ARC Kathleen Fitzpatrick Laureate Fellowship -

Child Refugees and Australian Internationalism from 1920 to the present

ARC Child Refugees logoThis project will explore the changing nature of Australian internationalism during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries through a study of a history of child refugees and campaigns undertaken on behalf of child refugees conducted by relief agencies and humanitarian organisations

It will examine the history of Australian immigration policy and the government bureaucracy that manages it, with specific reference to child refugees, which will produce new insights into shifts in public policy over time and the factors that contribute to these shifts

It will also address the social, cultural and economic contributions of child refugees to Australia in all aspects of business, culture and society through an oral history of child refugees. It will consider the factors that have enhanced or limited the success of child refugees of recent arrivals from the 1970s onwards by examining the experience of refugee children in four specific communities - the Vietnamese (1970s and 1980s); the Sudanese, Sri Lankan and Bosnian communities (1990s and 2000s)

Finally, it will explore shifting understanding of child refugees through the various visual imagery utilised over several decades such as photography, film, newsreel and television footage to convey particular meanings about child refugees and the influence of the visual medium in mobilising support or opposition to child refugees.


For more information about the project please email

Media and resources

February 2016

What comes after #LetThemStay?
Jordy Silverstein and Max Kaiser on the Overland website 23 February 2016
The focus on children leads to a perpetuation of a discourse around asylum seekers that is ultimately damaging to longer-term aims of dismantling the border regime.

November 2015

Growing up Greek in Australia
Professor Joy Damousi on the Pursuit website
I am the child of Greek post-war immigrants. I grew up in the inner-Melbourne suburb of Fitzroy in the 1960s and early 70s.

How do modern Jewish communities narrate the Holocaust?
Jordana Silverstein on the ABC News website
The Israeli Prime Minister's offended Palestinians and Jewish Holocaust survivors. He's left historians astonished, and in Israel inspired widespread mirth and hundreds of new internet memes.

Tackling difficult history lessons
Jordana Silverstein, RN Afternoons on the ABC Radio National website
When it comes to educating young people about their history and the history of others, parents and teachers must work out how to interpret events in order to paint the most accurate picture of what occurred.

29 July 2015

Growing Up with Morris Gleitzman
Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Dr Jordana Silverstein joins bestselling children's author Morris Gleitzman for a discussion of his work. At the Wheeler Centre.

22 May 2015

Through a Child's Eyes
Professor Joy Damousi talks about the 'Child Refugees and Australian Internationalism from 1920 to the present' project.

From Refugee to Research Scholar
PhD candidates Niro Kandasamy, Samuel Malak and Anh Nguyen are among the researchers working on a project with The University of Melbourne's Professor Joy Damousi, 'Child refugees and Australian Internationalism from 1920 to the present'The three have a special link with the work - they were all child refugees themselves. 

24 March 2015

Professor Joy Damousi presents, 'Child Refugees and Australian Internationalism: Past, Present, Future' as part of the Australia in the World Lecture & Seminar Series. Download the flyer (670kb pdf) or visit the event web page for more information.

9 February 2015

Read an interview with researcher Dr Mary Tomsic on the Voice website.


Professor Joy DamousiProfessor Joy Damousi

Professor Damousi is an ARC Kathleen Fitzpatrick Laureate Fellow and Professor of History at the University of Melbourne. She is the Chief Investigator of the ARC Funded Child Refugees and Australian Internationalism Laureate Fellowship.

Her publications include: The Labour of Loss: Mourning, Memory and Wartime Bereavement in Australia (Cambridge 1999; Shortlisted for the NSW Australian History Prize); Freud in the Antipodes: A Cultural History of Psychoanalysis in Australia (UNSW Press 2005; Winner of the Ernest Scott Prize); Talking and Listening in the Age of Modernity: Essays on the History of Sound (ANU Press, 2007) (ed. with Desley Deacon); Colonial Voices: A Cultural History of English in Australia, 1840-1940 (Cambridge 2010; Shortlisted for the NSW Australian History Prize); and What Did You Do in the Cold War Daddy? Personal Stories from a Troubled Time (UNSW Press, 2014), (ed. with Ann Curthoys).

