From snake charming to activism - all in a day's work

Bernice Kopple performing with a python at the Tivoli
Bernice Kopple performing with a python at the Tivoli

A new installation exploring both the magic and hardships of working life stories of well-known and everyday Victorians to open next month at the Immigration Museum.

Six fascinating, personal stories which depict how working life informs identity will open at the Immigration Museum from 1 October with My Working Life: stories from the collection.

Told through objects and projected images from the Museums Victoria collection and projections, My Working Life provides a platform for diverse voices from a range of eras, highlighting cultural and social diversity.

Meet the snake-wrangling Scottish jillaroo Bernice Kopple, deadly Gammin Threads Design founder Tahnee Edwards, 1940s super-mum and professional pattern maker Violet Morgan, Laverton pigment workers who brought their blues (literally) home with them, post-WWII Italian migrant and model maker Domenico Annetta, and former refugee and human rights lawyer Nydaol Nyuon.

"I believe our identities are there to serve us to get to a certain point and then, at some point, you grow out of that identity and allow yourself to explore other things," says Nyadol, an award-winning human rights lawyer.

"For a long time I think I was that 14-year-old girl in a refugee camp thinking I was going to be a lawyer. That was the identity I embraced. And it took a bit of courage to say. Now it's time to let go of that identity and grow into another."

Yorta Yorta, Taungurung, Boonwurrung and Mutti Mutti woman Tahnee Edwards' creative process speaks to a long history of First Peoples T-shirt making and protest and community slogans being worn; part of a fierce groundswell in design from First Peoples across Australia.

Heading back to the 1950s, Bernice Kopple (pictured above; Photographer: unknown. Source: Museums Victoria. Donated by Rachel Legge) busts every conventional image of a post-war female migrant, boasting an extraordinary career as a jillaroo in the NT, snake charmer, beauty pageant queen, cabaret performer and animal trainer.

The installation also presents stunning projected images of working life across time, showcasing the richness and diversity of Museum Victoria's image collections.

Rohini Kappadath, General Manager, Immigration Museum said that My Working Life shows beautifully how work entwines itself into our identities, and vice versa.

"This installation reflects the Immigration Museum's ongoing exploration of identity and its ever-evolving nature based on a myriad of experiences in our journey of life," says Rohini Kappadath.

"Within the construct of a hyper-connected, work-focused culture, preserving wellbeing and creating a life of meaning calls for a new discipline of establishing clear boundaries and adopting new mindsets about your identity, your work and your life's purpose."

Reflecting Immigration Museum's commitment to exploring stories from our diverse communities, My Working Life: stories from the collection will delight visitors from October 1, 2022 until September 2023.

Press Release