Volunteers Helping to Shape the New Museum

Article | Updated 3 weeks ago

In the New Museum Voices gallery we have a story area that looks at the way Western Australians like to relax and be entertained. And for Perth, no entertainment story would be complete without a focus on Northbridge.

To help us develop this story, one of the Museum’s wonderful volunteers explored aspects of the history of the area, from the early twentieth century to today.

Josh joined our History Department volunteer team after completing a student placement for his Masters of Heritage Studies at the University of Western Australia.

He was charged with the task of investigating stories about the changing face of Northbridge, including the way different communities have helped shape the place.  This included public opinion and media reporting towards communities.

This research had strong similarities to his Master’s thesis into queer history and the way the media reported moral justice in England in the early 1900s.

Part of his studies looked at the way the media shaped the public’s attitudes and often inflamed public hysteria, particularly towards migrant communities.

Like England, media reporting of Northbridge in the early twentieth century followed a similar theme.

For example the increase in Chinese workers in Northbridge at the turn of the twentieth century was often reported in the light of opium dens, gambling houses and the lure of drugs and influence on the young women of Perth.

What Josh found was that often the reports were conflated and what were reported as “dens of corruption and vice”, were often boarding houses where Chinese workers socialised and relaxed. 

Sometimes the boarding houses had wooden benches or bunks around the side of the room with a pipe in the middle,  but this social commentary increased the paranoid and often racist attitudes towards the Chinese community. A far cry from the movie and media stereotype of decadent opium dens! 

There was evidence of some push back through media reports (but not much), noting that similar behaviour could be witnessed at the Weld Club in Perth but people turned a blind eye to this echelon of society!

Josh is now volunteering with our History Department one to two days a week and says he finds the experience enjoyable and interesting. He is gaining valuable experience working with collections and learning the Museum’s accessioning processes while providing valuable research that will feature in the New Museum.

He’s looking forward to seeing the fruits of his volunteering being featured in the Voices gallery, and we are incredibly grateful to him, and all our volunteers, for their work and support at the Museum.

Josh, Stephen, Asha and Brian celebrate Volunteers Week.
Image copyright WA Museum