The Australian National Maritime Museum, through the Migration Heritage Fund, is partnering with Empathy Museum (UK) to bring the award-winning exhibition A Mile in My Shoes to Sydney as part of the Sydney Festival 2021 from Wednesday 6 to Sunday 31 January.

To understand another person, try walking a mile in their shoes. This one-of-a-kind pop-up store, housed in a giant shoebox allows you to do just that.

Visitors are invited to enter the store and try on a pair of shoes that belong to someone else and to listen to their story. It might be a tale of loss and sadness, hope and love, of odds overcome. But whoever’s shoes you walk in, A Mile in My Shoes will take you to places you can’t anticipate.

Originally created by artist Clare Patey and produced by Artsadmin, A Mile in My Shoes has been experienced in London, Sao Paulo, New York, Riga, Denver, Perth and Melbourne, among others. This new iteration, created with the Australian National Maritime Museum, celebrates the voices of migrants and refugees who have made this country their home – people who have changed the face of the nation and have been changed by it.

Kim Tao, curator for the Australian National Maritime Museum said, “The exhibition features 35 engaging stories that will take visitors on an emotive, empathetic and physical journey. The only thing that visitors will know about their storyteller is their name and that they share a shoe size with them. We hope that this experience will challenge assumptions and show that everyone has a story to tell.”

Among the museum’s storytellers are a Catholic refugee who fled communist Vietnam on a seven-metre-long fishing boat crowded with 99 passengers, who were faced with the horrifying sight of people’s shoes floating in the water from previous failed escapes; a Scottish child migrant who was sent to a blacklisted Victorian children’s home in the 1960s; a Chinese adoptee who was raised by a white family in New Zealand and given a Caucasian name; a young Ghanaian self-taught artist whose work explores African identity; and a first-generation Australian whose great-grandfather told his granddaughter as the Germans prepared to invade Poland at the start of World War II: ‘Never judge a man unless you have walked a mile in his shoes’.

The museum is a national leader in collecting, researching and exhibiting stories about migration to Australia. The museum has a permanent gallery dedicated to immigration called Passengers, 15,000 objects relating to immigration in our collection, and a Welcome Wall honouring over 30,000 migrants.

Australia has long been recognised as one of the most successful multicultural countries in the world and multiculturalism has been hailed as ‘our greatest achievement’. Our diversity of origins, beliefs and backgrounds is a source of strength rather than divisiveness or weakness.

Australia is unique, being home to the world’s oldest continuous culture, as well as Australians who identify with more than 300 ancestries, but we see in times of stress and disruption that the cohesion of our society is easily frayed.

Kevin Sumption, Director and CEO of the museum said, “There has never been a better time for us, as Australians, to focus on what connects us rather than divides us – our common humanity. We want to shine the light on the experiences of a wide range of Australians from diverse backgrounds, to build understanding and contribute to an inclusive and harmonious society.”

He further added, “Australians are very curious about the world.  When we ask someone where they are from, it is to understand them, rather than separate ourselves from them.  By listening to another’s stories, we can better understand where they have come from and what has shaped them. We can share their journey, and empathise with them.”

The Sydney season of A Mile in My Shoes is an Australian National Maritime Museum Foundation project sponsored by the City of Sydney and the Kingdom of the Netherlands and supported by Settlement Services International, SBS, Arts Centre Melbourne, the Betty Amsden Foundation and AusRelief.

FREE from Wed 6 – Sun 31 Jan 2021

A Mile in My Shoes operates daily from 10am – 4pm

Pre-bookings are not taken for this experience.