Maltese-Australian Historiography

Author: Dr. Barry York, Europe-Australia Institute,

During the 1960s and 1970s, a small number of middle class Maltese, including graduates of Malta University, had migrated to Australia. Within this group were individuals who would play a central role in Maltese-Australian research. They brought with them research skills learned in Malta.

A third factor, however, is more Australian-grown. While Maltese-Australians still lag behind other ancestral groups in terms of educational achievement, by the 1980s the children of a few of the post-war immigrants were beginning to graduate from universities. These Maltese-Australians rarely studied the arts, preferring the more career-oriented courses, but among them were a handful who studied history.

I suppose I am an example of the latter type. My Maltese father worked in factories after migrating to Melbourne with my London-born mother and I. We sailed from England on the Himalaya in 1954. My father had been stationed there with the Royal Air Force, which he had joined in Malta during the second world war. My parents came from poor working class families in their respective homelands and saw the act of migration as an opportunity to improve their lives and to widen the life opportunities of their son as well as themselves. Thus, I was fortunate to have parents who encouraged me to study at school and to go on to university where, they hoped, I would eventually graduate as a high school teacher.

I enjoyed researching and writing and never gave it up, even while working as a school teacher in a Melbourne inner suburb. In the early 1980s I left teaching - and Melbourne - to pursue postgraduate studies in history at Sydney University and, later, at the University of New South Wales. Faced with choices of topics for a doctoral thesis at the latter institution, the Maltese side to my background won the day. My thesis was based on an intensive four year study of the history of Maltese immigration into Australia between 1881 and 1949. When I formally graduated with my doctorate in history in 1988, I was probably the first 'Maltese-Australian' to attain a PhD in history. I make that point to illustrate the time lag between the initial post-war settlers one one hand and the practicability of one of their descendants being able to complete detailed research, under the auspices of a university, into an aspect of the Maltese community in Australia, on the other.

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