In 2015, Memory and Migration in the Shadow of War: Australia's Greek Immigrants after World War II and the Greek Civil War, will be published by Cambridge University Press.

Child Refugees and Australian Internationalism: 1920–1970

This study aims to generate new and powerful understandings of the history of child refugees in Australia from 1920-1970. A focus on child refugees has remained an unexplored area of historical analysis in the work on the history of refugees in Australia. This project aims to explore how this history is tied to the history of Australia’s international role on refugee and migration issues and how this past can inform us about current and future approaches to refugee policy. Its focus will also be on the campaigns undertaken on behalf of child refugees conducted by relief agencies and humanitarian organisations.

Dr Mary TomsicDr Mary Tomsic

Mary Tomsic is a Postdoctoral Research Associate attached to the ARC Laureate Fellowship Project. Her broad teaching and research interests are in cultural history in particular visual culture, film and history; historical representations in popular culture; Australian film culture and understandings of gender & sexuality. Her most recent publication is a co-edited collection Diversity in Leadership: Australian women, past and present (with Joy Damousi and Kim Rubenstein, ANU Press 2014).

Picturing Refugee Children

My project explores shifting understandings of child refugees and displaced children depicted in visual sources since 1920. I will examine a range of representations over several decades, including photographs, film, fundraising materials, picture story books, newsreel and television footage and children’s art works. Through these visual representations, I will explore how child refugees have been characterised and the role of visual depictions in mobilising support or opposition to child refugees in Australia and around the world. In drawing together a wide array of visual depictions I hope to better understand the impact of visual culture in the stories and histories that are told about displaced children in the past and today.

Dr Jordy SilversteinDr Jordana Silverstein

Dr Jordana Silverstein is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow, researching the history of Australian government policy towards child refugees from 1970 to the present. Before joining this ARC Laureate Fellowship project, Jordana lectured in History at the University of Melbourne (where she completed her PhD in 2009) and was a Senior Research Officer at Macquarie University. Her research has examined histories of modern Jewish identity, memory, sexuality and diasporism, and explored notions of belonging and racialisation, in Australia and the United States. She is the author of Anxious Histories: Narrating the Holocaust in Jewish Communities at the Beginning of the Twenty-First Century (Berghahn Books, 2015) and co-editor of In the Shadows of Memory: The Holocaust and the Third Generation (Vallentine Mitchell, 2015).

A History of Australian Immigration Policy and Child Refugees: 1970 to the Present

This project investigates the ways that child refugees have been discussed and managed through Australian immigration policy since 1970. Drawing on the concept of futurity, I will explore the ways that the figure of the Child Refugee has been imagined as either promoting a good future for Australia, or existing as a 'threat' to Australian society. This project looks at which children have been accepted as refugees, and which have been excluded: how has this changed according to nationality, gender, mode of transport to Australia, or age, amongst other factors? How have different policy approaches been developed? How does this history sit alongside the history of the management of other populations in Australia? Finally, through a series of oral history interviews and explorations of archival documents, this project seeks to help to insert the lived experiences of child refugees into the history of Australian immigration policy.

Sarah GreenSarah Green

Sarah Green was drawn to this project because of her background working with Forgotten Australians (care leavers) and Former Child Migrants; that is, adults who had spent some or all of their childhoods in institutions.  This work taught her the importance of bearing witness to, and appreciating the bravery of, adults willing to share their memories of disrupted, fragmented and often painful childhoods. Prior to this, Sarah completed a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Western Australia in 2007 and set off to see the world before moving to Melbourne in 2010 to undertake a Master of Global Communications at La Trobe University. And before all that, she grew up in a little but lovely place called New Zealand.

