In March 2006 the Ministry of Foreign Affairs handed over 51,525 registration cards containing data about Dutch migrants in Australia to the Nationaal Archief. The cards came from various consular posts in Australia. Most of the cards were filled out between 1946 and 1991 by the Consulates General of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane in the course of performing their task of taking care of the individual interests of Dutch people abroad.
Front of an emigration card
The cards were usually filled out on board ship, a few days before the emigrants disembarked at their port of destination, or during their first visit to a consulate. Several basic details were registered: personal data, type of transport to Australia, date of arrival, profession, religion and composition of the group (usually the family). In addition to these standard data, there is space on the card for notes under the heading ‘employment history’. As well as actual data about the migrant’s employment history or help given in finding employment, the notes in this space often also refer to various other kinds of assistance (housing, financial support; psychological, marital or legal problems, repatriation, etc.) given to the migrant by the consulate itself or by third parties contacted by the consulate (such as the emigration attachés sent by the Dutch Ministry for Social Affairs, Dutch pastors or priests in Australia, or Good Neighbour Councils, the Australian migrant relief organizations). The contacts between the emigrant and the consulate were sometimes maintained over a number of years.
Back of an emigration card
After the Second World War there was a sharp rise in the number of Dutch emigrants to Australia. For many Dutch people the poor economic prospects in the Netherlands at the time were an important motive to try to build a future elsewhere.
From 1946 onwards the Dutch consulates in Australia kept detailed records of Dutch emigrants or 'new Australians' of Dutch origin. The emigration cards show how the consulates helped the migrants to establish themselves in their new home country. Thus each card also provides a picture of a personal history – sometimes just a sketch, sometimes in considerable detail. In March 2006 the Ministry of Foreign Affairs handed over the Australian Emigration Cards Archive to the Nationaal Archief.
On this website some of the data on the emigration cards has been made available in a database. Visitor to the website can search for emigrants whose names are included in the database. In many cases the search will also provide the name of the ship or airline by which the emigrant travelled to Australia.
The purpose of the website is to support and stimulate emigrants and their families in the Netherlands and Australia in their search for their 'roots'. The background information and the names in the database serve as a point of departure and a source of inspiration for further research into the searchers' own history.
Dutch emigrants at Schiphol airport about to leave for Australia, February 1952
Moving the cards to the Netherlands
In the early 1990s the Dutch government officially ended its involvement in emigration. From the late 1980s onwards the emigration administration systems in the various emigration countries were phased out. Emigration became a private affair. As a result, in the current administration systems the emigration cards have lost their significance. Aware of the historical value of the card files, the Consulate General of Sydney loaned the emigration cards to the Dutch Australian Cultural Centre (DACC) in Sydney. In the subsequent years the DACC was in charge of the cards.
Because the cards were created by the Dutch consular agencies in Australia, they are part of Dutch cultural heritage. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs asked the Institute of Netherlands History (ING) for advice about the cards. The ING was also of the opinion that the cards were part of Dutch cultural heritage and that ideally they should be transferred to the Nationaal Archief in The Hague.
In the spring of 2004 consultations took place in The Hague between the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Consulate General of Sydney, the Dutch Australian Cultural Centre, the Institute for Netherlands History and the Nationaal Archief about moving the cards to the Netherlands and handing the files over to the Nationaal Archief.
In addition to arrangements for the transfer, it was decided to include some of the data from the cards in a database which could be put on the Internet. With the help of the information in the database people would be able to request copies of emigration cards. In the framework of the celebration of 400 years of relations between the Netherlands and Australia, the end of March 2006 seemed an appropriate time to launch the database on the Internet.
Processing the archive and entering the data into the database
In September 2004 the cards were shipped to the Netherlands and on a rainy Friday afternoon in December 2004 an English removal firm delivered the cards to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
At that point the emigration cards were filed in 48 steel drawers. Closer inspection revealed that all in all there were five sets of files: a Brisbane set (7,798 cards), a Melbourne set (19,326 cards) and a Sydney set (23,326 cards), and another two small sets, New South Wales 1986 (778 cards) and Queensland 1984 (297 cards). There are 51,525 cards in total. Most of the cards were filled out by the Consulates General of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. The three big sets also include cards filled out by consular posts in Perth, Bonegilla, Adelaide, Canberra and Hobart.
Front of an emigration card
In consultation with the Nationaal Archief it was agreed that the following data from the emigration cards were to be included in a database: name, initials, prefixes, date of birth, date of departure, date of arrival, vessel, airline, registration office and ‘comments’ . Ultimately the ‘comments’ space, with very limited data about emigration programmes, was not included in the web presentation.
The emigration cards were repackaged to enable permanent storage at the Nationaal Archief. In March 2006 the Australian Emigration Cards Archive were moved to the storerooms of the Nationaal Archief.
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