4.6 Multicultural Writers in Australia

Multicultural writing has become noticeable in Australia only in the last 20 years. As recently as 1986, there was no acknowledgement of the existence of this genre of writing. Libraries ignored it, and institutes of learning were blissfully ignorant of its existence. There were no catalogues, no cards, and no listings to describe or identify and localise literature vaguely associated with ethnic or migrant writers. To some extent this has now been remedied and many public as well as university libraries have collections of books and periodicals in languages that reflect the ethnic dimension in Australia today. In particular, significant efforts have been made by some institutions to foster such collections, such as the Multicultural Literature collection at Deakin University, (Geelong, Victoria).

In fact, the growth of published ethnic literature has mushroomed over the past decade. The table below shows the rate of increase of publications since 1976, when the first bibliography was published:

Table 4.1: Multicultural Writers in Australia


Number of Writers 




Houbein L



Houbein L



Houbein L






Gunew S et.al.

What is a multicultural writer?

Originally, this description included only writers born over-seas, mostly writing in a language other than English. Later it was extended to include second and third-generation writers from non-English speaking backgrounds. As Houbein (1984) stated "Overseas birth as a criterion for inclusion in this ethnic writer's bibliography is becoming more and more questionable... Writers have emerged, especially in the genre of the short story, which are clearly ethnic writers from the point of view of subject matter, although they were born in Australia." The latest bibliography (Gunew et al. 1992) includes all those "who command languages other than English in association with cultural (specifically literary) traditions which do not derive from either England or Ireland."

What is the significance of multicultural writing?

The need to communicate with people of the same background, who share similar historical experiences, and who have had the same settlement and adjustment problems account for the initial efforts at publications, usually in newspapers and journals hastily put together with less than adequate financial support or technical know-how. Others might have felt the need to express their qualms and fears, their hopes and disappointments in poetry or novels, probing for other souls on the same wavelength. Some preferred to express themselves in the language of their birth where they can vent their feelings with ease and precision often lacking in the acquired language.

More recently, and particularly with second and later generation multicultural writers, use of the English language has become the only means of communication. These also are legitimately considered to be multicultural writers if only because of their outlook and subject matter. As Gunew emphasises: "Cultural difference... is clearly identified as an important factor in the process of producing particular kinds of textual subjectivities" (Gunew 1992)

Maltese writers in Australia.

Included in the latest bibliography of Gunew at al., we find 11 authors of Maltese origin, namely: Joseph Abela, Baldass Armato, Rigu Bovingdon, Manwel Cassar, Maurice Cauchi, George Chetcuti, Joseph Chetcuti, Albert Marshall, Rosanne Musu, Manwel Nicholas-Borg and Joe Saliba. It must be emphasised that a large number of other writers have missed out on being included in this bibliography. In fact, a recent anthology of prose and poetry from the Maltese Literature Group includes 20 additional authors not previously included in the bibliographies mentioned above (Maltese Literature Group, 1986, 1992).

Most of these writers immigrated to Australia more than 20 years ago, and have lived most of their adult lives in Australia. They are all first generation Australians. Some are now dead, (e.g. Dr Joseph Abela (died in 1991) and Mr Baldass Armato (d. 1991), Manwel Nicholas Borg, (d. 1998). Most of them have published poetry, but there are also other genres of writing including novellas, essays, critical articles in newspapers, translations of literary work from other languages, etc.

There is no doubt that multicultural writing in Australia will continue to flourish as long as there are new migrants coming into the country, and while some members of the younger second- and later-generation feel the need to use the language or the inspiration from the land of their parents. It is, however, far more difficult to foresee any long term flowering of Maltese literature in Australia. It has proved very difficult to attract new blood to replace the old, and the spark to publish about Malta is just as likely to fall on those with emotional rather than family ties with Malta.


Houbein, L. 1976, Survey of ethnic and migrant writings in Australia: Work in progress. Adelaide ASL Working Papers, 2 no 1.

Houbein, L. 1978: Ethnic Writings in English from Australia: A Bibliography

Houbein, L. 1984: Ethnic writing in English from Australia: A Bibliography: 3rd revised and extended edition.

Karakostas-Seda, 1988, A bibliography of Australian multicultural writers.

Maltese Literature Group (Victoria). 1986: Irjieh: Antologija mill-Awstralja, Melbourne

Maltese Literature Group 1992, Frott Iehor - Gabra Lettararja-Tematika mill-Awstralja.

Source: Maurice N.Cauchi - The Maltese Migrant Experience, Malta 1999

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