Malaysian Australians

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Malaysian Australians
Total population
174,000 (Malaysian-born, 2018)[1][2]
Regions with significant populations
Melbourne, Sydney, Perth, Katanning,[3] Cocos (Keeling) Islands and Christmas Island (More than 90%)[4]
Australian English, Malaysian English, Chinese (Cantonese, Min Chinese, Malaysian Mandarin), Malaysian Tamil, Malay, Indian Languages
Christianity (43%), Buddhism (26%), Hinduism, Sikhism, Islam (5%)[5]
Related ethnic groups
Various ethnic groups of Malaysia, Singaporean Australians and Cocos Malays

Malaysian Australians refers to Malaysians who have migrated to Australia or Australian-born citizens who are of Malaysian descent. This may include Malays as well as overseas Chinese, Indian, mixed Malaysians and other groups. There are also ethnic Malays in Australia who came to Australia prior to the establishment of Malaysia or who have come from other regional countries including Indonesia, Singapore and Brunei.

Australians of full or partial Malaysian origin form the majority of the population of the Australian external territory of Christmas Island.[6]


People born in Malaysia as a percentage of the population in Sydney divided geographically by postal area, as of the 2011 census.

At the 2006 Census 92,335 Australian residents stated that they were born in Malaysia.[7] 64,855 Malaysian born Australian residents declared having Chinese ancestry (either alone or with another ancestry), 12,057 declared a Malay ancestry and 5,848 declared an Indian ancestry. The proportion of Malaysian-born individuals in Australia who claim Chinese ancestry is 70.2%, which is markedly different from the proportion of Malaysians in Malaysia who claim Chinese ancestry (22.9%). The proportion of Malaysians in Australia that claim Indian ancestry (6.3%) is similar to the proportion in Malaysia (7.1%). Taken together with the marked difference in the proportion who cite Islam as their religion (60% in Malaysia, 5% in Australia), it is clear that migration from Malaysia to Australia has not reflected a cross-section of Malaysia, but rather, is heavily skewed towards the ethnic Chinese community and to a lesser extent the ethnic Indian community.[5]

Malaysian Australians are well established in Australia. Slightly more than half (46,445) had Australian citizenship,[5] and 47,521 had arrived in Australia in 1989 or earlier.[5] 32,325 spoke English at home, 24,347 spoke Cantonese, 18,676 spoke Mandarin and 5,329 spoke Bahasa Melayu.[5] Malaysian Australians were resident in Melbourne (29,174), Sydney (21,211) and Perth (18,993).[3]

Although Malaysia has a 60% Muslim population, only 5% of Malaysian-born Australians cited Islam as their religion in the 2006 Census, the largest religions were Christianity (43%) and Buddhism (26%).This is mainly because Malaysians whose migrated to Australia are non-Malays.[8]


Malay labourers were brought over to Australia to work mainly in the copra, sugarcane, pearl diving and trepang industries. In the case of Cocos Islands, the Malays were first brought as slaves under Alexander Hare in 1826, but were then employed as coconut harvesters for copra. Possibly the first Malay immigrant to Australia was a 22-year-old convict named Ajoup who arrived in Sydney on 11 January 1837. Ajoup, described as 'of the Malay faith', had been sentenced in Cape Town, South Africa, to 14 years transportation to New South Wales. He received his ticket of leave—that is, his freedom—in the colony in 1843.

The 1871 colonial census records that 149 Malays were working in Australia as pearl divers in northern and western Australia, labourers in South Australia's mines, and on Queensland's sugar plantations. At Federation in 1901, there were 932 Malay pearl divers in Australia, increasing to 1860 by 1921.[9]:111 In Western Australia and the Northern Territory, Malay pearl divers were recruited through an agreement with the Dutch. By 1875, there were 1800 Malay pearl divers working in Western Australia alone. Most of them returned home when their contracts expired. The Immigration Restriction Act 1901 severely curtailed this community's growth.

