Post-war immigration to Australia

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Mr Arthur Calwell with the Kalnins family - the 50,000th New Australian- August 1949
In 1954 the 50,000th Dutch migrant arrived; Maria Scholte is to the right of the picture

Post-war immigration to Australia deals with migration to Australia since the end of World War 2. In the immediate aftermath of World War 2, Ben Chifley, Prime Minister of Australia (1945-1949), established the federal Department of Immigration to administer a large-scale immigration program. Chifley commissioned a report on the subject which found that Australia was in urgent need of a larger population for the purposes of defence and development and it recommended a 1% annual increase in population through increased immigration.[1]

The first Minister for Immigration, Arthur Calwell, promoted mass immigration with the slogan "populate or perish".[2] Calwell coined the term "New Australians" in an effort to supplant such terms as pommy (Englishman) and wog.

The 1% target remained a part of government policy until the Whitlam Government (1972-1975), when immigration numbers were substantially cut back, only to be progressively restored by the Fraser Government (1975-1982).[1]

Some 4.2 million immigrants arrived between 1945 and 1985, about 40 per cent of whom came from Britain and Ireland.[3] By 2007, some 6.5 million people have migrated to Australia since 1945.[4] This total comprises 3.35 million males and 3.15 million females. This represents a significant proportion of the overall population increase experienced by Australia in that time, having gone from 7 million in 1945 to the present total of over 23 million.[4] 182,159 people were sponsored by the International Refugee Organisation (IRO) from the end of World War II up to the end of 1954 to resettle in Australia from Europe—more than the number of convicts transported to Australia in the first 80 years after European settlement.[5]

"Populate or perish" policy[edit]

The Chifley years[edit]

Australian Government poster displayed between 1949 and 1951 in reception rooms and dining halls at various migrant reception centres in Australia. (Image courtesy of the NAA).

Following the attacks on Darwin and the associated fear of Imperial Japanese invasion in World War II, the Chifley Government commissioned a report on the subject which found that Australia was in urgent need of a larger population for the purposes of defence and development and it recommended a 1% annual increase in population through increased immigration.[1] In 1945, the government established the federal Department of Immigration to administer the new immigration program. The first Minister for Immigration was Arthur Calwell. An Assisted Passage Migration Scheme was also established in 1945 to encourage Britons to migrate to Australia. The government's objective was summarised in the slogan "populate or perish". Calwell stated in 1947, to critics of mass immigration from non-British Europe: "We have 25 years at most to populate this country before the yellow races are down on us."

The post-war immigration program of the Chifley Government gave preference to migrants from Great Britain, and initially an ambitious target was set of nine British out of ten immigrants.[1] However, it was soon apparent that even with assisted passage the government target would be impossible to achieve given that Britain's shipping capacity was quite diminished from pre-war levels. As a consequence, Calwell looked further afield to maintain overall immigration numbers, and this meant relying on the IRO refugees from Eastern Europe, with the USA providing the necessary shipping.[1] Many Eastern Europeans were refugees from the Red Army and thus mostly anti-Communist and so politically acceptable.

Menzies years[edit]

The 1% target survived a change of government in 1949, when the Menzies Government succeeded Chifley's. The new Minister of Immigration was Harold Holt (1949-56).

The British component remained the largest component of the migrant intake until 1953.[1] Between 1953 and late 1956, migrants from Southern Europe outnumbered the British, and this caused some alarm in the Australian government, causing it to place restrictions on Southern Europeans sponsoring newcomers and to commence the "Bring out a Briton" campaign. With the increase in financial assistance to British settlers provided during the 1960s, the British component was able to return to the top position in the overall number of new settlers.[6]

Hundreds of thousands of displaced Europeans migrated to Australia and over 1,000,000 Britons immigrated with financial assistance.[7] The migration assistance scheme initially targeted citizens of Commonwealth countries; but it was gradually extended to other countries such as the Netherlands and Italy. The qualifications were straightforward: migrants needed to be in sound health and under the age of 45 years. There were initially no skill requirements, although under the White Australia policy, people from mixed-race backgrounds found it very difficult to take advantage of the scheme.[8]

Migration brought large numbers of southern and central Europeans to Australia for the first time. A 1958 government leaflet assured voters that unskilled non-British migrants were needed for "labour on rugged projects which is not generally acceptable to Australians or British workers."[9] The Australian economy stood in sharp contrast to war-ravaged Europe, and newly arrived migrants found employment in a booming manufacturing industry and government assisted programmes such as the Snowy Mountains Scheme. This hydroelectricity and irrigation complex in south-east Australia consisted of sixteen major dams and seven power stations constructed between 1949 and 1974. It remains the largest engineering project undertaken in Australia. Necessitating the employment of 100,000 people from over 30 countries, to many it denotes the birth of multicultural Australia.[10]

In 1955 the one-millionth post-war immigrant arrived in Australia. Australia's population reached 10 million in 1959, up from 7 million in 1945.

