Australian Immigration History

Smaller groups of settlers had begun arriving in the colony even from 1793, but it was 1802-03 that the Home Office in England and Australia began an active campaign to encourage migration, because free settlers were thought of as a necessary addition to the convict population for boosting the economy, so large tracts of land were given to wealthy men like John Macarthur because they had the ability and means to see it developed. However, by 1830 or so the population’s increasing and the unemployment rate in England forced the policy to be changed. The governments in the colonies sold land instead of issuing free land grants, and the proceeds were used to fund assisted passage to immigrants who could offer labor and make society more viable than one that just contained wealthy people and Get Out

The flow of immigrants was nearly constant, which helped to set the character of the population as predominantly Anglo-Australian. The Aboriginal population of Australia got reduced to a minority because of disease. Immigration from Asia wasn’t encouraged by government policy, nor were other immigrants who weren’t English. In 1947 when the English part of the population was highest, it was at 90%. After this, the policy changes started to fix the imbalance and the migration of settlers from at least 100 nations has given modern Australia its reputation as being culturally diverse.

From 1851-60 was the gold rush era. It was sparked by the discovery of gold at Bathurst, NSW in February 1851 and in Victoria in July. There was a large increase of free immigrants to the new Australian colonies. Victoria gained 313,000 new settlers because it was prominent in the gold market, and New South Wales was pretty quickly overtaken. In 1852, 86,000 English settlers came to Australia looking to get part of the fortune of gold.

There were Chinese gold-seekers despite restrictions on immigration from the government of China – in fact more than a hundred thousand Chinese people came to Australia between 1840 and 1890. Extreme poverty, war or the increasing population in China prompted many of these workers to come seek a living elsewhere. When the gold rush reached its peak in Victoria the Chinese population was more than 33,000 out of the total of over 171,000. They were working on the dig as either laborers or set up small businesses of their own. Because Chinese customs were so different from Australia, the Chinese suffered from xenophobia and were discriminated against. This led to many disputes and the eventual expulsion of Chinese immigrants from the towns in the 1860s. Poll taxes and other anti-Chinese measures were employed meanwhile. Eventually the government began simply restricting Chinese immigration.

The latter part of the 1800s saw Australia in a recession that caused immigration to slow down, and New South Wales became more prosperous than Victoria. There was a new colony – Queensland, which granted passage to non-English immigrants. This helped Western Australia to undergo a smaller version of the first gold boom in the 1890s, but most of its migrants came from the other colonies that England was occupying at the time.

From 1863 to 1904, over 62,000 Pacific Island dwellers were recruited from Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands to work as a source of cheap, indentured labor on Queensland’s plantations of sugar, usually forcefully. Many people think that this is the closest Australia ever came to a full institution of slavery like the United States had at this time. There does exist evidence that a few or some of these laborers signed contracts willingly and made a life for themselves in Australia, but there are many stories of the kidnappings and other slavery-like conditions that the laborers were put under and forced to work under horrible living conditions. The Commonwealth government was shocked by such practices and introduced the Pacific Island Laborers Act in 1901, which helped to ban this practice by no longer allowing natives to be kidnapped and brought to work starting in 1904. This act had as a provision that the existing inhabitants of the islands should be taken back to their homelands, but if they had been in Australia more than 20 years they were offered the chance to stay.

From 1901 to 1940 saw the White Australia Policy, where in the latter part of the 1800’s an influx of Asian immigrants caused competition in the cities for jobs in carpentry and other trades. There was an attempt to replace white crews with Asians by the Australasian Steam Navigation Company. This started hostilities toward non-European immigrants, and it had mostly vanished after the gold rush. The White Australia Policy got its name from the increased restrictions that were placed upon Asian immigration, culminating in the introduction of the Immigration Restriction Act. This basically created a dictation test for the English language as another means of excluding non- European immigrants. In 1904, there was an amendment ratified which prevented already-settled people from having their families enter, which included women and children. Later on, there were restrictions created on the quotas of immigrants of southern European and Jewish ancestry. In this same timeframe, to respond to Japan’s increasing strength in industry and military, the government decided to increase the population of Australia with English migrants by issuing nearly 190,000 assisted passages. Immigration was halted in World War I, but between 1919 and 1929 the growing Australian demand for skilled labor and the overpopulation of Europe saw 321,000 British migrants come to the country. The Great Depression in the 1930s slowed immigration to Australia down significantly, but even after the economy began to recover there were concerns from labor unions that kept the immigration rather low. During and after World War II, Australia continued to help people immigrate, but there were more varied groups of immigrants, such as the attacks on Australia by Japan. The government felt that the population was too small to put up a good defense. During this period the dominance of assisted British migration continued, but a number of other factors saw a widening of the immigration groups. There was also an increase in the immigration portion of the budget, such as financing assisted passages, different support programs and shelter for immigrants seeking permanent residence was built.