What do Australians think of immigration?
Immigration is a tradition Part 1 - Multicultural Life Down Under
A small apartment building in Brisbane a few miles from the University of Queensland as the crow flies. A family from Papua New Guinea, students from England, a family from China, a Frenchman and his Japanese fiancée and we: a German who has lived in Brisbane for four years and her Australian friend live here. But it doesn't look "typically Australian" at all and is always asked at parties where it actually comes from. To which he answers cheekily with an intentionally exaggerated Queensland accent: "I'm from bloody Australia, mate." And then explains that he was born in Chile and that he emigrated Down Under when he was five. He feels at home in both countries.
Australia and New Zealand are two societies in which people from all over the world have found a new home. This is reflected in everyday life. Restaurants offer delicacies from all over the world and many Aussies and Kiwis also like to cook international dishes at home. European music events, African and oriental dance courses or Latin American film festivals: the multicultural everyday life is varied. Traditional celebrations like the Chinese Lantern Festival and the Brazilian Carnival arouse enthusiasm in many people.
German immigrants have also left their mark Down Under. Oktoberfest is celebrated every year in many places and many Aussies and kiwis have found a taste for German beer and food. But first we would like to take an excursion into the history of immigration in Australia and New Zealand. Because life down under was not always as colorfully mixed as it is today - in the early days, immigrants mainly came from the Anglo-Saxon region.
First immigrants in Australia
Nobody can say for sure when they came or where from. 40,000 to 65,000 years ago, the ancestors of today's Aborigines made their way to Australia. So they came at a time when Europe was not yet populated by modern humans. It is believed that they entered by boat from Southeast Asia. The sea level was then much lower than it is today. The Aborigines spread across the entire Australian continent, developing hundreds of different languages and cultural customs. The close relationship with the land is something that is deeply rooted in the thinking of many Aborigines to this day. People who are ethnically and culturally related to the people of Papua New Guinea and Melanesia settled on the islands of the Torres Strait in northern Queensland. The Torres Strait Islanders have lived on these islands for at least two and a half thousand years. It is entirely possible that they came here a long time ago. Today, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders make up less than two percent of the total population.
Convicts from England
The first fleet of ships from England arrived in the bay of what is now Sydney in January 1788. There were no voluntary immigrants on board, but prisoners who had been sent to Australia. They were to be followed by around 160,000 convicts by the middle of the 19th century, most of them from England, Ireland, Wales and Scotland. But even the first convict colony near Sydney had a touch of multiculturalism, because people from the English settlements in India and Hong Kong, from Canada and the Caribbean were also sent to Australia. Many of these involuntary settlers had been punished for relatively minor offenses. Soon more and more volunteer immigrants came from Great Britain, the colony in Sydney grew and settlements shot up in other places as well. This had catastrophic consequences for the indigenous population. In contrast to New Zealand, an agreement on the settlement of Australia was never made with them. Instead, the fifth continent was declared "Terra nullius", Latin for "no man's land", and was taken over by the British Crown. Many of the earliest Australians were driven from their land, murdered or died of diseases brought in by the Europeans. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders were uncivilized and many of them were not even allowed to vote until 1962.
The "White Australia Policy"
Racism and discrimination did not only affect the indigenous population but also non-European immigrant groups who came to Australia more and more in the 19th century. People from India, the Middle East and China found a new home here. In the middle of the 19th century gold was discovered Down Under, which triggered a real surge in immigration. The colony was still 98 percent dominated by the British and Irish, but more and more people came from other countries, for example from Northern Europe and China. Chinese made up a third of the population in some gold fields. They were feared as competition and racist campaigns were launched against them.
Many Pacific island immigrants who worked on plantations in Queensland suffered a similar fate. Such xenophobic campaigns were the beginning of a "white immigration policy" which was intended to severely restrict the immigration of non-European people for almost 75 years. In 1901, the year the Australian state was born, a law was first enacted which allowed the deportation of people of the Pacific Islands. Shortly afterwards, the so-called "Immigration Restriction Act" was passed, which aimed to restrict non-European immigration through language tests.
Australia today - a colorful society
Just ask an Australian about their family history and you will be amazed how many people have ancestors from all over the world. This is probably also due to the fact that the "White Australia Policy" was gradually loosened after the Second World War and finally repealed completely in 1973. Immigration, especially from Asia, has experienced a strong boom and more and more people from China, India and Malaysia come Down Under. The English still make up the largest group of migrants, followed by New Zealanders, but their numbers have become relatively smaller. People now come from all over the world and for a variety of reasons: as asylum seekers, students, skilled workers or family members. Many people have a permanent visa in Australia and may apply for an Australian passport after four years, depending on the circumstances.
Today around one in five Australians was born abroad, and a quarter of the rest of the population has at least one parent who was born in another country. Australians have ancestors from around 250 countries and, in addition to the indigenous languages and English, around 200 different languages are spoken on the fifth continent. My old tenement near the University of Queensland is no exception.
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