Title

‘Invisible women’: German migrant women’s cultural identity in Western Australia, 1945-1973

Date of Award

2017

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts Honours

School

School of Arts and Humanities

First Advisor

Danielle Brady

Abstract

This study focused on the lived experiences of four German women who immigrated to Western Australia between 1945 and 1973. In 1945 post-WWII European migrants were permitted to immigrate to Australia for the first time since Federation and the introduction of the White Australia policy in 1901. 1973 signified the end of the White Australia policy and the beginning of establishing equality for migrants in Australia. Between 1945 and 1973 all migrants were expected to assimilate to the Australian culture and way of life and relinquish their own cultural identity. The aims of this study were to explore the impacts that negotiating the Australian way of life had on the German women’s cultural identity. Through their settlement experiences, the research sought to understand the ways in which the women developed a sense of belonging in Australia. Furthermore, this study sought to determine whether the women’s cultural identity could be visually represented through diptych photo-narratives composed of their portrait and a photograph of their mementoes. The project employed new ethnography and visual ethnography methodologies in life history interviews with four German women. Life histories are intensely personal and the aim of applying a new ethnographic focus was to represent the women’s stories in a way that reflected their lived realities. This was achieved through presenting each woman’s account in a storytelling format that offered a unique way of engaging with and analysing their cultural identities. The women participated in three interviews and had their portraits taken. They were asked to select personal mementoes that signified their cultural identity, which were then photographed. The aim of using a visual ethnographic approach was to create visual texts that reflected the women’s cultural identity in the context in which they interpreted their own identity. The photographic representation of the German women’s cultural identity through mementoes offered a new way of looking at and exploring cultural identity. The women’s experiences negotiating the Australian way of life were analysed against the theoretical frameworks of cultural identity, hybridity and ii national identity as defined by Stuart Hall (1992) and Homi Bhabha (1990). Taking a new ethnographic approach to the life history interviews of the four women produced rich, nuanced accounts of their settlement experiences. Analysis of the narratives found that despite encountering assimilation expectations and discrimination, 3 of the 4 women identified culturally as being Australian, while simultaneously retaining connections to their German identity. One of the women displayed a hybrid cultural identity, as defined by Bhabha (1990), that was developed through engagement with German and English languages within social and education contexts in Western Australia. The use of language provided a third space for creating meaning between the home and host cultures. For all of the women, development of a sense of belonging in Australia was influenced by government policy and the attitudes of the Australian people, as well as emotional and physical connections to Germany. Through the incorporation of mementoes, the diptych photo-narratives produced ‘portraits’ of the four women’s cultural identities that contained complex narratives that co-existed within the one space. The German migrant women’s narratives provided rich and powerful insights into the process of developing multiple cultural identities when negotiating life in Australia. The use of this new ethnographic approach aimed to transform the women from anonymous migrants to real, visible people. The multilayered narrative images visually represented the women’s processes of engagement with Australian and German cultures across multiple timeframes. The photographs seek to contribute to the space of discussion and understanding on the development of cultural identity. The results of this study may be beneficial for future immigration policy revisions or to better inform the greater community of the migrant experience in developing cultural identity and a sense of belonging in Australia.

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