Fading snaps tell migrant tales

Written By miftah nugraha on Minggu, 21 Juli 2013 | 19.55

FOR the past 38 years, Nicola Goc has been enchanted by her mother-in-law's tales of migration from Poland after World War II.

A cherished biscuit tin full of old black and white photographs offers a pictorial essay of the emotion-charged pilgrimage, which began the day the war started, when the 16-year-old was taken by Nazis and separated from her family.

The series of well-thumbed snapshots offer a precious reminder of life in Poland and new beginnings in Tasmania.

And they give a remarkable insight into a bygone era, especially for the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of migrants who want to learn more about their heritage.

Which is what spurred Dr Goc to start a research project centred around the photographs and stories of migrant women in Tasmania.

The University of Tasmania senior lecturer in journalism and media studies has received a grant for the study "Snapshot Photography, Female Subjectivity and the Migrant Experience", which will culminate in a photographic exhibition at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery next year.

She is calling on migrant women to come forward and share their stories as part of the project.

Dr Goc would like to hear from Tasmanian women from English and non-English speaking backgrounds who migrated to Australia in the post-World War II period.

She is also interested in speaking to women who have snapshots that were sent to them from family and friends in their country of origin.

"Snapshot photographs play a central role in recording our lives and in this project I am particularly interested in the ways in which family snapshot photographs have helped migrant women both to maintain connections with the lives they left behind and to make meaning of their new lives in Australia," Dr Goc said.

"Migration is a fundamental feature of our times and it always involves displacement and loss.

"At the most intimate level this sense of displacement and loss is often expressed through the importance placed on faded family snapshots, arguably one of the most revered material objects to be found in a migrant's home."

Dr Goc has already amassed a selection of old photos, which offer an insight into post-war life.

Flicking through the faded, often coffee-stained images at her Sandy Bay home, she recounts the tale of an American nurse who fell in love with an Australian man in Saigon during the Vietnam War and later came to Australia with him.

Other shots include a family portrait taken in France during the 1930s; numerous funeral portraits of Eastern European families; seaside antics of a family from Argentina enjoying a trip to the beach; and an image of a baby with his Bulgarian grandmother just days before he migrated to Tasmania with his parents in the early 1950s.

The problem is that most of the photos she has are anonymous - they were collected from car boot sales, garage sales and auctions, leaving Dr Goc to rely solely on the brief descriptions handwritten on the back.

"The anonymous ones tell me something but not what I really want to know ... which is why I'm very keen to talk to the women themselves," she said.

She has collected albums full of old photographs as well as collecting the old snapshot cameras used to take them.

Dr Goc said women who migrated to Australia after World War II had been largely ignored in migration research, so her project aims to redress this.

She said while most migrant men got jobs and worked hard to build a name for themselves in their new homeland, migrant women often worked away quietly in the background for little recognition, despite being the backbone of the family.

Anyone interested in participating in the research project can contact Dr Goc on 6226 2473 or email Nicola.Goc@utas.edu.au

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