Personal correspondences written in Greek from the mid-1900s

PhD students shine new light on Australian migrant history

30 June 2023
Unearthing multilingual materials of Australia’s past
Eva Boleti and Samuel He are part of a quest to help rethink Australia in many languages – one historical source at a time. By uncovering Greek and Chinese migrant stories, they contribute to an ambitious project to rewrite perceptions of Australia’s historical narrative.

As recipients of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences Postgraduate Research Scholarships, Eva and Samuel support the 'Opening the Multilingual Archive of Australia' (OMAA) project with a team of academics who are consolidating under-utilised non-English language resources to re-examine Australia’s migrant and settler history. With the largest Australian Research Council Discovery Project grant awarded to the University of Sydney in its round, the project seeks to broaden Australia’s understanding of its nation-building history.

Tracing the Greek diaspora in Australia’s cultural landscape

Eva Boleti

Eva’s academic journey spans continents with a Bachelor’s degree in French from Greece, a Master’s in arts and cultures in Portugal, and a Master of Secondary Education in Australia. Eva has since found a home for her interests in immigration, storytelling, community, homemaking and ethnography in researching for the OMAA project as a PhD candidate, which also informs her role as an arts teacher to children from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in remote Western Australia.

Eva’s research takes her into local Greek communities and repositories such as the State Library of New South Wales where she uncovers a variety of primary Greek language sources.

“The material goes back to the first Greek convicts in the 1830’s, manuscript diaries from the boats, schoolwork of freshly arrived immigrant children and letters from the Bonegilla migrant camp in Victoria,” shared Eva. “Each passing day brings forth a fantastic tapestry of stories.”

Along with written and visual sources, Eva will delve further into the Greek diaspora to Australia through OMAA’s oral history project. Working with supervisors Associate Professor Anthony Dracopoulos and Professor Adrian Vickers, Eva eagerly anticipates the acknowledgement and appreciation of the substantial contributions made by non-English speaking immigrants.

“Their impact extends beyond the realm of constructing the physical infrastructure of the nation and has indelibly shaped Australia's sociocultural fabric,” said Eva. “Milk bars, restaurants, music and the sociocultural practices of immigrants have interwoven to form what is now recognised as collective Australian culture.”

In addition to the First Peoples of Australia, the multiculturalism and multilingualism brought by immigrants play a crucial role in shaping the character of this nation. Through thorough research on immigrant communities, we can gain valuable insights into the intricate relationship between Australia’s identity and its historical evolution.
Eva Boleti, PhD candidate, Modern Greek and Byzantine Studies, School of Languages and Cultures

“We are all immigrants – exploring, discovering and innovating landscapes," said Eva. “Our project seeks to bolster this recognition by furnishing genuine historical evidence. It honours the invaluable role played by these immigrants in shaping the nation's identity.”

Examining Chinese immigrant lives through literature

Samuel He

After his undergraduate studies in journalism, two Master’s degrees in Linguistics and Applied Linguistics as well as Secondary School Education, Samuel’s passion for the humanities led him to embark on his PhD journey in discovering primary sources as he examines Sinophone literature of the late 19th- to mid-20th century.

These materials, including Chinese language newspapers published in Australia, illustrate various aspects of early Chinese immigrant lives in Australia. Samuel has found emerging themes that range from anti-opium campaigns, advocacy for monogamy, women’s rights and ethnic relations that reflect evolving views of Chinese Australians across diverse perspectives.

Clipping of early 20th-century Melbourne-based Chinese newspaper, The Chinese Times. Supplied by Samuel He via Trove.

Clipping of early 20th-century Melbourne-based Chinese newspaper, The Chinese Times. Supplied by Samuel He via Trove, National Library of Australia.


Under the supervision of leading scholars Dr Josh Stenberg and Dr Sophie Loy-Wilson, Samuel believes much can be drawn from Chinese language sources that are directly connected to Australia.

Immigrant stories shape the land of Australia and connect with everyone residing in this land. The cultures and histories of ethnic minorities have been marginalised, and their voices are worth hearing.
Samuel He, PhD candidate, Chinese Studies, School of Languages and Cultures

“It is essential to further the search for resources and conduct in-depth exploration,” said Samuel. “These sources reflect the lives and evolving thoughts of Chinese Australians from different perspectives.”

Analysing Poison of Polygamy, a serialised novel published in Australia between 1909 and 1910 by China-born writer Wong Shee Pin, has been one of Samuel’s most exciting research areas so far. “This work addresses the early experiences of Chinese immigrants, including their transition from gold mining to other occupations, entrepreneurship, marital relationships within the Chinese community and their aspirations for advanced modern civilisation,” said Samuel. “It encapsulates many aspects of Chinese lives and challenges – resonating with readers of that time.”

Opening Australia’s multilingual archive for all

Screenshot of the OMAA project website

The newly launched OMAA website hosts a growing collection of materials for educators, policymakers and the public to access multilingual resources in more than 50 non-English languages across key historical periods of Australia’s history.

According to Samuel, the website allows the general public to utilise firsthand or secondhand resources related to multilingual studies in Australia to build more awareness that can contribute to future development.

“The realm of languages and cultures is a rich field which offers countless research opportunities,” added Eva. “By delving into this specific realm, we have the chance to make great advancements in understanding the intricacies of human communication, intercultural dynamics and the multifaceted tapestry of global societies.”

The 'Opening the Multilingual Archives of Australia' research is funded by an Australian Research Council Discovery Project (DP210101981).

Hero image: Personal correspondences written in Greek from the mid-1900s. Credit: OMAA/State Library of New South Wales.

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