Number of permanent settlers arriving in Australia from Malaysia since 1991 (monthly)

From the 1950s onwards Malaysians came to Australia to study under the Colombo Plan, with many choosing to stay in Australia after graduation. Their numbers increased following the end of the Immigration Restriction Act in 1973. As Malaysia's affluence increased, more students came to study as self-financed students.[citation needed]

Notable Malaysian Australians[edit]

name Born – Died Notable for Connection with Australia Connection with Malaysia
Che'Nelle[10] 1983– singer lives in Australia born Kota Kinabalu[11]
Eddie Woo 1985– mathematics teacher born in Camperdown, New South Wales Parents migrated from Malaysia
Dr Yvonne Ho AM public speaker, businesswoman, educator, medical specialist, philanthropist first Malaysian-born woman to receive Order of Australia award[12] born in Malaysia
Chandran Kukathas 1957– political theorist, professor and head of Department of Government, London School of Economics studied and taught in Australia from 1970s to 2000s born in Malaysia
Diana Chan 1988– MasterChef Australia winner Living in Australia born in Malaysia
Remy Hii 1986/87- actor lives in Australia of Malaysian descent[13]
Nick Kyrgios 1995– Professional tennis player born in Canberra mother is Malaysian[14]
Kamahl[15] 1934– singer lives in Australia; immigrated 1953 born Kuala Lumpur[16]
Brendan Gan[17] 1988– football (soccer) player lives in Australia of Malaysian descent
Matthew Davies 1995– football (soccer) player lives in Australia of Malaysian descent
Adam Liaw[18] 1978– lawyer, author and television chef lives in Australia; immigrated 1980 born in Penang[19]
Cheong Liew[20] chef lives in Australia; immigrated 1969 born Kuala Lumpur[20]
Chong Lim[21] musician, music director lives in Australia born Ipoh[22]
Omar Musa[23] 1984– author, poet and rapper born in Queanbeyan of Malaysian descent[24]
Guy Sebastian[25] 1981– singer lives in Australia; immigrated as child born Klang[26]
Pria Viswalingam[27] 1962– documentary and film maker works in Australia born Malaysia
James Wan[28] 1977– film director, screenwriter and producer brought up in Australia and studied there born Kuching[29]
Penny Wong[30] 1968– politician, leader of the Australian Labor Party in the Senate, former Finance Minister lives in Australia; immigrated 1977[31] born Kota Kinabalu[32]
Poh Ling Yeow[33] 1973– artist and television chef moved to Adelaide in 1982 born and raised in Kuala Lumpur[34]
Geraldine Viswanathan 1995– Actress Born in Australia Father is Malaysian

