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‘We must have more people’

1945: Australian Government announces postwar immigration drive

National Archives of Australia A12111, 1/1954/4/53
1900 2000

Use the following additional activities and discussion questions to encourage students (in small groups or as a whole class) to think more deeply about this defining moment.

Questions for discussion

1. How much was postwar immigration responsible for weakening the White Australia policy? What later defining moments in Australian history might also have contributed to this? For example, look at:

1948 ‘A plan for the whole nation’ — Snowy Mountains Hydro Scheme begins

 

2. Do you agree with the National Museum of Australia that the postwar immigration drive is a defining moment in Australian history? Explain your answer.

Image activities

1. Look carefully at all the images for this defining moment. Tell this story in pictures by placing them in whatever order you think works best. Write a short caption under each image.

2. Which three images do you think are the most important for telling this story? Why?

 

3. If you could pick only one image to represent this story, which one would you choose? Why?

Finding out more

1. What else would you like to know about this defining moment? Write a list of questions and then share these with your classmates. As a group create a final list of three questions and conduct some research to find the answers.

<p>Mr Arthur Calwell and Mrs Calwell at the Lithuanians Handicraft Exhibition, Canberra, 1949</p>
National Archives of Australia: A12111, 1/1949/17/5A

In a snapshot

Between 1945 and 1965 two million immigrants arrived in Australia. The Australian Government had decided to open up the nation because it believed there was an urgent need to ‘populate or perish’ after the Second World War. Among the new immigrants were the first non-British migrants allowed by the Australian Government. This massive influx of people eventually transformed Australian society.

Mr Arthur Calwell and Mrs Calwell at the Lithuanians Handicraft Exhibition, Canberra, 1949

Findout icon Can you find out?

1. Why did Australia accept an increase in the number of migrants after the Second World War?

2. What sort of person was thought to be an ideal migrant?

 

3. How was the White Australia policy changed after the Second World War ended in 1945?

Why did Australia need to ‘populate or perish’?

Australia was threatened by the advance of the Japanese Imperial Army during the Second World War, especially during the invasion of Singapore, the bombing of Darwin, and the Kokoda Trail campaign. During the war the government thought about boosting Australia’s population to improve its defence — a policy also known as ‘populate or perish’.

After the war Australia began to change its limiting migration practices, called the ‘White Australia policy’. This policy change was influenced by the Melbourne economist Bill Forsyth. Forsyth argued in his 1942 book, The Myth of Open Spaces, that Australia should attract migrants from eastern and southern Europe, not just Britain and Ireland.

Research task

 

Watch the ‘Multicultural Mosaic’ episode of the Australian Journey video series. What were some of the challenges faced by migrants who came to Australia? Explain your answer.

Multicultural Mosaic

‘Even in the darkest days of the awful conflict of the Pacific war, the Curtin Government gave much thought to population building. I remember Mr. Curtin telling Cabinet in 1944 that at war’s end there would have to be a Ministry for Immigration. He said we must have more people to develop and defend Australia.’

 

Arthur Calwell, Be Just and Fear Not, 1972

Arthur Calwell.

Who was thought to be a suitable migrant?

In 1945 the Australian Government introduced the Assisted Passage Migration Scheme (also known as the ‘Ten-Pound Pom’ scheme) to attract migrant families from Britain. By 1947 more than 400,000 British people had signed up for the scheme. 

Australia’s Minister for Immigration, Arthur Calwell, also looked outside of Britain for new migrants. Calwell chose migrants who had been displaced from their homes because of the Second World War. The first ships arrived in Australia in 1947 with migrants from the Baltic region. These migrants were all young and unmarried and became known as the ‘beautiful Balts’. They were well received by Australian newspapers, partly because they had fair skin and fitted closely with the idea of a ‘white Australia’.

<p>Italian canecutters arrive at Cairns aboard the <em>Aurelia</em>, 1956</p>

National Archives of Australia A12111, 1/1956/4/12

<p>Italian canecutters arrive at Cairns aboard the <em>Aurelia</em>, 1956</p>

How did postwar migration change Australia?

Australia also slowly began accepting migrants from southern and eastern Europe. Temporary migrants from the Middle East and Asia were then allowed in the late 1940s and early 1950s. In 1957 the Liberal government made it easier for non-European migrants to become Australian citizens.

From 1946 to 1960, 1.2 million people migrated to Australia, contributing to a third of the nation’s population growth. Today migrants are still an important part of Australian society, and over a quarter of Australian residents were born overseas.

 

Read a longer version of this Defining Moment on the National Museum of Australia’s website.

Research task

 

Read this article on migration to Australia from the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Where do most migrants come from and how is migration affecting Australia’s ageing population?

Australian Bureau of Statistics

 

Findout icon What did you learn?

1. Why did Australia accept an increase in the number of migrants after the Second World War?

2. What sort of person was thought to be an ideal migrant?

3. How was the White Australia policy changed after the Second World War ended in 1945?