top of page

Immigration Museum (Old Customs House)


Immigration Museum (Museums Victoria), Flinders Street, Melbourne VIC, Australia


Exterior – Free to view

Interior – During Museum opening hours (10AM–5PM) with paid admission ($0–$15)

Accessibility – This site is accessible

Architectural History

This three storey rendered brick building rests on bluestone foundations. The ground floor facade is rusticated and the two upper floors are surmounted by a simple projecting cornice running around the whole building. A flight of stairs leads up to the entrance doors, above which four ionic columns run through the two upper floors in support of the fascia and cornice. The facade has elements of Greek Revival influences. The building displays an exceptional level of craftsmanship in the execution of stone and plaster detailing. The richly embellished Long Room mirrors the Ionic columns and entablature of the Southern facade. The main hall, or Long Room, inside the museum is an inverted version of the Erechtheon temple in Greece, which is located near the Parthenon in Athens.

Social History

In this building customs officers recorded all goods entering or leaving Victoria; the customs duties they collected formed the backbone of government revenue. Customs officers also controlled immigration, recording every arrival, and administering a White Australia Policy that excluded immigrants on the basis of their race. Customs officers were also in charge of censorship, determining what material might offend mainstream social values. The history of the Customs House and the activities of the people who worked there is the history of Victoria's trade, immigration, social attitudes and government.

It was restored to its former grandeur and is now home to the Immigration museum which is dedicated to researching, exploring and re-creating the real-life stories of people coming to Australia. Moving images, personal and community voices, memories and memorabilia combine to investigate everything from the reasons for making the journey, to the moment of arrival in a new country, and the impact on indigenous communities, these stories are sometimes sad, sometimes amusing, but always engaging.

Prompts & Activities

  • Why do you think the architect used Greek influences in this building? How does it relate to its purpose, and the people who would have occupied it?

  • In comparison, how is it used today, and is this thinking still relevant? Or does the modern use of the building subvert its history?

  • How many of the mentioned Greek architectural elements can you see? Can you count columns or other design features? Which types of columns are used, and why do you think this is?

  • If you choose to pay admission to explore the Immigration Museum, see if you can find any mentions of Greek immigration in their collections. How has Melbourne's Greek migrant community shaped this city and its history?

  • What is your favourite element of this building? Does it have interesting ornamentation? What part does this element play in the overall design of the building, and why might it have been included? You might like to draw your favourite components! Observational sketching is a great way to get a deeper understanding of something.

bottom of page