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History of Immigration to Australia

Australian immigration has a chequered history. Initial Human migration to the continent now called Australia began over 40,000 years ago when the ancestors of Indigenous Australians arrived via the islands of the Malay Archipelago and New Guinea. From the early 1600s onwards the continent witnessed the first coastal landings and exploration by Europeans; however permanent European settlement started from 1788 with the establishment of the British Crown colony of New South Wales.

Exactly when Immigration to Australia began is unknown but estimates typically range from 40,000 - 50,000 years ago, when the ancestors of Australian Aborigines arrived on the continent via the islands of the Malay Archipelago and New Guinea. Europeans first landed in the 1600s and 1700s, but colonisation only started in 1788.

The overall level of immigration has grown substantially during the last decade. Net overseas migration increased from 30,000 in 1993 to 118,000 in 2003-04. The largest components of immigration are the skilled migration and family re-union programs. In recent years the mandatory detention of unauthorised arrivals by boat has generated great levels of controversy.

During the 2004-05, total 123,424 people immigrated to Australia. Of them, 17,736 were from Africa, 54,804 from Asia, 21,131 from Oceania, 18,220 from United Kingdom, 1,506 from South America, and 2,369 from Eastern Europe.

31,000 people migrated to Australia in 2005-06 and migration target for 2006-07 was 144,000.

Prehistory of Australia

The history of Human habitation within the Australian continent begins with the first arrival of peoples ancestral to the present indigenous inhabitants. Whether these first migrations involved one or several successive waves and distinct peoples is still a matter for some academic debate, as is its timing. The minimum widely-accepted timeframe places this at 40,000 to 43,000 years Before Present (BP); the upper range supported by others is 60,000 years BP or earlier.

In any event, this migration was achieved during the closing stages of the Pleistocene epoch, when sea levels were typically much lower than they are today. Repeated episodes of extended glaciation resulted in decreases of sea levels by some 100-150 m. The continental coastline therefore extended much further out into the Timor Sea than it does today, and Australia and New Guinea formed a single landmass (known as Sahul), connected by an extensive land bridge across the Arafura Sea, Gulf of Carpentaria and Torres Strait. It is theorised that these original peoples first navigated the shorter distances from and between the Sunda Islands to reach Sahul; then via the land bridge to spread out through the continent. Archaeological evidence indicates human habitation at the upper Swan River, Western Australia by about 40,000 years ago; Tasmania (also at that time connected via a land bridge) was reached at least 30,000 years ago.

The ancestral Australian Aboriginal peoples were thus long established and continued to develop, diversify and settle through much of the continent. As the sea levels again rose at the terminus of the most recent glacial period some 10,000 years ago the Australian continent once more became a separated landmass. However, the newly-formed 150 km wide Torres Strait with its chain of islands still provided the means for cultural contact and trade between New Guinea and the northern Cape York Peninsula. Several thousand years ago the Melanesian Torres Strait Islander peoples were established in the Torres Strait Islands, and commerce and contact was continued via this route although there is little evidence to suggest immediate influences extended much further south. A more sporadic contact along the northern Australian coast was maintained by seafarers across the Timor and Arafura Seas, with substantial evidence of Macassan contact with Australia in the centuries prior to European arrival, and also evidence of earlier contacts and exchanges by other groups. However, these exchanges do not appear to have involved any extended settlement or migrations of non-Aboriginal peoples to the region.

Colonisation and settlement by Britain

After the loss of the United States, Britain needed a new penal colony for the relocation of convicts in its overcrowded prisons. (The prisons were full mainly due to the unemployment created by the Industrial Revolution). In 1787 the First Fleet of 11 ships and about 1350 people under the command of Captain Arthur Phillip set sail for Australia. On January 26, 1788—(a date now celebrated as Australia Day, but regarded as "Invasion Day" by some Aboriginal people and supporters)—a landing was made at Sydney Cove. The new colony was formally proclaimed as the Colony of New South Wales on February 7. Thus European settlement began with a troupe of petty criminals, second-rate soldiers, and a crew of sailors.

