The flights are booked, accommodation sorted and archive ‘to do’ lists piling up… it’s almost research trip time! In a month I’ll be back on the long haul flight to Oz, keen to revisit some of the libraries, museums and archives that I worked in on my previous trip, as well as new ones in Brisbane and Sydney. This time round I’ve been able to arrange my trip to coincide with two conferences, the ‘Entangled Histories’ Australian Historical Association Conference in Newcastle, and the Australian and New Zealand Society for the History of Medicine (ANZSHM) Conference in Melbourne on the theme of ‘Health, Medicine and Society: Challenge and Change’.
This will be my first time at an ANZSHM Conference, where I’m delivering a ‘1000 words on a picture’ paper (one image, 1000 words, ten minutes, you get the idea!) I’ll be showcasing an object that will also feature in a public engagement programme launching later this year, and I’m really looking forward to hearing what others make of it (abstract below – can you guess the object?)
The AHA Conference feels like something of a return, as the last one I attended was in Adelaide in 2012, a few months before submitting my PhD thesis and shifting base to the UK. The 5 (gosh, 5!) intervening years have flown by, and with them have come some big changes, one of which will be coming along in the form of my 1 year old ‘research assistant’! I am fortunate that Australia is also ‘home’ for me, so bubs will get to enjoy time with family while I enjoy time with colleagues. The paper I’ll be presenting is based on some of my favourite sources from the project – oral histories and material culture, which together shed light on interactions between migrant patients and Australian medical professionals in the immediate post-war era (more in the abstract below).
Draft programmes for both conferences arrived in my inbox this week, and there are so many papers I am excited to hear, colleagues I’m looking forward to catching up with and others I hope to meet. The countdown has well and truly begun – see you soon Australia!
Arriving prepared: migrant health and material culture in post-war Australia
This presentation showcases a piece of medical equipment brought to Australia in 1958 by an Italian woman, and now held in the collections of the Migration Museum in Adelaide. Bound up in this one small possession are beliefs about race, culture and difference which shed new light on encounters between migrants and medical professionals in post-war Australia. At a time when images of young, healthy ‘New Australians’ were key to the acceptance of the Government’s radical immigration scheme, the actual experiences of those migrants who navigated Australia’s health systems and medical culture were, and have since been, largely overlooked. I argue that personal objects, together with oral histories and written memoirs, can reposition migrants as active agents in the maintenance of their own health and that of their loved ones, rather than the passive subjects of medical expertise and government policy.
Migrants as patients: navigating healthcare in post-war Australia
Health shapes every stage of migration. But while immigration processes such as medical screening and quarantine leave a bureaucratic cache in the archives, encounters between migrants and the medical system in primary care settings are recorded in only scattered and diffuse ways. Likewise, personal or familial efforts to maintain health and wellbeing whilst establishing working lives in a new country leave little documentary evidence. Yet health continues to be important beyond national borders, both in the early years of settlement and throughout the life course of individuals, families and communities.
To better understand the role that health plays throughout the migration experience, this paper presents emergent findings from a study of oral histories, life writing and material culture yielded by people who journeyed to Australia during the peak years of the post-war immigration programme. These personal accounts are contextualised by the contemporaneous writings of medical professionals and grey literature from government departments and social scientists concerning ‘migrant problems’. The study enhances a growing literature on the gaps between immigration and settlement policies, government rhetoric and the lived experience of migrants in the period. I argue that a focus on health can provide a unique insight into the ways migrants navigated mid-twentieth century Australian society, attitudes, institutions and cultures. Such an approach can shed new light on structures of power which shaped the ways migrant patients were perceived by medical professionals and limited their access to mainstream healthcare.