Calling Australia Home | Interview with the curator

November 2, 2016

Haskin family picnic at Mordialloc beach, Melbourne, c. 1910
Reproduced courtesy Leon Haskin, Jewish Museum of Australia Collection 4513

Dr Deborah Rechter is a valued curator of various Jewish Museum special exhibitions, including our permanent exhibition Calling Australia Home located in the Zelman Cowen Gallery.

Recently, Dr Rechter helped put together the catalogue, now available for purchase in the Museum store, to give visitors some of the intriguing footnotes and broader context of the story told in the exhibition.

Here on the blog, she gives us more reasons to learn about Jews’ early settlement in Australia and the unique history of Australian Jewish life dating back to the First Fleet.

Commercial traveller’s bag, early 20th century
Donated by Mary-Lou Howie, Jewish Museum of Australia Collection 12643

Many people who come to the Museum are unaware that there were Jewish convicts who arrived with the First Fleet.

JM: What can people expect to find in the catalogue? What is its purpose?

DR: The catalogue contains some of the text and objects featured in the Calling Australia Home exhibition and provides further details, context, and information. It contains a little of the kind of commentary that I give visitors who come on a curator’s tour of the exhibition. It includes stories about how the exhibition was put together, where we found some objects, the background of objects and some historical context to help visitors understand the unique character and experience of Australian Jews.

JM: What is the most interesting or surprising piece of information people will learn from the CAH exhibition?

DR: Many people who come to the Museum are unaware that there were Jewish convicts who arrived with the First Fleet. In fact, they are surprised to learn that with Jews being 1% of 1500 passengers at that time, that remains the moment of the highest Jewish percentage of the total population since settlement.

Gumnut chanukiah, Marc Light, Melbourne, c. 1980s
Donated by Helen Light, Jewish Museum of Australia Collection 5313

JM: The exhibition is object-focused. What are some of the most intriguing pieces in your opinion and why?

DR: There are many important and curious objects! I particularly like the Shalom sign featured on the cover of the catalogue which shows that Jews in suburban Melbourne are able to and are comfortable to declare themselves Jewish in an open and public way without fear of reprisal.

JM: How long did it take to collect the objects in the exhibition – where do they come from?

DR: The objects mostly come from the collection of the Jewish Museum of Australia, collected since it was founded over 30 years ago. They are pieces entrusted to the Museum for safe keeping and remembrance by families in the community. They have historical significance and allow us to tell the key stories in the history of Jewish life in Australia. Each object has been carefully selected for what it represents and communicates about the development of the Jewish community here.

Australian Israelite, Melbourne, 1871–72
Private donation, Jewish Museum of Australia Collection 2911

JM: How long did it take you to research and accumulate all the information presented in the exhibition and catalogue?

DR: Research for the exhibition took several years and we were able to include only a small amount of it in the exhibition, so it’s nice to be able to give people a little bit more of the detail about the community that we uncovered in the catalogue.

JM: How can teachers use the catalogue in their lessons? And who else would find the catalogue useful / interesting?

DR: Calling Australia Home is easily accessible to school students. It was designed to appeal to and inform students of all ages. We were mindful of the Victorian and National Curricula when we developed it and it is structured to encourage an Inquiry Method in the teaching of History. There will also be a new teachers’ guide to accompany the exhibition available soon. Because the catalogue contains the exhibition themes and text as well as extra historical context it’s particularly useful in the classroom both before and after students visit the Museum. The catalogue gives students ways to better understand what they observe during their visit, it extends their knowledge and signposts follow up investigations for further inquiry.

Dabscheck Brothers Carriers, Melbourne, c. 1918
Donated by Lenis Aarons, Jewish Museum of Australia Collection 12626

The Calling Australia Home catalogue is filled with rich information and imagery, and is available for purchase at the Jewish Museum store for $19.95.