The idea regarding a creation of an institution similar to an archive or museum is integrally connected with the existence of organized structures of the Polish community in Australia. Establishment of the Museum and Archive was not the first initiative of this kind. In the 1950s, one of the leaders of the Polish community in Victoria, Priest Józef Janus SI initiated the Archives of the Australian Polish Community and collected various materials on the history of Polish settlement in the Antipodes. Originally, the archive was to be located at the Sisters of the Resurrection in Essendon (Vic), but ultimately its collection was placed in the Melbourne’s Jesuit House in Richmond.
In South Australia a similar initiative was pursued by Professor Marian Szczepanowski, founder and long-time president of the Polish Historical Society in Adelaide. Prof. Szczepanowski gathered, thanks to the goodwill of General Juliusz Kleeberg, president of the Polish Community Council of Australia, a number of interesting documents concerning the first years of the activity of the Council. Currently, the archives of the Polish Historical Society are under the authority of his son. The Polish community of South Australia also participated in the organization of the Polish Museum in the Polish Seven Hill River (SA). Whereas, in the Polish House in Ashfield (NSW) the so-called Polish Army Museum was established. An interesting initiative was also taken by Mr. Andrzej Kleeberg from Canberra, who resolutely created the Polish Historical Institute in Australia.
However, the attempts to create the Polish archive show a not so comforting conclusion so far. Typically these organizations which were the work of their founders, did not survive beyond the end of their leaders’ lifes. People involved in the creation of the Polish Museum and Archives in Australia hope, that this time the organization will continue to exist as long as the evidence of our presence in Australia testifies to it.
The establishment of the Museum and Archives is inherently related to the arrival of History Dr. of the University of Wrocław, Zdzisław Andrzej Derwiński, in Melbourne in year 1987. Things did not look good at the time, as there was no actively operating Australian facility collecting and storing memorabilia of subsequent generations of Polish settlers in Australia. For few years, Z. A. Derwiński communicated with various people who were interested in the idea of working in such an organization. He tried to interest the forum of the Polish Community Council of Australia and Polish Community Council of Victoria with his ideas.
Dr. Derwiński recruited Ryszard Grażewski and a young finance student, Dariusz von Guttner Sporzyński, to work in the Organizing Committee of the Museum. The first informational meeting of the members of the Museum took place on October 20th, 1991. The people gathered there authorized the Organizing Committee to enter the Museum into the register of unions and associations operating under the Associations Incorporation Act 1981 (Victoria), what the Committee did on October 26th. On February 18th 1992, the Museum acquired legal personality as the Polish Museum & Archives in Australia Incorporated.
The first Board consisted of: Zdzisław Derwiński, Alicja Michalska, Ryszard Grażewski, Magdalena Wysoczańska, Irena Grażewska, Dariusz von Guttner Sporzyński. The Audit Committee was selected in the following composition: Włodzimierz Kowalik, Jolanta Wolska, Krystyna Straszyńska.
Currently, the museum consists of approximately 70 members.
By establishing the Museum and Archives, the organization was faced with ambitious tasks: collecting and securing exhibits, as well as archival and historical materials integrally connected with Polish culture and concerning the Polish community in Australia; making the collected materials available to the public; cooperation with other organizations of similar interests; collecting funds for the needs of the Museum and Archives; publishing publications on the history of Polish immigration to Australia.
Contrary to the original assumptions, the Museum and Archives did not transform into a mass organization.
The Museum and Archives carries out several projects related to the history of Polish settlement in Australia. The museum also runs a number of research programs for people from the second and third generation. Most of the tedious work of inventorying and cataloguing the collection is done by volunteers.
For an extended period of time The Museum and Archives used the premises of the Polish „Millennium House” in Footscray, on the outskirts of Melbourne.
At present, the Museum and Archives do not have a permanent premises; rents a warehouse, where keeps sets of files of i.e. Polish Community Council of Victoria, Polish Community Council of Australia, „Solidarność” Association in Canberra, Polish Artistic Foundation and many other organisations and associations, as well as the book collections of Janina Lubicz-Zaleska, Krystyna Singlerowa (over 3,500 books in total). Many other archives are kept in private homes. Therefore, purchasing own premises is a pressing problem.
Fulfilling the mission – We are the creators of a community and spreaders of knowledge.
- We engage in numerous actions in favour of the Polish community, including the second and third generation of immigrants.
- We help people learn about their history and heritage, by creating opportunities that enable them to ask questions about their roots.
- Our main mission is to collect and protect the documentation of Polish diaspora lifes, including original documents, photographs and artifacts related to the community.
- We educate the Australian and Polish communities about the Polish contribution in development of Australia.
- We commemorate the events and people who were key to the development of our community.
- We educate people through tools and resources that allow them to discover their background.
- We enable people to learn about the fate of ordinary Poles who settled in Australia.
- We present an overview of the organized community life (examples: documentation of the Polish Community Council of Australia)
- We are a source of information for scientists and social researchers from Australia and the rest of the world.
- We share information through our publications, exhibitions and an access to the archives, as well as online and through social media.
Lucyna Artymiuk, Director of the Museum
photo source: Polish Museum and Archives in Australia