Maltese Identity in Australia - What Future?

Author: Dr. Barry York


Does Maltese identity in Australia die out with the passing of the Malta-born persons who came here in their thousands during the 1950s and 1960s? Their numbers have not been replenished by any significant new arrivals since the 1970s and now there is also a tendency on the part of Maltese who have retired to return to Malta. Clearly, the children of those who came here in the 1950s and 1960s carry a responsibility for the future of Maltese culture in Australia.

I speak today not so much as an historian but as one of those children who grew up in Australia and who, like many others, had only one parent Maltese and the other not Maltese.

Immediately, we find a clue to the dilemma for "the future generation" because while many Maltese migrants married other Maltese; many others did not. The figures are interesting and worth consideration. They are based on Dr Charles Price's 1984 analysis which was published by the Department of Demography at the Australian National University. Consider the following: In the period from 1951 to 1973, of 10,644 Maltese brides, only 6,699 married Maltese men. And, of a total of 12,644 Maltese grooms, only 6,699 married Maltese women. Thus, only 63 percent of Maltese women married Maltese men and only 53 percent of Maltese men married Maltese women.

Since the mid-1950s the trend has developed away from Maltese marrying Maltese in Australia. Thus, many of the second-generation (ie, the Australian-born children of Malta-born migrants) have a mixed background: a Maltese parent and an Anglo-Australian parent, or whatever. The pattern of marriage outside the community has struck a blow to an essential feature of Maltese culture, namely, the language. Children who grew up in homes where Maltese was not spoken rarely learn the language, unless they make concerted efforts. My Maltese father married an English woman. They spoke English at home and thus I did not learn Maltese. Moreover, my father, harbouring a view that was common at that time, believed that it was not a good thing for a young boy to learn a second language, as it might adversely affect his performance in English classes at school.

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