Populations and Immigration

If public opinion shuddered at the possibility of Asians entering the virgin spaces of Australia, spokesmen for the trade unions not only objected to Asians but to all races except those originating from Great Britain. This policy was adhered to even at the expense of abandoning huge tracts of national territory and leaving them unexplored.

In September 1920, the Federal Prime Minister of Australia, Mr. Hughes, declared to the House that the most vital part of Australian immigration policy remained the preservation of A Australia fo rEuropeans. Inan interview given by Lord Northcliffe in Sydney in October 1921, that gentleman stated that Australia needed to boost its population by fifteen million at the earliest moment. Lord Northcliffe insisted that those millions could be obtained and Australia could carry them.

The thesis sustained by Lord Northcliffe was that fifteen million inhabitants were urgently needed to keep Australia safe from possible invasion from the north. Those millions were also indispensable if the country was to remain white. Lord Northclifre was of the opinion that the United Kingdom could provide Australia with 250,000 immigrants each year for a long time to come.

Prime Minister Hughes agreed with Northcliffe. In February 1922 Hughes urged the Australian Natives' Association of Victoria to lend its influence to the policy of promoting immigration. When it was suggested to Mr. Hughes that Australia should open its doors to Asians he replied that the idea was impossible.

In July 1922, the High Commissioner for Australia in Great Britain, Sir Joseph Cook, made his country's intention towards population and immigration very clear: "I think the Australian view in regard to immigration is now fairly well known to the world. We want a greater population. We make the condition that it should be of a white race which can take a worthy part in building up our Australian Commonwealth. We welcome especially the British settlers, but welcome also suitable European immigrants, provided always that they are of the type to develop our empty areas. It would not be in the interest of emigrants to come to swell our city populations".

In April 1926, Mr. Bruce, who was then the Federal Prime Minister of Australia, delivered a momentous speech in Sydney in which he announced that he was to appoint a Migration and Development Commission. Mr. Bruce wanted this Commission to examine all State Government schemes in connection with the Migration Agreement in order to determine whether such schemes were in the interest of Australia and how they were to function so that each State could comfortably absorb the newcomers. The Commission would advise on the whole question of migration and the national development and utilisation of resources. Mr. Bruce declared that a national stock-taking was essential.

The Prime Minister urged all Australians to accept the view that a greater population was in the interest of everyone and that such an increase was impossible unless more immigrants were allowed in. He also promised that preference would be given to men and women of British stock. Mr. Bruce reminded his people that a greater population would expand the internal markets and enable the country to maintain and improve the standard of living of everyone.

"Believing in a vigorous policy of migration" said Mr. Bruce, "I am against the indiscriminate introduction of people not readily absorbable. We owe a three-fold debt: to Australia, to the Empire and to the migrant. Our duty to Australia is not to lower the standard of life; our duty to the Empire is to promote the settlement of British stock so as to help to solve Britain's unemployment problem; and our duty to the migrant is effective absorption".

Did this line of policy include the Maltese or were they to be excluded as people difficult to integrate into the Australian demographic fabric? Malta's supporters in the Empire saw no difficulty whatsoever: the Maltese were Europeans and British. This enthusiasm was not matched by the Australian side. The "Manchester Guardian" of August 14, 1925, commented on what the Australians meant when they said that they wanted to keep their country white. Who was white? The English newspaper provided a blunt exposition of Australian thinking on the subject of race: "The average Australian of whatever class does in effect limit the term 'white' to British stock, allows American and Canadian, tolerates Scandinavian, Dane or French, but is doubtful about Central Europe and is satisfied that Southern Europeans are coloured".

When the Australians described the Maltese as aliens that meant that they were not the type of immigrant they wanted. The term "alien" euphemistically demoted any group to the classification of being inferior and unwanted. Mr. Casolani complained in 1925 that financed malevolence was using a certain section within the Labour Movement and Press to smear the name of Malta. He said that the intention was to convince Australians that the Maltese were unacceptable according to the conditions laid down by the White Australia Policy.

Official declarations coming from Government sources considered the Maltese as Europeans and British, but popular thinking tended to point to a different direction. Mr. Bruce himself had said that "many people overlooked the fact that Malta was a part of the British Empire and that the Maltese were European not Asiatic and that they sprung from a white Caucasian race thousands of years ago".

Even Mr. Charlton, leader of the Labour Party, could not think of any particular objection against the Maltese. In April 1925 he said: "I desire to say in regard to Maltese immigrants, that we have nothing against them as a race. They come from a portion of the British Empire and the Maltese who have come to this country, in whatever occupation they have been employed, have at least proved to be good unionists and from that point of view we have no complaint to make of them".

The Maltese Government had made representations to the Australian authorities about newspapers reports which insisted on classifying the Maltese as aliens. On October 25, 1926, the Minister for Home and Territories, Senator T.W. Glasgow, denied that the Maltese were being treated as aliens on entering Australia. The senator claimed that there was no objection to Maltese immigrants because they were members of the British community. Glasgow did admit that, his Government had adopted a few minor safeguards when it came to receiving immigrants from Malta, and he said that such precautions had beenresorted to in order to shield the Maltese from elements seeking adverse publicity.

The precautions Glasgow referred to consisted in allowing only twenty Maltese to land in any given port in one month. Senator Glasgow thought it a prudent idea to keep the numbers of Maltese immigrants low because the Maltese spoke very little English; also, the Australian Government wanted to make sure that immigrants from Malta did not become charges on public funds.

Senator Glasgow also reminded the Maltese authorities that Australia had exempted immigrants from Malta from paying the 40 capital deposit which was vigorously imposed on all aliens. Glasgow thought that only those immigrants who were considered as British were allowed such a significant exemption. Senator Glasgow was also of the opinion that in spite of various difficulties encountered by the Maltese in Australia, most Maltese he knew were doing very well.

Certainly, one of the Maltese who did very well for himself was a certain Mr. Zammit who died in Sydney in 1927 and when his will became known he was one of the wealthiest men in New South Wales.

In Malta, Zammit started life as a bumboatman, plying the busy waters of the Grand Harbour with fresh provisions for the Royal Navy. Eventually Zammit was given an exclusive contract to furnish H.M.S. Encounter. Subsequently he became a canteen contractor. When Zammit emigrated to Australia he settled in Sydney and became a very successful businessman. At the time of his death it was revealed that the ex-bum-boatman from Malta had left 23,000 in hard cash. It was estimated that with the vast stock he had, his war bonds and other securities, his estate was worth a quarter of a million pounds.

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

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