End to the White Australia policy[edit]

In 1972, Whitlam Government (1972-1975) adopted a completely non-discriminatory immigration policy, effectively putting an end to the White Australia policy. However, the change occurred in the context of a substantial reduction in the overall migrant intake. During the Fraser Government (1975-1982) there was a final end to the White Australia policy but there was an increasing intake of Vietnamese refugees in the aftermath of the end of the Vietnam War, and Australia experienced the largest intake of Asian immigrants since the arrival of the Chinese gold miners during the gold rush of the 1850s and 60s. In 1983, the level of British immigration was below the level of Asian immigration for the first time in Australian history.[1]

International agreements[edit]

Financial assistance was an important element of the post war immigration program and as such there were a number of agreements in place between the Australian government and various governments and international organisations.[11]


Period Events
1947 Australia's first migrant reception centre opened at Bonegilla, Victoria - the first assistant migrants were received there in 1951.[13]
1948 Australia signed Peace treaties with Italy, Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary and accepted immigrants from these countries.[2]
1949 In 1949 assisted arrivals reached more than 118,800, four times the 1948 figure[2]

In August Australia welcomed its 50,000th "New Australian" — or rather, the 50,000th displaced person sponsored by the IRO and to be resettled in Australia. The child was from Riga, Latvia.[12][14]

Work began on the Snowy Mountains Scheme - a substantial employer of migrants: 100,000 people were employed from at least 30 different nationalities. Seventy percent of all the workers were migrants.[15]

1950 Net Overseas Migration was 153,685, the third highest figure of the twentieth century.[2][16]
1951 The first assisted migrants received at the Bonegilla Migrant Reception and Training Centre.[13] By 1951, the government had established three migrant reception centres for non-English speaking displaced persons from Europe, and twenty holding centres, principally to house non-working dependants, when the pressure of arrival numbers on the reception centres was too great to keep families together.[13]
1952 The IRO was abolished and from then most refugees who resettled in Australia during the 1950s were brought here under the auspices of the Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration (ICEM).[12]
1954 The 50,000th Dutch migrant arrived.[17]
1955 Australia’s millionth post-war immigrant arrived.[2] She was a 21-year-old from England and newly married.[18][19]
1971 Migrant camp at Bonegilla, Victoria closed - some 300,000 migrants had spent time there.[13]

Settler arrivals by top 10 countries of birth[edit]

Birthplace No. of arrivals
July 1949 - June 2000[20]
July 1949 - June 1959[21] July 1959 - June 1970[22] July 1970 - June 1980
1 United Kingdom & Ireland 1,787,449(31.6%) 419,946 (33.5%) 654,640 (45.3%) 342,373 (35.8%)
2 Italy 390,810 (6.9%) 201,428 (16.1%) 150,669 (10.4%) 28,800 (3.0%)
3 New Zealand 371,683 (6.6%) 29,649 (2.4%) 30,341 (2.1%) 58,163 (6.1%)
4 Germany 255,930 (4.5%) 162,756 (13.0%) 50,452 (3.5%) not in top 10
5 Greece 220,603 (3.9%) 55,326 (4.4%) 124,324 (8.6%) 30,907 (3.2%)
6 Yugoslavia
(Yugoslavia recorded until 1994 –95 inclusive)
206,554 (3.7%) not in top 10 94,555 (6.5%) 61,283 (6.4%)
7 Vietnam 170,990 (3.0%) not in top 10 not in top 10 30,633 (3.2%)
8 Netherlands 161,298 (2.9%) 100,970 (8.1%) 36,533 (2.5%) not in top 10
9 Hong Kong 108,181 (1.9%) not in top 10 not in top 10 not in top 10
10 Philippines 103,310 (1.8%) not in top 10 not in top 10 not in top 10
Malta not in top 10 38,113 (3.0%) 28,916 (2.0%) not in top 10
Austria not in top 10 33,730 (2.7%) not in top 10 not in top 10
USA not in top 10 16,982 (1.4%) 20,467 (1.4%) 27,769 (2.9%)
Egypt not in top 10 13,430 (1.1%) not in top 10 not in top 10
Spain not in top 10 not in top 10 17,611 (1.2%) not in top 10
Lebanon not in top 10 not in top 10 not in top 10 32,207 (3.4%)
Turkey not in top 10 not in top 10 not in top 10 18,444 (1.9%)
India not in top 10 not in top 10 not in top 10 17,910 (1.9%)
Top Ten Total 3,770,348 (66.8%) 1,072,330 (85.6%) 1,208,508 (83.6%) 648,489 (67.8%)
Other 1,870,290 (33.2%) 180,753 (14.4%) 236,848 (16.4%) 308,280 (32.2%)
Total Settler Arrivals 5,640,638 (100.0%) 1,253,083 1,445,356 956,769

