Belongings Guide

how to record your own life story and special mementos

Belongings is a NSW Migration Heritage Centre online exhibition that records and documents the memories and collections of post-WW2 migrants across New South Wales, Australia.

It is an informal community history about people’s lives based on a heritage framework. Former migrants, in their own words, tell their story, triggered by their special mementos.

Many former migrants are now aged and frail and there is concern their memories and personal keepsakes will be lost. Belongings helps save these important family histories and objects.

The sharing of these personal experiences and community collections will enable mementos to be passed down within families with their stories and meanings understood.

Belongings interviews are guided by a series of prompt questions that anchor the oral history to key places, dates and memorabilia. This ensures memories are recorded within heritage guidelines and are meaningful to future generations.

If you would like to conduct your own Belongings-style story or interview someone else, below are some important questions and documentation to include. Further information is available in the ‘Caring for Belongings‘ section on the website.


  • Life before Australia

Where and when were you born? Was your name different at birth?

What was your life like before coming to Australia?

Where were the different places you lived? Why did you move?

Why did you finally leave?


  • Departure

What was your point of departure? When?

What did you bring with you and why? How much could you bring with you? Were there items you regretted leaving behind? Why?


  • Migration journey to Australia

What was the name of the ship or did you fly?

Where did you stop en route to Australia?

What was the migration journey like? How long was it?


  • Arrival

What was your point of arrival in Australia? When?

What were your first impressions?


  • Settlement in Australia



Where did you first settle? Was it in migrant accommodation, with friends or relatives?

What was it like? Where did you move to next? When and why?


Migrant accommodation

Did you stay in migrant hostels/camps? Which ones?

How long were you in each hostel/camp and what was your stay there like?



What was the first job held by you or a family member? If assigned to work by the Australian Government, what role was it, in what industry and where?

What was the job like? Was it different to the work done before moving to Australia ? In what way? Were overseas qualifications and experience recognised?

What jobs were held thereafter? Where? What were they like?


Community life

Were you or a relative involved in community organisations or associations that were instrumental in assisting new migrants settle in Australia? (Eg dance/music/food lounge bars, sport clubs, religious affiliations, welfare, linguistic and educational services etc.)

What happened at these places? Who frequented them and why?

How do you feel about your life in Australia? What have been the milestones?


Research these items before you conduct your ‘Belongings’ interview and include the questions below at relevant points in the life story.


  • Belongings items

List the special mementos you have, state where they are located and take photographs of them. They can relate to your life before moving to Australia, the journey over or early settlement years in Australia (such as migrant accommodation, home, community life or workplaces).

Why did you bring your Belongings item with you or how does it connect with your journey or early years in Australia?

What people and places do you associate with it? What more can you say about them? What was the Belonging used for? What other memories does it recall?

Why is your Belonging important to you or your family history? Why do you think you’ve kept it?


  • Photographs

List the special photos you have, state in which albums they are located and take photographs of them. Make captions based on:

Who is in the photos? Where and when were they taken? What is happening?

Migration Heritage Centre NSW
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