 diverse stories about navigating the journey from childhood to adulthood.

Amongst the storytellers are editor and dancer Adolfo Aranjuez, astrophysicist Alan Duffy, writer Alice Pung, model Andreja Pejic, artist Atong Atem, poet and critic Fiona Wright, climate activist Harriet O’Shea Carre, disability activist Jax Jacki Brown, AFL footballer Jason Johannisen, fashion designer Jenny Bannister, drag queen Karen from Finance, Australian Senator Lidia Thorpe, ECCV Chair, Kris Pavlidis, rapper Nathan Bird (Birdz), ballet dancer and actor Noel Tovey, comedian and writer Osamah Sami, documentary filmmaker Santilla Chingaipe and cross-cultural consultant Tasneem Chopra.

Alongside the experiences of these well-known identities will be the surprising, delightful and moving stories of everyday people reflecting the diversity of contemporary Australian society.

Storytellers – who are between the ages of 13 to 88 and hail from diverse and intersectional backgrounds – will each share a coming-of-age moment from their journey to adulthood.

Collecting the Curve at Immigration Museum:

Collecting the Curve is a Museums Victoria initiative to document stories, objects and images which representa broad range of experiences of Victorians during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

On reopening, the Immigration Museum is showcasing some of the Collecting the Curve stories as they relate to how a diverse range of individuals and families have responded to a crisis through acts of creativity. The objects reveal a little of who they are and what they believe is important.

Moya McFadzean, senior curator of migration & cultural diversity said that these stories reveal how people have found different ways to connect with their neighbours and communities – from driveway chalk drawings and crochet in windows to making people smile, to masks and music that bring communities together.

“These objects appear at first eclectic and disparate – but a closer look shows how creativity provides such an important way to express who we are and how we belong to our communities, especially in such difficult times.” 

The Immigration Museum’s aspiration is that the content and experiences holds a mirror up to our society by calling attention to social issues and encouraging conversation and change. 

One of my favourite experiences is Under the Olive Tree where the museum encourages a greater understanding between two communities that have historically been in dispute. 

An annual event in partnership with Adi Sappir, supported by the Victorian Multicultural Commission and Creative Victoria, Under the Olive Tree invites musicians from local Jewish and Arabic communities who meet under an olive tree (a symbol significant to both cultures) to engage in a joyous musical celebration that aims to unite across cultures. 

Museums represent a major public social investment by most modern societies towards preservation of culture and ultimately we strive to create and strengthen bonds between the community and their collection.

Immigration Museum has been on a journey of revitalisation as a place for cultivating public imagination and incubating break through ideas that spring from communities that come together and embrace a shared humanity.  

Now more than ever, we are compelled to act as a place to connect and unite Victorians towards the social, economic and cultural recovery of our great city.    

We hope to see you when our doors open again in November.

Becoming You: An incomplete guide will open alongside Atong Atem: To be real.


Atong Atem

Source – Museums Victoria

Photo 2021 Atong Atem: To be real:

The museum has been developing more experiences under a co-creation model, working collaboratively with producers, artists and creatives from diverse backgrounds. Sharing stories and life experiences in a welcoming social environment is integral to the Immigration Museum’s purpose. We have taken important steps to making our museum of, by and for our community.

A new commission of large-scale photographic works by artist Atong Atem will go on display at the Immigration Museum as part of PHOTO 2021 International Festival of Photography.

The bold, dynamic works, featuring surreal portraits of Atem’s friends and family, will fill the ground floor of the Immigration Museum with vibrant colour, pattern and life.

Atong Atem is an Ethiopian-born, South Sudanese artist and writer who lives in Melbourne. Her practice explores migrant narratives, postcolonial practices in the African diaspora, and themes of identity, mythology and fantasy.

Her new works draw visual details and concepts from science fiction, Afrofuturism, history, West African studio portraiture and mythology. They will prompt viewers to consider how humans construct pictures and stories to understand ourselves and our surroundings.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Museums Victoria’s curatorial team have been documenting and collecting stories to add to the State collection. This project is Collecting the Curve.