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The Australian government has long been involved in creating, collecting and circulating photographs of newly arrived immigrants, displaced people and refugees. Many of these images have been used for internal and external promotional/propaganda purposes. In this article I use news reports and visual photographic material depicting Hungarian refugee children and their families, alongside an analysis of government agendas and communication strategies, to examine how these ‘new Australians’ were understood and presented to the nation. After the 1956 anti-Communist uprising in Hungary, just over 14,000 Hungarian refugees were resettled in Australia. The federal government specially sought out a number of ‘compassionate cases such as children’, and many groups and individuals within the host population offered support to care for what they imagined would be large numbers of orphaned and unaccompanied Hungarian children. These Hungarian refugees came to Australia in the context of increased government interest in public relations and publicity around immigration. A Public Relations director in the Department of Immigration was appointed in 1955 and a publicity section was also established as part of the Planning and Research Division. Discussions by the Immigration Planning Council during 1956 plainly stated that ‘business’ was now the driving force for immigration rather than ‘the “refugee” concept’. Tasman Heyes, the Secretary of the Department of Immigration, agreed but also felt that these two forces were and could be combined, pointing out that since 1951 Australia had received ‘international credit for contributing to the solution of an international problem’ by achieving the integration of these aims. This article examines how refugee children and families were positioned in relation to the fraught pairing of economic and humanitarian concerns, thus interrogating broader understandings of immigration, children and families within the Australian nation that are revealed in these moments of photographic capture and circulation.


Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences

Document Type

Journal Article

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