Croatian Viewpoint
Print This Page

150 Years of Croatian Immigration to Victoria


“Ne Budite Blizu Ograde”, the sign stated in the Croatian language in heavy black letters (90cm X 60cm) at the Australian WWI concentration camp for so-called ‘enemy aliens’.   (A. Splivalo in The Home Fires 1982; and in ‘Timber for Gold’ 1997)

During WWI in America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, Croats were rounded up as alleged Austrian "enemies of the state". In New Zealand during WWI, ironically, the locals complained that the government "put the hardest workers (the Dalmatians) in camps". (Roberts, in Luka, 1987) In America there is an entire museum and website (Aliceville Museum in Alabama) dedicated to the internment of German "aliens" during WWI, whilst in Canada the Ukrainians are seeking compensation for their false imprisonment during WWI. ('InfoUkes' website)
The Croats in Australia are taking a different more positive approach to their history however. Croats in Australia will exhibit their immigration history of the past 150 years at the new Museum Victoria's Immigration Museum campus, from the 18th September to 14th November 1999.
Croatian immigrants want to share their history with the rest of Australians, in a positive way, and are determined to do so under multicultural policies.
Croats in Australia are no longer called what they used to be, that is "Austrians" or "Yugoslavs", amongst many other nationalities. Museums in Australia are no longer what they used to be either! For that matter, even history is no longer what it used to be.
Oral history, or 'interpretation' of history, now accompanies the traditional way of teaching history in the classroom and the lecture halls. This trend is apparent in today's modern multimedia museums as well as on the internet. Melbourne's new Immigration Museum is no exception.
At Melbourne's Immigration Museum oral histories repeatedly play on screens as you walk through a maze of larger-than-life black & white photographs from the past, in darkened galleries, whilst being bombarded by sounds of the roar of waves and the creaking of the ship.
Croatian immigrants to Australia missed the boat of traditional history as taught in Australia. But with the new trend towards oral history, the expectations of the members of the Croatian community are now raised, especially as Croatia is now recognized in Australia.
In the past things were very different. For example, a book on 'Enemy Aliens' talked about German WWI internees and only mentions Croatian internees in Chapter 8: "Enemy Labour: Industrial Unrest and the Internment of Yugoslavs in Western Australia". This book, written in 1989 erroneously uses the term 'Yugoslavs' because at the time of internment at the beginning of WWI there was no such place as Yugoslavia. (Fischer, Enemy Aliens -- Internment and the Homefront Experience in Australia 1914 -- 1920)
Yugoslavia. (Fischer, Enemy Aliens -- Internment and the Homefront Experience in Australia 1914 -- 1920)
The Australian Archives index of 1921 also refers to interned Croats as "Slavonic". (Album of Identification Photograhs at Liverpool Camp [WWI] )
The exhibit at the Immigration Museum in Melbourne Victoria by the Croatian Immigration Museum Project committee will interpret Croatian immigration history to Australia over the past 150 years. The committee will feature collective and individual stories, accompanied by memorabilia, authentic historical objects, and a broad range of Australian Croatian artists work. The 'Untold' history of Croats in Australia is so vast that not all of it will fit into the Access Gallery.
Unfortunately the Immigration Museum has relegated the multicultural philosophy of access and equity for all, in the case of Croats, to the temporary use of their Access Gallery. Unfortunately, Croats do not get a mention in the mainstream exhibit of the settlement of Australia. Of course, the story of Croatian immigration to Australia is admittedly an 'untold story' and once it has appeared in the temporary gallery, we believe that this must eventually lead to access into the mainstream immigration history and research data base.
Jean Lunt Marinovic
December 1998
Home  |  About Us  |  Gallery  |  Maps  |  Contact Us  |  Site Map