My discovery of my own city continues, and I just thought I’d share something interesting and touching with all of you – the Fremantle Welcome Walls. It is common to hear people say, “I’m not interested in history”, or “History is boring – who cares what happened in the past? We’re living in the now.” When it comes to dates and statistics, I can understand it. Generally, the younger one is, the less interesting history is, because the younger we are, the less we can identify with and understand those older than us. It is only after say.. age 25.. that we have a realisation that ourselves and those ‘old people’ who have been telling us what to do all our lives.. we’re one and the same. Without trivialising the experience and wisdom that comes inevitably with time, all that stands between myself and my grandfather is some fifty one years on this planet. And I’m beginning to appreciate now, at age 31, how short a year can be.
Reminds me of a line in a song by Young the Giant… “Life’s too short to even care at all.” The first time I heard this, it resonated because it seemed so deliberately untrue. But the more I think about it, the truer it feels. It starts to mean, “Life’s too short to worry about small things.” And that’s the truest of truth. Focus on the important things, the meaningful things, don’t spend your time worrying about small slights, or bearing grudges. Because before you know it, it’s over.
I digress. =) The Welcome Walls project honours the migrants of Perth who have made our fair city (now with a population just shy of 1.8 million) the beautiful and varied place it is today. Stylistically, it’s sort of reminiscent of a war memorial – names are engraved on metal plates, affixed to frames, outside the Maritime Museum in Fremantle. Except there’s one important difference. Instead of being a sombre affair, commemorating the dead, the Welcome Walls are a celebration of life – the beginning of something beautiful on the most micro, personal level – but also as a wave, a collective force that shaped a city, shaped a nation. It’s beautiful.
What really has me
tearing up uhh.. getting something in my eyes is the database of entries on the Welcome Walls, on the Museum WA Website. It has the list of names, the date of arrival, and *sniff sniff* the stories of some of the arrivals. It’s that personal history, the story of an individual’s life, of a family’s life, that I really love about history. It’s that human sharing of challenges, of adventure, of the brave arrival in a strange land that fills me with a sense of sympatico with those new migrants – and a keen sense of how little has really changed. Our hopes, our fears, are not dissimilar to the ambitions of the New Arrivals in Fremantle Port in the 1940s and 50s. Setting out on a boat journey, weeks long, to leave behind the remnants of a war. Leaving a homeland that might have been the only place one had ever known, to a journey to a strange land, on the bottom of the world. It’s.. awe inspiring to think how that must have felt.
Here’s a couple which inspired me:
Origin BIVONGI (RC) ITALY
First settled in Herne Hill
Original Occupation Farmer
Occupation in Australia Valencia Houghton Wines
Departure Port MESSINA SICILY ITALY
Arrival Year 1951
Francescantonio Valenti like many Italians at the time ventured to Australia to find a better life leaving behind his pregnant wife until he could afford to call for her, His wife along with his son joined him in on 29th March 1953.
Origin Mornant, France
First settled in Sydney, NSW
Original Occupation Sales Person
Occupation in Australia Retail Manager
Eliane Vallet and Andre Bethuizeau met on the ship. First kiss on the SS Marconi on Christmas Eve 1969. Settled together in Sydney in February 1970 and married in Sydney in August 1973.
Origin Bandung Indonesia
Accompanying Family We had no family yet
First settled in Perth WA
Original Occupation Automotive Store Manager
Occupation in Australia Motor Mechanic
Departure Port Singapore
Arrival Year 1951
We were both full Dutch. I was born in Dutch East Indies. Ali was born in Holland-but came to Indonesia in 1927. I was Japanese POW in Japan. Ali was 3 years in concentration camp. We did not want to go to Holland. Came to Paradise
Check it out for yourself, at the Welcome Walls Names Browser. There are so many inspiring, happy stories of love and family, despite the many challenges faced by new migrants. It fills the gap in our State’s history which before just told us about the mass migration of thousands of people from Europe, and all over the world. When reading the stories of Franscesantonio Valentini, Eliane Vallet, and Gus & Ali Van Ryhn, those statistics stop being facts, and start being stories – narratives; the stuff of life.
Visit the Welcome Walls for yourself, at the WA Maritime Museum, Victoria Quay, Fremantle.