Migrant reception and training centres[edit]

On arrival in Australia, many migrants went to migrant reception and training centres where they learned some English while they looked for a job. The Department of Immigration was responsible for the camps and kept records on camp administration and residents.[23] The migrant reception and training centres were also known as Commonwealth Immigration Camps, migrant hostels, immigration dependants' holding centres, migrant accommodation, or migrant workers' hostels.[24][25]

Australia's first migrant reception centre opened at Bonegilla, Victoria near Wodonga in December 1947. When the camp closed in 1971, some 300,000 migrants had spent time there.[13]

By 1951, the government had established three migrant reception centres for non-English speaking displaced persons from Europe, and twenty holding centres, principally to house non-working dependants, when the pressure of arrival numbers on the reception centres was too great to keep families together.[13] The purpose of reception and training centres was to:

provide for general medical examination and x-ray of migrants, issue of necessary clothing, payment of social service benefits, interview to determine employment potential, instruction in English and the Australian way of life generally.[13]

The centres were located throughout Australia: (dates are those of post office opening and closing [26])


New South Wales[edit]

Other hostels in New South Wales included Adamstown, Balgownie, Bankstown, Berkeley, Bunnerong, Burwood, Cabramatta, Cronulla, Dundas, East Hills, Ermington, Goulburn, Katoomba, Kingsgrove, Kyeemagh, Leeton, Lithgow, Mascot, Matraville, Mayfield, Meadowbank, Nelson Bay, North Head, Orange, Parkes, Port Stephens, Randwick, St Marys, Scheyville, Schofields, Unanderra, Villawood, Wallerawang and Wallgrove.[25]


  • Bonegilla (December 1947 to 17 March 1971)
  • Benalla (9 June 1949 to 30 May 1952)
  • Mildura (1950 to 17 July 1953)
  • Rushworth (1 June 1949 to 15 June 1953)
  • Sale West (1950 to 30 November 1953)
  • Somers (18 August 1949 to 14 February 1957)
  • Fishermen's Bend, Victoria 1952.

South Australia[edit]

Western Australia[edit]

Breakdown of arrivals by decade[edit]

Since 1950 Australia has experienced average arrivals of around one million per decade, with the totals in the earlier decades being slightly above the totals in the more recent decades. Current statistics suggest that one million will be reached again in the current decade.[4] The breakdown by decade is as follows:

  • 1.6 million between October 1945 and 30 June 1960;
  • about 1.3 million in the 1960s;
  • about 960.000 in the 1970s;
  • about 1.1 million in the 1980s; and
  • over 900,000 in the 1990s.[4]

The highest number of arrivals in any one year since World War II was 185,099 in 1969-70 and the lowest was 52,752 in 1975-76.[4]

Demography as at 2006 for non-English speaking ethnic groups[edit]

In the 2006 census, birthplace was enumerated as was date of arrival in Australia for those not born in Australia. For the major immigrant groups enlarged by the arrival of immigrants to Australia after World War II, they are still major demographic groups in Australia:

Ethnic group Persons born overseas[29] Arrived 1979 or earlier[29] Aged 60 years and over[29]

This compares with 18% of Australian residents
who were aged 60 or over at the time of the census

Australian citizens[29]
Italian Australian 199,124 176,536 or 89% 63% 157,209 or 79%
Greek Australian 109,990 94,766 or 86% 60% 104,950 or 95%
German Australian 106,524 74,128 or 79% 46% 75,623 or 71%
Dutch Australian 78,924 62,495 or 79% 52% 59,502 or 75%
Croatian Australian 50,996 35,598 or 70% 43% 48,271 or 95%