From about 1815 the colony began to grow rapidly as free settlers arrived from Britain and Ireland and new lands were opened up for farming. Despite the long and arduous sea voyage, settlers were attracted by the prospect of making a new life on virtually free Crown land. Many settlers occupied land without authority; they were known as squatters and became the basis of a powerful landowning class. As a result of agitation by the free settlers, transportation of convicts to Sydney ended in 1840, although it continued to the smaller colonies of Van Diemen's Land (where settlement began in 1803) and Moreton Bay (founded 1824, and later renamed Queensland) for some years longer. The small settlement of Perth, founded in 1829 on the Swan River in Western Australia, failed to prosper and actually asked for convicts.

Australian gold rushes

The discovery of gold, beginning in 1851 first near Bathurst in New South Wales and then in the newly formed colony of Victoria, transformed Australia economically, politically and demographically. The goldrushes occurred hard on the heels of a major worldwide economic depression. As a result, about two per cent of the population of the British Isles emigrated to New South Wales and Victoria during the 1850s. There were also a significant number of continental Europeans, North Americans and Chinese.

In 1851 the Australian population was 437,655, of which 77,345, or just under 18%, were Victorians. A decade later the Australian population had grown to 1,151,947 and the Victorian population had increased to 538,628; just under 47% of the Australian total and a sevenfold increase. The rapid growth was predominantly a result of the gold rushes.

During the later half of the nineteenth century several colonies funded the immmigration of skilled immigrants from Europe, starting with the assistance of German vintners to South Australia.

White Australia Policy

One of the motives for creating a federated Australia was the need for a common immigration policy. There was much resistance to Chinese immigration and the importing of indentured workers from New Caledonia to work in the Queensland sugar industry.

The White Australia Policy, the policy of excluding all non-European people from immigrating into Australia, was the official policy of all governments and all mainstream political parties in Australia from the 1890s to the 1950s, and elements of the policy survived until the 1970s. Although the expression 'White Australia Policy' was never in official use, it was common in political and public debate throughout the period.

Postwar immigration

After World War II, Australia launched a massive immigration program, believing that having narrowly avoided Japanese invasion, Australia must 'populate or perish'. Hundreds of thousands of displaced Europeans, including for the first time large numbers of Jews, immigrated to Australia. More than two million people immigrated to Australia from Europe during the twenty years following the end of the war. Although Britain and Ireland remained the predominant source of immigrants, other European countries such as Greece, Italy, Germany, Yugoslavia and the Netherlands also became major contributors. Australia actively sought these immigrants, with the government assisting many of them; they found work due to an expanding economy and major infrastructure projects such as the Snowy Mountains Scheme. This wave of immigration greatly changed the character of Australian society, which before the war had been monoculturally Anglo-Celtic, inward-looking, and conservative. Immigration was still restricted to Europeans in most circumstances, although the White Australia Policy was gradually eased from the 1950s onwards.

During the 1970s around 90,000 Indo-Chinese refugees were resettled in Australia. During that decade, Australia first began to adopt a policy of multiculturalism, with Minister of Immigration Al Grassby introducing the term "multiculturalism", and speaking of the merits of "ethnic pluralism", where "each ethnic group desiring it, is permitted to create its own cultural heritage indefinitely, while taking part in the general life of the nation". The influx of Asian immigrants was also due to the abolition of the White Australia Policy in 1972, under Prime Minister Gough Whitlam. The development of Australia's multicultural policy was heavily influenced by the Galbally Report of 1978, which addressed various issues with living in and planning for a multicultural Australian society.

Source of migrants

The history of Australia migration is closely linked to the world events.

  • The fall of Saigon in 1975 signaled the start of migration waves from Indo-China uno to the Western World, including Australia.
  • East Timor - The fall of Dili to Indonesian's troops in 1975 forced many East-Timor residents to take refuge in Australia. Amongst them are the Hakka speaking Chinese traders.
  • Tiananmen Square massacre - Prime Minister Bob Hawke made a very emotional speech after the Tiananmen Square massacre in June 1989. He granted permanent residency to many Chinese students in Australia .
  • After the Jakarta riots of May 1998 migrants from Jakarta trickled in to major cities in Australia. The impact can be observed in the increase of number of Indonesian restaurants, groceries stores, print publications and churches.
  • Violent Conflicts in the Balkan (1991 - 2001) driven many Serbs, Croats, Albanians, and others to settle in Australia

