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Peters, Nonja


Academic and Migrant community advocate


Born in Holland, a young Nonja Peters migrated to Australia with her family in 1949. Following the birth of her two children, she returned to academia and currently stands as the inaugural Director of Curtin University of Technology's 'Migration, Ethnicity, Refugees and Citizenship (MERC) Research Unit' in Perth.


Nonja Peters was born in Holland following her parents' frantic escape from an ammunitions factory in Alsace Lorraine, where they were forced to work for the Nazi war machine. In December 1948, her father Jan set sail for Australia as part of the mass postwar migration movement across the globe. Nonja's mother Jo and her children made the voyage to join him in July 1949.

The Peters settled at Northam in Western Australia's Avon Valley, where Nonja befriended other migrant children. At the age of seven she spoke English well enough to staff the counter of the family's fish and chip shop. As an adolescent she returned to Holland where she completed tertiary studies in podiatry, but was frustrated to find her qualifications were not recognised in Australia. Starting from scratch, she obtained a job with the government as a ledger machinist.

Not until her marriage and the birth of her two children did Nonja return to the world of academia by which time her husband had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. As a mature age student, she studied part-time at the University of Western Australia until 1999, when she completed her PhD on immigrant enterprise in Western Australia. Jubilation was short-lived as her husband Robert's condition deteriorated and he was confined to a wheelchair. Nonja's thesis gained international recognition, and her subsequent work on migration has continued to receive accolades nationally and internationally. In 2001, after extensive research which made use of oral history, archives and photographs, she published the widely-acclaimed Milk and Honey - But No Gold: Postwar Migration to Western Australia, 1945-1964. The book was short-listed for literary awards in three Australian states.

Committed to the preservation of migrant heritage in Australia, Nonja established the Migration Research Network, an online database which assists with the location of resource materials relating to migration, ethnicity and resettlement. She was a founder of the Northam Multicultural Festival, held each year in October in the Avon Valley to celebrate the cultural and economic contribution of immigrants to Western Australia. She currently stands as the inaugural Director of Curtin University of Technology's 'Migration, Ethnicity, Refugees and Citizenship (MERC) Research Unit' in Perth, launched in 2002. In that same year she was co-organiser of an international conference at Curtin: 'Mediating Human Rights and Democracy: Indonesia, Australia and the Netherlands Human Rights'.

Nonja is a founding member of the Dutch Australian Community Services (DACS) WA Inc; Vice President of the Northam Army Camp Heritage Association; and Chairperson for the Associated Netherlands Societies of WA Culture and Heritage working group. She is also a member of the Ethnic Communities Council Women's Sub-Committee; the Golden Pipeline Interpretation Committee; the LISWA Migrant Archives Advisory Committee; and the National Archives of Australia (WA).

Nonja's work is currently focused on the preservation of Dutch cultural heritage in Australia. She is editing The Dutch Down Under 1606-2006, and is WA Chair of Australia on the Map 1606-2006.

Related entries

Women of Netherlands Heritage

Barbara Lemon

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