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We are one, but we are manyWe are Australian.
And from all the lands on earth we come
We share a dream
And sing with one voice
I am, you are
—"I Am Australian" -The Seekers
For those who've come across the seaTo advance Australia Fair
We've boundless plains to share
With courage let us all combine
—The little-known second verse of Australia's national anthem, and the source of this article's title.
In fiction, Australians are often stereotyped as rip-roaring blokes of Anglo-Saxon ancestry, boisterous descendents of convicts who'd down a bottle of beer as enthusiastically as they'd wrestle a crocodile. The truth is not so simple. Multiculturalism is an official government policy in Australia, and the population reflects this. Australians are a diverse people composed of literally hundreds of different ethnicities, with one of the highest rates of ethnic intermarriage in the world. Despite this, Australia's immigration politics has a highly controversial history.
There were two major migratory waves that we'll ignore for the sake of it here: the migration of the Indigenous Australians from Whereverville to Australia ~70,000 years ago, and the migration of many British people to Australia after 1787.
Apart from these, migrants first came to Australia in the Australian gold rush - mostly Britons and Irish Catholics, although there were a significant number of Europeans, North Americans and Chinese people. The Irish were forbidden from speaking their language, and the Chinese were brutally attacked and discriminated against. The Chinese often had difficulty assimilating into Australian society, not speaking English and not being trusted by the whites. Later in the nineteenth century, skilled labourers were transported to Australia to help the colonies.
A reason for the Federation of Australia (which happened in 1901) was a lack of a common immigration policy. There were fears of Chinese immigration and of other immigrants. In response, all governments officially adopted the White Australia Policy: all non-European people were not allowed into Australia. During World War Two, Australia heavily feared a Japanese invasion, and after the war the Minister of Immigration Arthur Calwell claimed: "We have 25 years at most to populate this country before the yellow races are down on us."
After World War Two, however, Australia decided that it needed to 'populate or perish'. About two million Europeans immigrated from Britain, Ireland, Italy, Greece, Yugoslavia, Germany, and the Netherlands. These immigrations changed Australian society to a melting-pot of different cultures.
Modern "Multicultural" Australia:
By the early 1970s, the White Australia policy was officially declared dead. The Minister of Immigration Al Grassby called Australia's condition 'ethnic pluralism', where "each ethnic group desiring it, is permitted to create its own cultural heritage indefinitely, while taking part in the general life of the nation". This was the genesis of Australia's official multicultural policy, which still enjoys support from many Australians, particularly younger ones. SBS, founded in the 70s, is a government funded broadcaster with a television station (and now multiple digital channels) and several radio stations, all intended to serve the needs of immigrant communities and reflect the multiculturalism of Australia. SBS broadcasts in more languages than any other broadcaster in the world, with more than 68 languages on radio, more than 60 on television and more than 50 online.
After the declaration of Multiculturalism as an official policy came an (unrelated) wave of Vietnamese seeking asylum after the war. Tens of thousands settled in Australia over the following years. The 1990s Yugoslav Wars brought many people from the Balkans, the Jakarta riots in 1998 brought migrants from Indonesia, and the current conflict in the Sudan has brought many Sudanese people to Australia.
But over time, the increase of foreign faces and cultures began to deepen the alarm of some conservatives. Professor Geoffrey Blainey controversially criticised the levels of Asian immigration to Australia in 1984. Some politicians agreed. John Howard, the opposition leader and future Prime Minister, argued the rate of Asian immigration should be slowed down for better social integration - however, this led to a political backlash against him (he was not voted in on this platform, and later, by his second term, he was even using the term 'multiculturalism', claiming sometimes politicians need to go with the flow). In 1996 Pauline Hanson, who later formed the uber-right wing One Nation Party, said in her maiden speech to the House of Representatives that Australia "was in danger of being swamped by Asians". However, Hanson's political career largely sputtered out after her initial glory in the state of Queensland. Jokes about the anti-immigration immigrant abounded when she buggered off to the UK. She later returned to Australia to stand in a New South Wales state election (not as state leader, but as an independent), which she lost.
Despite the failure of overtly racist rhetoric, fear of uncontrolled immigration rose amongst ordinary Australians. Close to 90% of Australians supported the extremely high levels of skilled migration and family reunion instituted, ironically, by John Howard (Something like 160,000 a year.) In comparison, those who attempted unofficial entry by boat were viewed with suspicion and fear. After 9/11, 2001, they were told some of these 'illegal immigrants' may be terrorists, and fear turned to panic. John Howard, then Prime Minister, systematically attempted to extinguish any an all avenues of the 'illegals' gaining entry into Australia. He enforced mandatory imprisonment of unauthorized boat arrivals. The government supposedly analysed each person to discover whether they were dangerous to Australia. They kept these people off the mainland on Pacific Islands where the people would not actually have access to Australian courts. So yes - the Prime Minister who presided over and supported the largest immigration boom from non-English speaking lands that Australia has ever seen actively pandered to people who wanted to keep a few thousand penniless refugees out. We're sorta crazy that way.
Times are changing. What came to be known as Howard's 'Pacific Solution' has been dismantled. Recently, the new government's attempt to introduce a similar policy (the so-called 'Malaysia Solution') was blocked as illegal by Australia's highest court, the High Court of Australia. Opinions polls show a majority of Australians no longer even support 'border protection' attempts to keep any and all asylum seekers off the mainland, and support them being processed in Australia. At an official level, this has culminated in refugees undergoing a period of detention after which some will be moved into the community once security checks have been undertaken.
As a result of the post-WWII immigration boom, Australia is a heavily multicultural society, although Caucasians are still more common than any other ethnicity. The Italian, Chinese, Greek and Indian communities are prominent, but communities of almost every known ethnic group exist, at least in the larger cities. Most Caucasians have at least some English, Irish, or Scottish descent, whether from post-war migration, gold-rush arrivals, or the original convicts and settlers.
Asians make up about 10% of the population. They are the largest 'non-White' minority in Australia, with easily the biggest concentration being spread throughout Sydney. A tendency for Caucasians and Asians to marry is starting to leave a big footprint, with both Melbourne and Sydney beginning fill up with "half Asian" children.
There is still a sizable part of the population opposed to further immigration. This is not only among the Anglo/Celtic population, but also common among Greek and Italian communities (which one journalist referred to as 'slamming the door behind you').
It's all stupid really, considering that a great side effect of all this multiculturalism, combined with nearly everyone living by the sea, is that you can get virtually any food you can imagine in a major Australian city. And that's what's important.