Opposition to immigration

A 69 predominantly European nation on the periphery of Asia, Australia has long feared being demographically overwhelmed by the heavily-populated Asian countries to its north. Following the Japanese threat to Australia during WWII, Minister of Immigration Arthur Calwell stated in 1947: "We have 25 years at most to populate this country before the yellow races are down on us." This concern about Australia's demographic vulnerability was a driving force behind the country's massive post-war program of European immigration. However, by the late 1970s, the abolition of the so-called 'White Australia Policy' had led to a significant increase in immigration from Asian and other non-European countries.

In March 1984, Professor Geoffrey Blainey, one of Australia's most significant historians, made a speech criticizing what he saw as the disproportionately high levels of Asian immigration to Australia. Blainey's remarks touched off a flood of debate and controversy about immigration and multiculturalism, known as the 'Blainey debate'. In 1984, he wrote a book outlining his ideas on immigration and multiculturalism titled All for Australia. Blainey remained a persistent critic of multiculturalism throughout the 1980s, claiming multiculturalism was a "sham", "anti-British" and threatened to transform Australia into a "cluster of tribes".

Blainey's views were echoed by some politicians. In August, 1988, John Howard, then opposition leader, stated that he believed the rate of Asian immigration into Australia should be slowed down for the sake of social cohesion. He stated: "I do believe that if it is - in the eyes of some in the community - that it's too great, it would be in our immediate-term interest and supporting of social cohesion if it were slowed down a little, so the capacity of the community to absorb it was greater."

In the 1996 election Pauline Hanson was elected to the federal seat of Oxley. In her maiden speech to the House of Representatives, which instantly made headlines and television news bulletins across Australia, she expressed her concern that Australia "was in danger of being swamped by Asians". This message exposed a population deeply divided on the issue of immigration, especially from Third World countries.

Hanson went on to form the One Nation Party, which subsequently won nearly one quarter of the vote in Queensland state elections. The name "One Nation" was meant to signify national unity, in contrast to what Hanson claimed to see as an increasing division in Australian society caused by government policies favouring migrants (multiculturalism) and indigenous Australians. Political ineptitude and infighting led to One Nation's demise, but the issue of immigration remains highly sensitive in Australia.

Prime Minister John Howard's campaigning on issues of 'border protection' at the 2001 federal election were widely seen as a successful effort to win One Nation voters back to the Liberal and National parties.

Recent history

There is growing concern in the Australian population about increased crime, especially violent crime, and the disproportionate amount of ethnic gangs involved in this. Tim Priest is one of the few police detectives to speak out against the taboo of not addressing this controversial subject related to race and culture.

In December 2006, in the town of Tamworth, New South Wales, the Regional Council voted 6 to 3 against an offer from the Federal Government to take part in a one-year trial rural refugee resettlement program; the majority of these refugees would be Sudanese escaping civil war in their homeland. The mayor of Tamworth, Cr James Treloar, argued that the program under which the refugees would be resettled "has faults". This decision resulted in national and international media attention on the city. The decision to reject the refugees was reversed one month later, and Tamworth will now take part in the resettling program.

In October 2007, the Australian government announced a ban on refugees from Africa, which would be reviewed in mid-2008. Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews stated that refugees from Sudan and Darfur were having problems integrating and that refugees from Burma and Afghanistan should take priority.[5

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics in mid-2006 4,956,863 of the Australian resident population were born outside Australia, representing 24% of the total Australian resident population.

Country of Birth     Estimated Resident Population

United Kingdom              1,153,264
New Zealand                     476,719
China                              279,447
Italy                                220,469
Vietnam                           180,352
India                               153,579
Philippines                       135,619
Greece                            125,849
Germany                         114,921
South Africa                     118,816
Malaysia                          103,947
Netherlands                      86,950
Lebanon                           86,599
Sri Lanka                          70,908
Serbia and Montenegro      68,879
Indonesia                         67,952
United States                    64,832
Poland                             59,221
Fiji                                   58,815
Ireland                             57,338
Croatia                             56,540

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