A safe and necessary personal coherence: The experiences of Bosnian refugee children in Australia

This project will explore the experiences of Bosnian refugee children who arrived in Australia during the 1990s. There is some evidence that Bosnian refugees may have been expected to integrate easily into the Australian community given their European background. However, children removed from their origins may experience loss of identity, fragmented family narratives and confusion over memories of traumatic events. Through oral history, this project will capture the unique experiences of Bosnian refugee children in the 1990s, which will, in turn, contribute to our understanding of the needs of present and future children seeking safety in Australia

Anh NguyenAnh Nguyen

Anh Nguyen was a Vietnamese child refugee raised in Carrollton, Texas. She graduated with a Masters of Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity and Bachelors of Arts in English Literature from Bryn Mawr College. In 2002, she had a postgraduate fellowship from Harvard to conduct research interviews about the acculturation of Vietnamese in Australia. She then worked with Harvard School of Public Health on AIDS research and treatment in Nigeria, and became a bilingual legal aid advocate for Vietnamese immigrants in Boston. She currently works as a paralegal for Native Title Services Victoria and is pursuing her PhD on the oral history of Vietnamese Australian child refugees in Australia.

Towards a New Historical & Psychological Perspective of Acculturation and Success: Oral History of Vietnamese Australian Child Refugees as Adults

The research captures the history of Vietnamese Australian child migration, acculturation, and factors that that contributed to their success and challenges as adults. Based on the narratives of child refugees, unaccompanied minors, adoptees, and reverse migrants living and working in Vietnam, it examines what are the historical, cultural, psychological, family and self-generated narratives that have motivated and sustained them as adults? How has this contributed to their public, private, economic and social success in Australia? It also investigates the international policies and political ideologies from 1975 to 2000, how they impacted those experiences, and how they differ from our current perspective on refugees and asylum seekers.

Niro KandasamyNiro Kandasamy

Niro Kandasamy is currently a PhD student at the University of Melbourne.  She completed her honours (Class 1) at the University of New South Wales under the supervision of Dr. Karen Soldatic.  Since the completion of her undergraduate studies Niro has been working as a Social Research Officer at Western Sydney Information and Research (WESTIR Ltd) where she has been involved in numerous projects for not for profits, Local and State Government.  Her wider research interests include the impacts of welfare service provisions on organisations and citizens, refugee resettlement, refugee policy and social inclusion.

Exploring the long term resettlement experiences of Sri Lankan child refugees

This PhD study seeks to advance contemporary resettlement frameworks by engaging with the oral histories of Sri Lankan child refugees that arrived to Australia in the 1970s, 80s and 90s.  The study engages with relevant Government policy and rhetoric that shaped the resettlement experiences of Sri Lankan child refugees.  At a theoretical level the study considers discourses of memory and history that shape our understanding of the past to illustrate the complex linkages between Government policy, child refugee resettlement and reintegration.

Samuel MalakSamuel Malak

Mr. Malak holds both a BA and MA from Victoria University, Australia. Mr. Malak is an active member within the Horn of African community; he has well-established social networks within his own Sudanese community, and extensive experience and knowledge of existing refugees’ services across Victoria. Himself a former child-solider and refugee,

Mr. Malak has worked with refugees (both adults and youth) from culturally and linguistically diverse background (CALD) in Australia, where he maintained fundamental aspects of diverse community’s culture. This is subject to the Australian society’s context, as well as how young Sudanese refugees are adapting to aspects of Australia’s life—its values, social or environmental acclimatisation, and/or acculturation process.  Additionally, Malak is bilingual in Sudanese Arabic and other Sudanese languages, are of continuing significance to this study.

Project description

Sudanese migration to Australia is a recent phenomenon, which began in 1990s. Sudan has been in protracted civil wars, which can correctly be traced back to well before the country received its formal independence from Great Britain. They uprooted Sudanese indigenous population: becoming refugees almost elsewhere, including Australia. Previous studies on Sudanese migrants in Australia focused on the adult experiences, excluding the young migrants’ experiences. This study examines the latter’s settlement experiences in Australia: providing insightful knowledge, understanding of their settlement needs; recommendations or informed mechanism to facilitate their successful integration, based on the narrative account of the cohort group.

