Monday, 16 February 2009

Inconveniently migrating thoughts

I’ve had lots of thoughts about migration and settling in Australia swirling around in my head, but never a moment either to sit quietly and think about them, or to write them down. It’s been a crazy few weeks between school activities, work, family “things” and visitors. A few weekends ago we headed towards the Gold Coast hinterland, specifically, Canungra for a family occasion. I noticed that the area had been settled in 1867 and was busy looking for evidence of different patterns of settlement. Perhaps because the terrain is steeper and more mountainous, settlement seemed contained to the valleys. Manicured fields and expensive “lifestyle acreage” follow along the creek beds while the hillsides are clothed in dense rainforest. You get the sense of the valleys having had many expensive haircuts while the forest grew quiet and wild as it brooded over these invaders.

Nowadays the invaders are horse breeders, tourists, antique stores, cafes, the army (with its huge munitions training ground) and oddly enough, their neighbours, the Pauline Brothers’ Marion Valley.

Having survived the family occasion, I was thinking about how the most recent ABS census figures were reported as showing that 25% (4.4 million) of Australia’s population in 2006 were born overseas. In addition, 20% of Australians had one parent who was not born in Australia, that is, were second generation Australians. This means 45% of Australians today are first or second generation Australians. No wonder we still have debates about what it means to be an Australian. Is there any way of condensing our experiences to a single ideal or stereotype?

On the subject of stereotypes, the most common country of origin for migrants continues to be the United Kingdom (24%) followed by New Zealand (9%) then China and Italy each at 5%. Oddly enough, this fairly closely illustrates our family. My father is a New Zealander and my great-grandparents migrated from Ireland. My mother’s side of the family are all Anglo-Celt although they have been in Australia for several generations. Mr Blithe was born in Italy and myself in Taiwan so we tie for the third-most common place of origin. We like to joke that we are a typical Australian family and it seems that we are.

I’m curious though, and not quite sure where to start looking, what the proportions were in the 1870s? Clearly almost everyone was a first generation immigrant if they were not aborigine. And most of the population would have been from the United Kingdom. But in some areas, other European migrants dominated and there were already significant numbers of Asian, specifically Chinese migrants. Some of my parent’s friends who are readily labelled as “Chinese” by other people have histories in Australia longer than many white Australians. This is one reason I love history – it’s so messy and inconvenient and fascinating.

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