About the collection

The photographs featured on this website are part of the Immigration Photographic Archive – Series A12111. This collection comprises more than 22,000 black-and-white and colour photographs taken by government photographers between 1946 and 1999 to record the arrival and settlement of migrants in Australia after World War II. The photographs were used in newspapers, magazines, posters, brochures and displays to promote Australia as a prosperous welcoming nation to potential migrants – and to reassure the Australian public that new migrants would readily settle into the Australian way of life.

The photographs cover a vast range of events including the arrival of migrants, citizenship ceremonies, multicultural festivals, English classes and the opening of new places of worship. Official photographers also portrayed thousands of migrants in their workplace and other areas of the community.

Most of the collection was accumulated during the 1950s and 1960s at the peak of post-war immigration. During this time, more than 15,000 photographs were taken by the Department of Immigration’s publicity section, which processed up to 1,000 migrant success stories each year. These stories regularly appeared in the popular press both in Australia and overseas.

From the late 1970s, photographers recorded the Australian Government’s humanitarian efforts to settle refugees, initially from war-torn Indochina and later from Central America, Africa and elsewhere.

The photographs focus on the positive outcomes of the government’s immigration programs. Significant milestones – such as the arrival of the millionth post-war migrant in 1955 and of the 100,000th Dutch migrant in 1958 – were comprehensively documented and deliberately contrived by government publicists to present the dream image of immigrants as young, healthy and attractive.

Major national works projects such as the Snowy Mountain Hydro-Electric Scheme (1949–74) provided opportunities for the government to showcase the pivotal role migrants played in Australia’s post-war development. Migrants who succeeded in business, the arts, politics, sport, education and the media also featured in campaigns to highlight the valuable contributions post-war migrants have made to Australian society, culture and prosperity.

Preserving the photographs

In 2002 the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs (1996–2006) transferred the Immigration Photographic Archive to the National Archives of Australia after the discovery of vinegar syndrome – where film plastic reacts with water in the air to form acetic acid and becomes brittle – in some of the negatives. The collection was immediately placed into cold storage in the National Archives’ Canberra repository to slow down deterioration. Affected items were placed in isolation to keep the vinegar syndrome from spreading. To preserve the collection each photograph has been digitised and repackaged into acid-free buffered paper envelopes.