Dr Alexandra DelliosDr Alexandra Dellios

Alexandra has researched and published on child migration and belonging, popular culture and the history of post-war migrant centres (hostels), and public history and heritage making. She continues her research into heritage-making practices within migrant communities and the discursive interactions between grassroots groups and official heritage, specifically in relation to the commemoration of post-war migrant centres. She has lectured and taught in Australian Studies and migrant heritage at the University of Melbourne, where she submitted her PhD in August 2014. She is currently the administration assistant on this ARC Laureate Fellowship  Project.

Receiving and Settling New Arrivals – Hostels and Holding Centres, 1947 to 1993

This project will offer a ‘long’ history of Commonwealth migrant hostels and holding centres in Australia, with a specific focus on the settlement services on offer to refugee arrivals. It will interrogate how these seminal spaces functioned in relation to changing political and cultural attitudes to new arrivals, and the effect of these spaces on the settlement experiences of respective DPs, assisted migrants and refugee groups since 1947. 

Dr Rachel StevensDr Rachel Stevens

Rachel’s research focuses on twentieth century American and Australian immigration history. She has published her research in the Australian Journal of Politics and History, Immigrants & Minorities and History Australia. She is currently completing articles on intercultural marriage in Australia, urban multiculturalism and the use of role-play in the history classroom.

Rachel received her PhD in History at Monash University, where she lectured in contemporary history until 2014. She has also been a visiting fellow at New York University (2013), the University of Texas at Austin (2006) and the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies at UCSD (2006-07).


Conference presentations


  • Dellios, Alexandra. ""It was just you and your child" single mothers and generational storytelling in Australia's migrant hostels," Intersections in History, Australian Women's History Network Conference, 31 March-1 April 2016


  • Damousi, Joy, "Australian League of Nations Union and War Refugees: Internationalism and humanitarianism: 1930-1945," League of Nations: Histories, Legacies and Impact, 10th December 2015, The Univeristy of Melbourne
  • Damousi, Joy. "Memories of the Greek Civil War among Children of the Diaspora," Judging the Past in a Post-Cold War World Conference, September 2015, University of Sydney
  • Dellios, Alexandra. "Child DPs, single mothers and remembering the separation of families in post-war Australia". Emotions and memory: humiliation and dignity in Asian, Australian and European memories of violence, 12-13 November 2015, The University of Melbourne
  • Green, Sarah. "Children as the faces of war: reflections on Bosnia". Researchers for Asylum Seekers (RAS) Interdisciplinary Postgraduate Conference, 16 November 2015, University of Melbourne
  • Green, Sarah. "The experiences of Bosnian children in Australia". Refuge(e)s in the Cities: Post-conflict Trauma, Gendered Violence and Social Inclusion, 26-27 November 2015, RMIT University Melbourne
  • Green, Sarah. "Histories of childhood and psychological research: new interchanges in studies of war, memory and trauma". Foundational Histories, Australian History Association Conference 2015, 6-10 July 2015, University of Sydney
  • Kandasamy, Nirosini. "Humiliation, Vengeance, and Transformations of Ethnic Identity: A Case Study of Sri Lankan Tamils in Australia". Emotions and memory: humiliation and dignity in Asian, Australian and European memories of violence, 12-13 November 2015, The University of Melbourne
  • Kandasamy, Nirosini. "Long term settlement experiences of Sri Lankan Tamil child refugees: a binary of past and present". Interrogating the in-between: Humanities Postgraduate Conference, 12 June 2015, University of New South Wales
  • Nguyen, Anh. "A Palimpsest Narrative of Self and Community: Engaging Social Media and Technology in Oral History". Innovative Approaches to Making Oral History, Oral History Victoria 2015 Symposium, 27 June 2015, Museo Italiano
  • Silverstein, Jordana. "Temporariness in a Safe Haven: Refugees and Australian Demands of Permanent Movement". Race, Mobility and Imperial Networks: Charting the Transnational Asia-Pacific World, 1800-2015, 9-11 November 2015, RMIT University Melbourne
  • Silverstein, Jordana. "Unaccompanied Child Refugees and Their Guardians: Imagining the Australian Family". Foundational Histories, Australian History Association Conference 2015, 6-10 July 2015, University of Sydney
  • Stevens, Rachel. "The ambivalent position of guest workers in immigrant America". Immigrant America Conference. New Immigration Histories from 1965 to 2015, 23-24 October 2015, The University of Minnesota, Minneapolis
  • Tomsic, Mary. "Welcome to Australia' Photographing the arrival of child refugees". Race, Mobility and Imperial Networks: Charting the Transnational Asia-Pacific World, 1800-2015, 9-11 November 2015, RMIT University Melbourne
  • Tomsic, Mary. "Refugee stories for children in picture books". Melbourne Social Equity Institute Lecture Series for Asylum Seekers: History of immigration to Australia, 26 October 2015, The University of Melbourne.
  • Tomsic, Mary. "Hopeful futures: The emotional takes of displaced children in Australian picture books". Foundational Histories, Australian History Association Conference 2015, 6-10 July 2015, University of Sydney

