Multiculturalism in Australia Essay - 2470 Words



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Multiculturalism in Australia

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Text Preview Multicultural Australia: Australia’s Immigration History and Current Political Debate

Ryan Besgrove
Word Count: 1,491


People have always come to Australia through immigration. Whether it be 45,000 years ago via nomadic boats (Broome, 1994) or through the efforts of the British Empire to expand their Anglican empire (Ferguson, 2003). As a result modern Australia is a composite of many varying cultures and ethnicities. It is often said that Australia is a multicultural society (Peake, 2012) but what exactly does this mean, and how true of a statement is it? In the literal sense the term multicultural refers to a society relating to or containing several cultural or ethnic groups (Oxford Dictionary Online, 2013). In the context of Australia it is seen as being a term that describes the diverse cultural and ethnic makeup of contemporary Australia (Dept. Immigration and Citizenship, 2013). For the purpose of this paper we will adopt Bowen’s definition (2011) that multiculturalism embraces our shared values and cultural traditions within Australia’s established society, while protecting the rights of Australians to practice their cultural and ethnic traditions and heritage. But that hasn’t always been the way in Australia.


The first significant cultural issues centred around migration arose in the colonies around the 1850s. The discovery of gold enticed a greater level of immigration from Chinese. Friction between the existing population and the new immigrants soon arose as result of significant linguistic and cultural barriers, as well as the economic threat to the Anglo colonial prospectors (Ngai, 2012). Eventually restrictions were imposed on Chinese immigration by the Victorian and New South Wales colonies (Dept. Immigration and Citizenship, 2013). Similar racial immigration problems were being faced in the Queensland colony. There South Pacific Islanders, known as Kanakas, had been brought in as a slave labour workforce (Philipoom, 2007). Again the economics of the situation formed the basis for the conflict between the immigrant population and the Anglo colonialists Both of these major incidents would prove influential in the newly formed country’s first act of parliament, the Immigration Restriction Act 1901. Based on legislation passed in the African colony of Natal the Act established a means test for potential immigrants designed to discriminate against what was perceived as ‘undesirable’ (Martens, 2006). Effectively the policy codified discrimination based on immigrants’ ethnicity. For many reasons this “White Australia” policy would later be considered one of Australia’s greatest ever mistakes (Australian Institute of Public Affairs, 2006).

The act was very much centred on Australia’s perspective of assimilation towards immigrants (Zeldenryk and Yalmambirra, 2006). At the time the legislation was justified by the socio-ethnic perspective that “Whites” were inherently superior (Kamp, 2010) and that preservation of the colonialist’s white heritage was paramount to the success of the nation (Kamp, 2010). For that -reason all immigrants were expected to largely abandon their previous ethnic and cultural practices in favour of those held by Australia.

Following the conflicts of World War II Australia became aware of their need to “populate or perish”, a term coined by Arthur Calwell (Time, 1952). The realisation was that Australia population disparity compared with their Pacific neighbours left them vulnerable. The policy of assimilation softened to one of integration whereby migrants were encouraged to still maintain their own cultural identity, while adopting the values of Australia (Mann, 2013). Immigration was opened up to allow more Europeans to settle within Australia but there was still an emphasis on maintaining a society with a white homogeneity (Morn, 2005). The UN’s push to eliminate racial... Show More

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