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Australian Bureau of Statistics
  2. ^ "2016 Census Community Profiles". Australian Bureau of Statistics. Retrieved 23 October 2017.
  3. ^ a b ABS Census – ethnicity[dead link]
  4. ^ Simone Dennis (2008). Christmas Island: An Anthropological Study. Cambria Press. p. 91. ISBN 9781604975109.
  5. ^ a b c d e "2914.0.55.002 2006 Census Ethnic Media Package" (Excel download). Census Dictionary, 2006 ( 2901.0). Australian Bureau of Statistics. 27 June 2007.
  6. ^ "Island induction – Christmas Island District High School". Archived from the original on 3 August 2017. Retrieved 9 May 2017.
  7. ^ "20680-Ancestry (full classification list) by Sex – Australia". 2006 Census. Australian Bureau of Statistics. Archived from the original (Microsoft Excel download) on 8 September 2013. Retrieved 19 May 2008.
  8. ^ "3416.0 – Perspectives on Migrants, 2007: Birthplace and Religion". Australian Bureau of Statistics. 25 February 2008. Archived from the original on 2 March 2008.
  9. ^ Percival Wood, Sally (2015). Dee, Moreen (ed.). 60 Years Australia and Malaysia (PDF). Commonwealth of Australia. ISBN 9781743222782. Archived (PDF) from the original on 5 March 2020. Retrieved 5 March 2020.
  10. ^ Air Bourne (13 February 2010). "Malaysian-born singer Che'Nelle is back with her second disk, "Feel Good"". The Bajan Reporter. Retrieved 2 March 2010.
  11. ^ Chandran, Sheela (25 July 2007). "Virgin deal for Malaysian-born singer Che'nelle". Archived from the original on 12 October 2007. Retrieved 27 September 2010.
  12. ^
  13. ^ Knox, David (23 July 2013). "Raw emotion the key for Remy Hii". Retrieved 20 May 2016.
  14. ^ LEO SCHLINK (1 July 2014). "Rod Laver says Nick Kyrgios can put pressure on Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon tonight". NEWS CORP AUSTRALIA. Retrieved 2 July 2014.
  15. ^ "Talking Heads – Kamahl". Archived from the original on 22 May 2006. Retrieved 5 June 2007.
  16. ^ Street, Andrew P. "Kamahl – interview". Archived from the original on 23 September 2010. Retrieved 27 September 2010.
  17. ^ "Gan the face of new Sydney". 10 January 2009. Retrieved 26 September 2010.
  18. ^ Idato, Michael (26 May 2010). "Network counts its takings as a cooking king is crowned". Retrieved 6 November 2013.
  19. ^ Aedy, Richard (4 April 2011). "Masterchef: Adam Liaw (audio interview)". Masterchef: Adam Liaw. Retrieved 6 November 2013.
  20. ^ a b "Master Chef Cheong Liew Senses Hilton Kuala Lumpur". 6 May 2010. Retrieved 26 September 2010.
  21. ^ "Chong Lim". Retrieved 26 September 2010.
  22. ^ D'Cruz, Neville (7 May 2006). "New Aussie Honour For Malaysian-born Singer". Archived from the original on 27 June 2010. Retrieved 27 September 2010.
  23. ^ "Omar Musa, Australia's star slam poet, brings 'in-betweener' perspective to US". The Guardian. 17 February 2016.
  24. ^ "Omar Musa". Penguin Books.
  25. ^ Cheah, Jason (22 December 2003). "Nice guys do win". Archived from the original on 10 February 2009. Retrieved 26 September 2010.
  26. ^ "M'sian-born Idol Guy Sebastian to wed girlfriend". 8 January 2008. Archived from the original on 22 June 2011. Retrieved 27 September 2010.
  27. ^ "Pria Viswalingam". Archived from the original on 23 August 2006. Retrieved 26 September 2010.
  28. ^ "James Wan Bio". Retrieved 26 September 2010.
  29. ^ Johan, Rizal (26 March 2008). "Mortal enemy". Archived from the original on 6 April 2012. Retrieved 27 September 2010.
  30. ^ "Profile". Asian Currents: The Asian Studies Association of Australia's e-bulletin. Asian Studies Association of Australia. August 2004. Archived from the original on 1 October 2004. Retrieved 3 December 2007.
  31. ^ Atkinson, Meera (26 August 2008). "Penny Wong: climate change and compassion". Archived from the original on 27 February 2011. Retrieved 27 September 2010.
  32. ^ Maher, Sid. "Penny Wong". Archived from the original on 11 August 2010. Retrieved 27 September 2010.
  33. ^ Davies, Nathan (11 July 2009). "Poh dishes up her MasterChef secret". Archived from the original on 13 July 2009. Retrieved 18 July 2009.
  34. ^ Thompson, Peter (20 September 2010). "Poh-Ling Yeow". Poh-Ling Yeow. Retrieved 27 September 2010.

Further reading[edit]

  • Cleland, Bilal. The Muslims in Australia: A Brief History. Melbourne: Islamic Council of Victoria, 2002.
  • JPS Bach, 'The pearlshelling industry and the "White Australia" policy', Historical Studies, Australia and New Zealand, vol. 10, no. 38, May 1962, pp. 203–213
  • Bilal Cleland, Muslims in Australia: A Brief History,
  • Nahid Kabir, Muslims in Australia: Immigration, Race Relations, and Cultural History, Kegan Paul, London, 2004
  • Nahid Kabir, 'Muslims in Western Australia, 1870–1970', Journal of the Royal Western Australian Historical Society, vol. 12, part 5, 2005, pp. 550–565
  • L Manderson, 'Malays' in James Jupp (ed.), The Australian People, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1988, pp. 691–93
  • Daniel Oakman, Facing Asia: A History of the Colombo Plan, Pandanus Press, Canberra, 2004
  • Gwenda Tavan, The Long, Slow Death of White Australia, Scribe, Melbourne 2005

External links[edit]