Public lectures


  • Damousi, Joy, "Australian League of Nations Union and War Refugees: Internationalism and humanitarianism: 1930-1945," League of Nations: Histories, Legacies and Impact symposium, 10th December 2015 The University of Melbourne

ARC Kathleen Fitzpatrick Laureate Fellowship Mentoring Scheme at The University of Melbourne

For early-career women researchers in the humanities and social sciences. 28th November - 2nd December 2016.

This scheme is fully funded by the Australian Research Council and is a part of Professor Joy Damousi's ARC Kathleen Fitzpatrick Laureate Fellowship. It will be offered annually for the next 5 years. The aim is to attract outstanding early career female researchers who have completed their PhDs within the past 10 years in the humanities and the social sciences to an intensive mentoring programme. All travel and accommodation costs to Melbourne will be covered. 

The focus of this programme is on research leadership and conducting best practice in research activity. It will involve workshops on all aspects of developing a research career: preparation of publications such as articles and books; writing grant applications; developing networking opportunities; honing presentation and public speaking skills; and conducting ethics in research. It will involve participants discussing their research; commenting and providing feedback; and exposing participants to a variety of speakers who would share their own experiences. In addition to these practical activities and direct mentoring of their own research projects, this programme will also offer participants an exploration of a range of skills such as developing career strategies and enhancing career progression. Over five days, the participants will gain insight into these aspects of career advancement and cover the following themes: focusing on issues confronting women researchers; identifying career opportunities; engaging in national and international research environment; managing institutional change and developing time management skills. The programme aims to reach outside of institutional boundaries to develop broad professional supportive networks that will assist those committed to fully developing their research career.

The selection of the participants would be based on the following criteria:

  • Consistent track record relative to opportunity
  • Commitment to academic research
  • Career trajectory and future plans
  • Benefits of the scheme to applicants


Global Histories of Refugees in the 20th and 21st centuries conference

The University of Melbourne

Thursday 6 October - Saturday 8 October 2016

The plight of refugees has become the global issue of our times. The United Nations has estimated that over 59 million people worldwide are displaced as a result of conflict and persecution, the highest number since the 1990s. In most recent events, an estimated 9 million Syrians have fled their homes since the outbreak of civil war in 2011. Throughout the twentieth century and now into the early decades of the twenty-first century, involuntary displacement of peoples has become a defining feature of the modern era.

This international conference seeks to explore all aspects of the history of the past and present plight of refugees. It aims to address a broad range of questions relating to this history such as: What has defined different refugee crises at different times in history? What has been the magnitude of the refugee crisis and how can we explain its scale? How have governments, humanitarian aid agencies, philanthropic and other organizations responded to refugee crises in modern times? What have they learnt from past campaigns? How have refugees experienced displacement? How has the refugee experience changed over time?

More information

For more information including conference programme, conference location, keynote speakers and conference registration please visit the Global Histories of Refugees in the 20th and 21st Centuries conference web page.

Global Histories of Refugees in the 20th and 21st Centuries conference

Refugee History Network

The first Refugee History Network meeting was held at the Australian Historical Association conference at the University of Sydney in July. Thank you to those who attended the meeting. The newsletter is one of the initiatives to emerge from the meeting and hope that it will be utilised for information sharing about events and publications and other activities.