Architecture and Industry: The migrant contribution to nation-building

Linking immigrant social histories to industrialisation through an explicitly spatial analysis, this project explores the post-war architectural, rural and industrial landscapes of Australia as shaped by the labour of displaced persons.

Photograph of a lake
Image: The remains of the original township of Adaminaby, inundated and relocated during the 1950s when the Eucumbene River was dammed to form Lake Eucumbene, the largest reservoir in the Snowy River Hydro-Electric Scheme. Foundations of some of the hundred or so buildings that were moved, photographed by Anoma Pieris 2015.

Migrants after World War II were critical to the spatial making of modern Australia. Major federally-funded industries driving post-war nation-building programs depended on the employment of large numbers of war displaced persons. Directed to remote, rural and urban industrial sites, migrant labour and resettlement altered the nation’s physical landscape, providing Australia with its contemporary economic base. While the immigrant contribution to nation-building in cultural terms is well-known, its everyday spatial, architectural and landscape transformations remain unexamined. This project aims to bring to the foreground post-war industry and immigration to comprehensively document a uniquely Australian shaping of the built environment.

Immigration, industry and settlement were catalytic for modernisation in Australia after World War II, a period shaped by post-war reconstruction. Federal and corporate funding for major industries together with government policies for population growth enabled nation-building programs that shaped remote, rural and urban environments into modern industrial landscapes. Populations were drawn from war-destroyed nations, underdeveloped economies, and hostile political environments. Focussing on the architecture and landscapes of major but under-documented industrial sites and their complex social histories, this project will examine the intersection of the built environment and industrial growth, shifting attention to acknowledging the spatial and material dimensions of the immigrant legacy and broadening the social scope of design and planning historiography including architecture, landscape and domestic living environments. In a contemporary sense, this project speaks directly to both anxieties and aspirations of new refugee and immigrant arrivals by uncovering the extent of the contribution made by war-displaced populations to national development in the past.

Case Studies

Immigration centres and industries that employed refugee and immigrant labour in the postwar period can be thought of as nodes in a spatial and labour network—the running of each was dependent on the other. The case studies aim to convey this network, its nodal points and inter-cultural social interactions through a study of the camps, key industrialsites for hydro-electric power generation, defence and raw-material production selected due to their significance in the history of immigration and Australian modernisation and capacity to convey their co-dependence, and the later dispersal of new immigrants into manufacturing and service industries at the metropolitan periphery. In doing so the project reveals how labour and domicile environments of refugees shaped Australia internally, highlighting their interaction and competition with other groups. Examples are drawn from the populous southeastern states; recipients of the largest numbers of post-war refugees.

Project details

Research Partners

Immigration Museum, Melbourne

Project Team

Anoma Pieris and Andrew Saniga – University of Melbourne
Mirjana Lozanovska – Deakin University
David Beynon – University of Tasmania
Alexandra Dellios – Australian National University


Anoma Pieris