Digital colour photograph of a view over typical refugee housing with children in the foreground. It was taken at a refugee camp on the Malaysian island of Pulau Bidong off the coast of Terengganu in the South China Sea in April, 1981. The photographer was Lachlan Kennedy, who was a member of the Australian Department of Immigration Indo-Chinese Refugee Taskforce, from January-September 1981 during the aftermath of the Vietnam War. The houses were constructed on the lower levels of the island.

Bidong was opened as a refugee camp in August 1978 and by June 1979 there were about 40,000 Indo-Chinese refugees on an island said to have capacity for about 4,500 people. From this time on the numbers declined with fewer arrivals and people processed and re-settled in countries such as Australia. Conditions on the island were crowded, with poor sanitation and housing, but the refugee population themselves were well organised, aid organisations were well-represented and representatives from re-settlement countries frequently visited. The refugee camp closed in 1991with some 250,000 refugees having passed through and either re-settled or, eventually, forcibly repatriated.

Description of Content

Shanty buildings with children at centre.

Physical Description

Colour digital photograph.


This important collection represents two sides of the asylum experience - the refugees and the government officials. These parallel and intersecting experiences have both personal and bureaucratic elements to them, linked by place, and world events, with craft and gifts of appreciation providing tangible points of connection and memory. The experiences of migration officials are frequently untold and unrepresented by material culture, as are material manifestations of refugee narratives. This collection enables the telling of both stories, with primacy given in this instance to the employee as custodian of the objects. The collection is also a symbol of a particular period in Australian migration history when support for refugee programs had both bipartisan and public support. Finally the theme of refugee, internee and detainee craft recurs across time and place and provides a tangible connection between very different human experiences, the trauma, economy and the tedium of which has been consistently alleviated through artistic practice.

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