5.1 Facts, fancies and Migrant Statistics

The recent release of the census data in Australia has created a considerable stir in the local press, with several articles being published highlighting various aspects of life of the Maltese migrant. In so far as this helps to keep alive the link between Malta and its estranged offspring, this is a good thing. For too long, out of sight has meant out of mind.

One hopes that it has also helped to put paid to the overwhelmingly exaggerated view relating to the size of the population of Maltese overseas, which has been stretched to ridiculous extent: one has heard figures of half a million and even one million!

A question of numbers

The report makes it quite clear that in Australia, there are 53000 born in Malta, and another 76000 who have at least one parent born in Malta. It is curious how the press jumped on the 'guestimate' of Senator Bolkus of 180,000 as being the number of Maltese in Australia. This figure refers only to those who have at least one grandparent born in Malta. These third generation kids might as well have as many Greek or Italian or dinkum Aussie genes in their blood. It is indeed a stretch of the imagination to claim all these children as Maltese.

Damned Lies and Statistics

It is curious also how certain conclusions are reached from this sort of data. Take for instance the very real phenomenon of ageing in the Maltese population. There is no doubt that there is an ever-increasing number of Maltese who are reaching the age of 60 and 65, and who will be posing an ever-increasing demand on services which at the moment are not available. However, for the sake of accuracy one must determine their number correctly. The proportion of aged persons in a population should be the calculated from the number of persons above a certain age (60, 65 etc) divided by the total number of persons in that population (aged and young). The discrepancy in the calculation of the ratio of migrant aged persons is that all those persons born in Australia are considered, obviously enough, to be Australian-born, and not Maltese-born. Hence they are being excluded from the formula, resulting in a spurious increase in the proportion of aged migrants.

Educational attainments

One of the red herrings raised by recent comments on the census data is the relative lack of educational qualifications. These facts have been pointed out over and over again (See for instance: Cauchi M. N. Maltese Migrants in Australia, 1990). We did not have to wait for the 1991 Census, (published in 1994) to tell us that migrants, most of whom left Malta in the 1950s and 1960s were less qualified than the current Australian average. If one were to examine the educational qualifications of those living in Malta in 1950s (when the average university attendance was about 1% of the total population) one would also find that that cohort of persons are lagging behind in educational qualifications compared to current expectations.

The number of persons, educated or otherwise, who have swelled the ranks of migrants since the late 1960 has had hardly any effect on the migrant life in Australia and its attendant statistics. And it must be emphasised that this fact is not expected to change in this or any number of subsequent censuses, unless the number of migrants form Malta were to increase significantly - which is very unlikely in the foreseeable future.

In fact, there is very little that any new census can tell us about the old established first generation migrants.

What the census left out

What bare statistics fail to reflect is the sort of life of the average migrant living away from the constant bombardment of propaganda, political, religious etc which they would have experienced had they stayed at home. They fail to explain how they survive and the stimuli which keep them going. The bank managers may chase the millionaires of Maltese origin in Melbourne, Sydney or Mackay (something they should have done 50 years ago when these same people were looking for financial backing for their enterprises), but they cannot explain how these people, unburdened with much schooling, and carrying with them nothing more than their will to get on and survive, have indeed achieved what they have achieved.

To understand this one has to live with these people and think in their terms. One has to realise that the average Maltese migrant can transform his half-acre plot into a veritable garden to supply a lot of his family's needs. They help their family to build their house, often a timber construction in the first instance. They have been having a second job long before the Maltese in Malta discovered this phenomenon. Many a wife has had to take a job to help with the family finances, again, long before this has become acceptable in Malta. They have a capacity to work long hours. They are frugal and have a capacity to plan for the long term. They do not feel the need to fraternise in booze-clubs like many members of the other ethnic communities do. They have taken with them much prized technical skills which they learned in the Dockyard or through sheer necessity since their arrival. It is this way of life which may explain the markedly elevated house ownership by Maltese, (which is much higher than that of persons of other ethnic background persons who earn a much higher average salary), and the high standard of living which most of them enjoy. Bare census data do not provide these answers.

The next generation

Even data relating to the second generation is getting outdated. The second generation is now in their thirties, and the pattern of educational achievement has been set, and hence subsequent 5-yearly census data is unlikely to throw any additional light. The achievements of these second generation Maltese have also been extensively described (see above).

What has been lacking is a comprehensive study to compare any changes in educational achievements between those currently finishing their educational training and the older generations. It is indeed a matter of concern that certain patterns may be repeated from one generation to the next. A preliminary attempt to assess the situation was initiated in 1990 by the Maltese Community Council of Victoria, and a research grant was obtained to enable such a study to be made. This report (Terry et al. 1993) by the Victoria University (in Melbourne) goes some way to show that there is a change in attitude to educational achievement. It however leaves unanswered the question of whether there is in fact a move towards greater participation in education by second generation persons of Maltese migrants.

Even at this late hour, one would hope that the Maltese Government and the University would make a serious effort to study the situation and maybe try to make a belated contribution to the various issues that have bedevilled Maltese settlement in Australia and elsewhere. A quick fix is no solution: there have been enough superficial attempts at tackling the problem. It requires more than a few weeks study-leave, or exchange program to really come to grips with the problems facing the Maltese overseas community.

There is a lot that can be learned about the younger generations, which unfortunately the census does not bother to investigate. One aspect about the second generation not dealt with the census is the fact that children born and bred in Australia of Maltese parents are far more Australian than Maltese. While they may enjoy a holiday in Malta, their home is Australia. Like other young persons world-wide, they are mostly disenchanted with politics and politicians.

Census data, analysed with care, and within an adequate framework of the community, can be very useful in assessing needs and planning required action. Taken in isolation they can often be misleading and misquoted, justifying the dictum: "lies, damned lies and statistics".


M.N.Cauchi, 1990: Maltese Migrants in Australia, MCCV, Melbourne.

Terry L, Borland H, Adams R: 1993: "To Learn More than I Have..." A Report for the Maltese Community Council of Victoria, Melbourne.

[Note: A number of other articles in this collection deal with this topic and update information available from the 1996 census, and more recent surveys. See particularly Chapter 3.]

[From:The Sunday Times, Jan 15, 1995, p 44]

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

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