a multicultural History of Australia

Making multicultural Australia

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Commentary on: Assimilating into Queensland society »

Prof Andrew Jakubowicz.

Text Commentary

Federation brought many cultural changes to the new state, not the least of which was an inflow of immigrants from southern Europe who replaced the Islander and Asian workers in the sugar industry. It has been said that White Australia took half a century to really get to Queensland, and that the north did not become White until after the Second World War.

With World War 1, Commonwealth government assisted passages to non-British immigrants ceased and the xenophobia against Germans current throughout Australia intensified; many Germanic names were changed to British-sounding ones. Italian and Greek immigrants began to arrive in significant numbers after 1919. The ravages of war torn Europe drove them to find new opportunities, and the plantations of the north were seeking workers able to take the tropical heat and conditions. Queensland continued to assist Northern European immigrants through the 1920s. New communities emerged – refugee Russians after the revolution, European Jews, and people from the Balkans. Yet they occasioned widespread hostility –as in the 1925 Queensland government Commission on the Social and Economic Effects of an Increase in the number of Aliens in Northern Queensland - which condemned the low living standards and lack of economic or social contribution of Maltese, Greeks and Sicilians.

During World War 2 thousands of Queenslanders (even those born in Queensland) were interned as enemy aliens or suspects – Italians, Germans, and Japanese – being seized from their homes and taken to camps such as Tatura in Victoria. On the other hand Brisbane became a refuge for thousands of Dutch citizens from Indonesia, and Chinese seamen who worked for the Americans in building landing barges. At war's end both the "enemy" Japanese, and the "allied" Chinese were expelled from Australia, White Australia still the dominant ideology of population.

Queensland did not receive the same huge influx of post-war immigrants that occurred in the industrial south of Australia. However there was still a considerable intake of immigrants into a state that was now firmly set on a White Australia course. Many of those post-war immigrants established strong community institutions, and entered the mainstream of Australian life. Yet it was not until the late 1970s that their diverse cultures were recognised as an asset for the emerging multicultural society.