Curatorial statement

Waves of migration is a thought-provoking eight-minute light show that will be projected on the roof of the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney from 26 January to 13 February 2014. It weaves together Australia’s rich tapestry of migration stories and encourages audiences to reflect on the current immigration debate by demonstrating the historical continuity of migration by sea.

Chinese migrants wave farewell to family from a clipper ship headed for the Australian goldfields

Image: Animation still from Waves of migration featuring the the clipper ship Young America in Hong Kong, bound for the goldfields of Australia in 1857.

The show opens with an Indigenous fisherman in a bark canoe, to acknowledge that Indigenous Australians are the only ones to have witnessed all the waves of migration to this country. It then follows the journey of a single migrant boat, changing its form across oceans and cultures and through the passage of time. 

The boat emerges as Endeavour departing England in 1768 under the command of Lieutenant James Cook to observe the transit of Venus and to search for the legendary Great South Land. It transforms into the First Fleet convict transport vessel, Charlotte and then a clipper ship carrying Chinese migrants to the Australian goldfields, before struggling to make its way through a sea of early 20th-century White Australia policy paperwork.

The boat transitions into a post-World War 2 migrant liner passing through a ruined European landscape, transporting displaced persons and assisted migrants to new lives in Australia. It contracts into a small fishing boat loaded with refugees escaping the aftermath of the Vietnam War, before devolving into a decrepit Indonesian fishing vessel carrying asylum seekers on the last leg of their voyage to Australia. The boat then re-emerges in the present day as our Endeavour replica and arrives in Sydney Harbour.

The show employs a cyclical storytelling device that also emphasises the cyclical nature of Australia’s migration history. It asserts that our history and identity as an island nation have been, and continue to be, shaped by immigration.

The show is designed by award-winning architectural projection specialists The Electric Canvas and Ample projects.

In May 2013 Waves of migration received a silver MUSE Award for public outreach from the American Alliance of Museums. The MUSE Awards recognise excellence in museum media and technology projects.