Three generations of Maltese in Australia: A picture through surveys of the population

Three-generations-of-Maltese-in-Australia-Report-coverIn Australia, almost 50 per cent of the population were born overseas or had parents who were born overseas, a percentage which is bound to increase in the coming years. This has enabled this country to increase its population from just over 7 million in the immediate post-war period to 24 million in 2016, an increase of over 300 per cent.  Maltese and their offspring have contributed several hundred thousand to this increase in population.

The history of migration to Australia has been well documented, particularly by Fr Lawrence Attard who has written several volumes relating to migration (see Attard L.[1], Price[2], and others[3]).  Emigration attracted mainly persons from rural background, and from Gozo in particular where there has been a greater loss to migration proportional to the size of its population.  The run-down of the Royal Dockyard provided several qualified technicians who found themselves redundant in Malta, and they also flocked to Australia.  By 1975, the flow of emigration had slowed down, and in fact several migrants returned home, a process described by Attard as a ‘watershed’[4].

Most of the immediate post-war Maltese settlers could find work easily, often related to manual work in mines, wharves, railway works etc. Maltese have always been known for their capacity for hard work and commitment to home and family life. Many succeeded in building a home and settling successfully in the new land. In fact, Maltese constitute some of the highest proportion of settlers who own their own home.

Most of these early migrants are now retirees, and although many of them still live in their homes, others have down-sized and live in smaller houses or in communal living accommodation. A few, and as a last resort, live in homes for the elderly.

When speaking of Maltese-background (or often just ‘Maltese’) persons in Australia, one often assumes that they are a homogenous population who left Malta in the post-war period and who have now aged considerably.  It is, however, relevant to keep in mind three different categories of Maltese-background persons in any discussion relating to the demography, background, achievements, and needs of this varied population. Firstly, there is the now shrinking group of Maltese who were born in Malta and referred to here as the first generation. Secondly there are those who belong to the second generation born in Australia to Malta-born parents. Among these I tend to include those who left Malta with their parents at a very young age so that they had the opportunity to integrate more or less fully within the host society. Thirdly,  there are the members of the  third generation, whose parents were also born overseas, and  who are for all intents and purposes are Australian, with perhaps a hint of Maltese cultural background (minus language).

In this report we look at surveys which cover all three sections of this population, starting with the aged. Several surveys have been conducted over the years to enquire the status of these older Maltese settlers. One of the earliest was that carried out by Lawrence Dimech[5] Their economic condition, their health status, their way of life has been investigated and are summarised in Chapter 2 of the Report.

Today, Maltese in Australia form a different demographic compared to the post-war cohort of Malta-born (first generation) migrants. Their children (the second generation) have retained some of the characteristics of their parents, but are largely distinguished from them by a higher standard of education and social standing.   They have obtained a much richer ‘social capital’ having had the opportunity of a local education, made friends with children of Australian and other nationalities, as well as Maltese, cultivated an accent which is indistinguishable from that of the others (a very important distinguishing feature and factor in one’s ability to integrate within society), and in general consider themselves primarily as ‘Australian’.

The survey carried out on the second generation indicate that this group of Maltese, while totally integrated, still have characteristics that link them to the country of origin of their parents. Community leaders bemoan the fact that they have all but lost their Maltese language, but there is still a significant remnant of culture left in their make-up. These characteristics are seen in the survey results detailed in Chapter 3 of the Report.

Finally, the final survey (Section 4) was carried out to determine several aspects of life in the youngest Maltese of all, those aged from 10 to 18 years. This is in effect an unknown quantity. We know very little about their way of life, their commitment to Maltese culture and related issues.

These surveys were intended to give both quantitative as well as qualitative answers to questions which were perceived important. Quantitative analysis is more statistically reliable but tends to lump together persons with widely different personal and cultural characteristics.  However, such data is relatively easier to collect, often involving filling in of boxes on a questionnaire.  On the other hand, qualitative investigations tend to delve deeper into the questions asked, and therefore can obtain a more individualised picture of the situation. While being much more time consuming, both in obtaining the information as well as in its analysis, it gives information not usually available in the purely quantitative analyses. In this surveys, plenty of opportunity was given to participants to express their own views on issues of interest.

It is hoped that by collecting all these three categories of surveys: the elderly first generation, the second and the third generation, a more holistic view of Maltese in Australia may be obtained.

Click here to download a copy of the surveys report.

References and notes

[1]      Attard Lawrence:  books on migration to Australia include: Early  Maltese Migration, PEG, 1983; The Great Exodus  PEG 1989; The Safety Valve, PEG, 1997; L-Emigrazzjoni Maltija, Malta Kullana Kulturali, 1999; Beyond Our Shores, PEG 2007.

[2]     Price Charles A. Malta and the Maltese: A study in Nineteenth Century Migration.  Georgian House,  1954, Reprinted by Maltese Community Council of Victoria, 1989.

[3]    Other publications about migration to Australia: Cauchi, M.N: Maltese Migrants in Australia MCCV 1990;   York, Barry, Empire and Race: The Maltese in Australia 1881 – 1949, NSW University Press; Agius Albert W.: Maltese Settlement in Australia  The Farsons Foundation, 2001; Agius, Albert W: Maltese Settlement in Australia II, Maltese Literature Group, 2004.

[4]    Later on, in the 1980s, a number of Maltese left the Island to settle in Australia because of the unfavourable political situation.

[5]     Dimech, Lawrence:  Aeeing Maltese – a minefield of need and neglect.  1992; Telqu ghal Ghonq it-Triq.

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1 Response to Three generations of Maltese in Australia: A picture through surveys of the population

  1. Pingback: The Maltese Diaspora: Changing Faces of Malta Abroad | Prof. Maurice N. Cauchi

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