Australia’s Postwar Migration and Assimilation Practices

Instead of a journal type blog entry I have chosen to create a fictitious newspaper article, dated 1954. I have used the experiences of the Dutch because they have been regarded as model assimilators. Warning on the in text references as they are dated after the fictitious article.

Sydney Morning Herald, Friday January 21, 1954

500,000 Migrant Arrives in Australia

SYDNEY, Friday. The 500,000th migrant to come to Australia since the war arrived this morning.

Maria Scholte left The Netherlands early December last year and spent Christmas on board the Sea Princess. When she disembarked Maria had this to say: “I am so happy to be in Australia, I looking for good husband, my father in Holland he says ‘go Maria, go to Australia and find good man of religion.’ So I take the first boat I can get on to come to Australia!”

Miss Scholte and the thousands of Dutch migrants before her have been part of the joint Dutch-Australian immigration program. According Wendy Walker-Birkhead (2006), author of journal articles on Dutch migration, assisted passage schemes jointly financed by the two governments are helping Dutch migrants to settle more easily in the Commonwealth. Under the program migrants receive paid fare, accommodation and 20 pounds on arrival. In return they must stay in Australia and work for two years.

In CANBERRA this week, The Commonwealth Immigration Advisory Council urged the Federal Government to increase the migrant intake to 125,000 per year . This is a much larger figure than set out in Land and Templeton’s (1995), The Bold Experiment. Their book stated the original proposed yearly intake was 70,000 migrants per year. The Council, represents trade-unions, primary and secondary industry, and other organisations. Minister for Immigration, Harold Holt, insists higher intake of migrants will assist the economy by making labour available in the areas of industry where it is most required . This nation must give proper weight to the positive contribution that migration is making to Australia’s strength in the whole field of economic activity.

Next year will mark ten years since the first Minister for Immigration, Arthur Caldwell, made his great announcement. That the most ambitious immigration program in history was to take effect in Australia. According to Land and Templeton, Caldwell had just returned from war torn Europe. He had signed the Displaced Persons Agreement with the International Refugee Organisation in London. Anna Haebich (2008) stated Calwell agreed to bring 4,000 refugees immediately to Australia. But the Labor party failed to inform trade-unions and business organisations. The press reacted, and the Australian public were wary. Caldwell declared the refugees would not take Australian jobs but help stimulate the economy and in doing so generate more jobs.

At the time Australians were still vulnerable from the aftermath of the World War II. Our population was around 7 million. Haebich contends in a country of 3 million square miles this left lots of empty spaces. Populate or perish became our catchcry. But Australians looked to America and other countries who had taken in large numbers of migrants. We feared that Australia would suffer similar social difficulties those countries had experienced. So Caldwell proposed a New White Australia through the practices assimilation.

According to Haebich, Caldwell imagined the nation as millions of individuals symbolically united in an expression of national identity. Indeed assimilation triumphed over any ethnic differences because of the swiftness in which all our new citizens embraced the Australian way of life. As such the parameters of white Australia have been observed.

Many northern European migrants have swiftly adapted to the Australian way of life. The Dutch, explains Walker-Birckhead (1998), have quickly learnt to speak English. They are fit and healthy, and have taken on many jobs in trade and industry. Christopher Young (2006), demographer for immigration, states in the last five years 44% of Dutch men have married Australian women. On these assumptions, right or wrong, the Dutch have been model assimilators.

We have embarked on a remarkable human experiment in the integration of peoples in relation to scale. The planners of the Australian immigration system have realised from the first that the grand problem – the factor that must decide success or failure – is assimilation. Hence the very elaborate programmes for the education of adult migrants. Land and Templeton emphasize new migrants have been taught English and Australian History. Haebich points to the positive results of the Good Neighbour Council. This is where our prominent citizens have created a participatory effort in assisting new Australians to feel welcome in their communities.

Meanwhile Miss Scholte is on her way to the camp for Dutch migrants at Narrabeen on Sydney’s Northern beaches. According to interviews with many migrants this is a popular destination due to it’s proximity to the beach.

We wish Miss Scholte success in finding a good man to marry in Australia.


4 comments on “Australia’s Postwar Migration and Assimilation Practices

  1. joannairving says:

    You have really done a good job taking advantage of popularizing your research. By making it a newspaper article you have made it presentable and easy to read for any reader from any background. I especially like the way you have balanced between what it is like for a Dutch migrant with the Australian Government’s position on refugees entering Australia.
    By making it a newspaper article you have effectively made your paper have an argument that is presentable and easy to understand for any reader.
    Well done.

  2. Ron Chambers 40849783 says:

    Hi Karen,

    I enjoyed your fictitious SMH article. I’m a muture age student and remember the debate well. The government line was “integrate and assimilate or else” before the nation imported multiculturalism from Canada when Al Grasby was the responsible minister in the early 1970’s. The Dutch did integrate and assimilate really well too. Growing up on the Northern Beaches – I remember the Dutch hostel at Narrabeen and The Dutch shop at Dee Why, shaped like a windmill and full of delicious exotica. In the third para of the ‘article’ you have omitted a ‘to’ before ‘Wendy Walker-Birkhead (2006)’.

    Thanks too for your comments on my blog.

    Ron Chambers

  3. Donna Priest says:

    Yes I remember the Dutch Shop at Dee Why too. In the ’70’s.
    Would love to find a photo of it.

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