1.3 Migration to Australia

The first Maltese came to Australia with the convicts as early as 1810 (York 1988). A number of individuals made their own way and settled as migrants (See York 1986).

The first attempts at organised migration to Australia took place as early as 1827 when J .H.Frere suggested to the Colonial Office that it should populate the "vast extent of territory in Southern Africa and Australasia" with Maltese subjects who were considered "prolific", "industrious" and "loyal" (see Price, 1954 p 42). He was even prepared to send a number of Maltese to Australia at his own expense, provided that the Government was prepared to continue the scheme if it proved successful. The Colonial Office however was not prepared to finance such a proposal.

It was not until 1882 that a fact-finding mission was financed by the British Government and eventually, in October 1883, about 70 labourers "with an additional nine stowaways" on the British steamer, Nuddea emigrated to Australia.

There were always those who opposed migration for various reasons. Fortunato Mizzi (1880) opposed organized Maltese emigration to Australia on the grounds that such schemes meant 'eternal separation' from the beloved Maltese archipelago - il fior del mondo - and cut clean across the traditional Maltese system of settling in Mediterranean countries sufficiently close to Malta to enable frequent and easy re-emigration." (Price, 1963, p 83, quoting Mizzi's newspaper Malta 30 Nov 1883)

By 1891 the population of Maltese in Australia was estimated to be 200, which rose to 1350 by 1921 (See Price, 1963, p 11). The Daily Malta Chronicle in an editorial dated September 30th 1910 said: "There is one question which rises above all other questions ... it is the question of emigration. There can be no longer any hope for us of welfare, except in getting for ourselves another home in a favourable land" (See Attard, 1983,p 2). The Malta Herald, in a letter dated June 16th 1913 stated: "Workpeople who are living in these straits have no option to resort to, but to quit their Island home" (see Attard, 1983, p 3)

The Royal Commission in 1912 stated: "The difficulties financial and economic, from. which Malta is at present suffering, can be traced, almost to their entirety, to the rapid growth of her population without a corresponding increase in their means of subsistence. No alteration in the system of taxation or other measure can act as more than a temporary palliative, and systematic emigration on a large scale is the most important of the objects, which the Government of Malta must set itself to attain."

In 1912 some 50 Maltese arrived in Sydney and were labelled by the Australian newspaper The Worker as "undesirable migrants". There were protests against the arrival of these and other migrants who imperilled' Australian civilization' because of low living standards and low level of English, thus endangering Australian lives particularly when working in hazardous occupations e.g. sandblasting. (See Price, 1963, p 86)

The Royal Commissioner, Thomas Arthur Ferry, produced a report on the immigrants in Queensland (the "Ferry Report") which was highly critical of migrants. The Maltese were described as "bard-working and honest but mostly uneducated, and their standard of living is inferior to that of the British or Italian" (See Price 1963, p 205).

Perhaps the most infamous event of all in the history of Maltese migration to Australia occurred in 1916, when about 240 Maltese arrived on the French steamer Gange. When they arrrived in Sydney they were detained and forced to go to Noumea, New Caledonia, where they were kept for six months before being allowed to return to Sydney (York 1986" p 54-66)

In 1920 migration restrictions were lifted, but Australia insisted that Malta limits its quota to 260 per annum, (later increased to 1200 per annum) - provided that illiterate Maltese were sponsored by relatives in Australia (Price, 1963, p 87).

Source: Maurice N. Cauchi - Maltese Migrants in Australia, Malta 1990

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