Dusky Immigrants

Even the great champion of Australia, Sir Gerald Strickland, complained in 1922 that Australian Labour wanted to exclude the Maltese because they feared that the Maltese would make cheap workers. But Strickland did not give up. If the Australians did not like Maltese men, why not send to them Maltese women? Strickland suggested that young girls from Malta should be sent to convents in Australia where they would be cared for and trained in the Australian way of cooking and for domestic service.

Strickland's suggestion was ignored. Racial prejudice did not distinguish between the sexes. The readers of the "Truth" of May 29, 1922, were regaled by a masterpiece of arrogance when that newspaper carried an article about the Maltese unde@ the title of "Dusky Immigrants".

"Recently it was announced that a batch of immigrants for the land, in the shape of Maltese, had arrived. To begin with, Malta is the last place in the world to get agricultural immigrants from, for the writer's impression of it is a tiny island peopled by a race that lives mostly in a state of squalor. Beggars throng the streets and apparently one half of the population lives on the charity of the other. Even if the Maltese were expert agriculturists (and they are decidedly not), their encouragement is a matter for deep consideration.

During the war an attempt was made to import Maltese to replace Australians who were fighting on the other side of the world. It was the arrogant 'Little Digger' who denied any harmful intention, yet men who were undoubtedly white were carrying their swags past huge encampments of Maltese, not far from Cootamundra, who were employed on deviation works, driven from city employment because they would not be coerced by jingoistic conscriptionists bled by W.M. Hughes, while dusky interlopers swarmed into the country, although not able to speak the language, and nurtured from birth in customs and surroundings that might preclude them from becoming fit associatesfor the people of this country. Mr. Hughes keeps a sharp eye on the immigration policy, and it is reasonable to recall his attitude during the war - as a warning.

Instead of importing such 'requirements' an extensive move in deporting them might be made with profit to the working classes. The most astounding aspect of the question is that the papers flagrantly announce the arrival of a batch of Maltese immigrants who are to be put on the land, and a still more astonishing thing will be that they will be settled comfortably, while thousands of native-born tramp fruitlessly from town to town looking for work".

The xenophobia behind this base attack was not shared by all Australians, but those who shared it carried political clout. The Maltese were specifically singled out because they were aliens without a nation capable of defending them. The Maltese were foreigners in race, language, culture and religion. Their country of origin was a colony. They had no political strength because their government was not independent and they had no one to speak for them in Australia. The "Truth" picked the most fragile ethnic foreign minority for its attack.

Even Sir Gerald Strickland had to admit in the Maltese House of Representatives that that newspaper had disgraced Australian journalism. Yet, he knew that the attack of May 29, 1922, was not the only virulent denigration of the Maltese in Australia even if that particular issue seemed to be intent "to poison the wells of public opinion against the Maltese as a race".

Dr. Augustus Bartolo read a statement to the House by one of the leading journalists in Australia. The statement signed by Mr. Geoffrey, said that the accusation published by the "Truth" had caused a public outcry of indignation throughout Australia because it was felt that that newspaper had unjustly singled out the Maltese for its own political ends as being unwanted in Australia.

The "Truth" was not the only Australian publication to throw mud at the Maltese. The Sydney Daily Mail of February 8, 1923, printed on its front page an eye-catching heading with the words:

"Maltese Get Work - Australians Don't"

Again the Maltese were described as foreigners who somehow managed to find employment and hold on to theirjobs, while Australian and British workers lost theirs. Reference was also made to one hundred Australian and British workers on railway construction in New South Wales who had been dismissed because of lack of funds. The Maltese however, instead of being dismissed, were transferred to other gangs as horse-drivers. The newspaper said this could not go on, because the Maltese were foreigners and should never be preferred to Australians or to the British Moreover, the workers from Malta were very young lads, probably less than twenty years old who worked very hard to save about 100 and their go back to Malta.

Mr. Henry Casolani, in his capacity as Superintendent of Emigration, was dismayed by the Australians' refusal to accept the Maltese as their British brothers. It seemed to him that in spite of the good work done by his visit to London in 192 he had failed to convince the Australians that t Maltese were British and therefore a goo( investment for Australia. On April 5, 1923 Casolani rebutted the accusations brought forward ( by unsympathetic newspapers. His answer to the critics of the Maltese appeared in the "British Australasian" which was a leading Australia publication in London.

In his answer Casolani claimed that since the Armistice in 1918 about 1,000 Maltese had gone to Australia and less than 200 had come back. Th Maltese expected equal treatment with the Australians and with immigrants from the Unite, Kingdom. Casolani also claimed that when employers fired workers but kept the Maltese, that showed that the Maltese were doing a better job.

Source: The Great Exodus by Fr Lawrence E. Attard. (C) P.E.G. Ltd - 1989.

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