Not all of those enumerated would have arrived as post-war migrants, specific statistics as at 2006 are not available.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Price, CA (September 1998). "POST-WAR IMMIGRATION: 1945-1998". Journal of the Australian Population Association 15 (2): 17 pp. 
  2. ^ a b c d e "Immigration to Australia During the 20th Century – Historical Impacts on Immigration Intake, Population Size and Population Composition – A Timeline" (pdf of 7 pages). Department of Immigration and Citizenship (Australia). 2001. Retrieved 2008-07-18. 
  3. ^ Jan Bassett (1986) pp. 138–39
  4. ^ a b c d e "Fact Sheet 2 - Key Facts in Immigration". Department of Immigration and Citizenship (Australia). 2008. Retrieved 2008-07-21. 
  5. ^ Tündern-Smith, Ann (2008-05-23). "What is the Fifth Fleet?". Fifth Fleet Press. Retrieved 2008-07-21. 
  6. ^ "Look at Life - Immigration to Australia 1950s 1960s" on YouTube
  7. ^ "Ten Pound Poms". ABC Television (Australia). 1 November 2007. 
  8. ^ "Ten Pound Poms". Museum Victoria. 10 May 2009. 
  9. ^ cited in Michael Dugan and Josef Swarc (1984) p. 139
  10. ^ "The Snowy Mountains Scheme". 20 March 2008. Retrieved 14 July 2011. 
  11. ^ a b c d e f g "Fact Sheet 4 - More than 60 Years of Post-war Migration". Department of Immigration and Citizenship (Australia). 2007. Retrieved 2008-07-18. 
  12. ^ a b c Neumann, Klaus (2003). "Providing a ‘home for the oppressed’? Historical perspectives on Australian responses to refugees". Australian Journal of Human Rights (Australian Human Rights Centre: Faculty of Law at the University of New South Wales) 9 (2). ISSN 1323-238X. Retrieved 2008-07-19. 
  13. ^ a b c d e f g "Bonegilla Migrant Centre - Camp Block 19". Australian Heritage list. Aussie Heritage. 2007. Retrieved 2008-07-20. 
  14. ^ "Photograph of Mr Arthur Calwell with the Kalnins family - the 50,000th New Australian - CU914/1 (1949)". National Archives of Australia. Retrieved 2008-07-20. 
  15. ^ "The Snowy Mountains Scheme". Culture and recreation portal. Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (Australia). 2008. Retrieved 2008-07-20. 
  16. ^ 1950 = Third highest figure per Department of Immigration timeline: In 1919 Net Overseas Migration was 166,303 when troops returned from World War One and in 1988 it was 172,794.
  17. ^ "Photograph of MMigrant Arrivals in Australia - 50,000th Dutch migrant, arrives in Australia aboard the SIBAJAK. Miss Scholte presents Australia's Minister for Immigration, Mr. H. E. Holt, with inscribed Delft plates, which she brought as goodwill gifts from Netherlands Government (1954)". National Archives of Australia. Retrieved 2008-07-20. 
  18. ^ "Marketing Migrants". Horizons (exhibition): The peopling of Australia since 1788. National Museum of Australia. Retrieved 2008-07-21. 
  19. ^ "Their Country's Good". Time. 21 November 1955. Retrieved 2008-07-21. Only in the decade since World War II has Australia, by means of a vast and wisely planned immigration scheme, banished the last vestiges of the emigration stigma. Last week the drums were beating as, with much eclat, bright and chirpy Barbara Porritt stepped ashore at Melbourne. She was Australia's millionth immigrant since 1945. 
  20. ^ "Immigration: Federation to Century's End 1901–2000" (pdf (64 pages)). Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs. October 2001. p. page 25. Retrieved 2008-07-21. 
  21. ^ Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs: Settler arrivals by birthplace data not available prior to 1959. For the period July 1949 to June 1959, Permanent and Long Term Arrivals by Country of Last Residence have been included as a proxy for this data. When interpreting this data for some countries, it should be noted that in the period immediately after World War II, there were large numbers of displaced persons whose country of last residence was not necessarily the same as their birthplace.
  22. ^ Note this period covers 11 years rather than a decade.
  23. ^ a b c d e Migrant accommodation
  24. ^ a b "Migrant Hostels in Australia". Retrieved December 22, 2012. 
  25. ^ a b "Migrant hostels in New South Wales, 1946–78 – Fact sheet 170". Retrieved 2013-05-28. 
  26. ^ Premier Postal History. "Post Office List". Retrieved 2008-04-11. 
  27. ^ Bathurst Migrant Camp at the site
  28. ^ Hostel Stories, a site by the Migration Museum of South Australia
  29. ^ a b c d "2914.0.55.002 2006 Census Ethnic Media Package" (Excel download). Census Dictionary, 2006 ( 2901.0). Australian Bureau of Statistics. 2007-06-27. Retrieved 2008-07-14. 
  30. ^ 3,602,573 Australian residents were aged 60 or over as a proportion of 19,855,288 from : "Cat. No. 2068.0 - 2006 Census Tables: Age (Full Classification List) by sex - Count of persons (excludes overseas visitors)". 2006 Census of Population and Housing Australia (Australia). Australian Bureau of Statistics. 2007-06-27. Retrieved 2008-07-21. 

External links[edit]