Migrants disembarking at Fremantle 1951 Courtesy Battye Library 005090d.
After the Second World War, Australia embarked on its most ambitious immigration scheme. This was to counteract the rapid fall in births during the Depression. There was also a view that after the war, we needed a larger population to defend our shores, with more people also needed to reconstruct the post war economy.
The new immigration policy was implemented when Australia and Britain signed an assisted passage migration scheme in 1947. Similar agreements followed a year later with the governments of Ireland, Italy and the Netherlands.
Australia also signed two agreements with the International Refugee Organisation to take some of the 9 million displaced people in Europe after the war. By 1951, we had received about half a million immigrants, 40 per cent of whom were British, the remainder coming from Malta, the Dutch East Indies, Italy, Greece and other nations. The displaced people, unlike other immigrants had to work in Australia under a two-year contract in jobs as directed by the government authorities.
In WA, many were sent to work on the railway lines in the South West, as well as fruit growing and sandalwood enterprises. When no more refugees were available, Australia turned to eastern European countries for new immigrants. In addition, many thousands came from Hungary after 1956 and some 7000 'White Russians' from China were admitted.
Then agreements were signed with Turkey, Yugoslavia, the United States and Central and South American countries. Following the relaxation of the White Australia policy in 1966, Asian immigrants were allowed entry and from 1966 to 1970 they formed four per cent of all new migrants. In more recent years we have seen family reunion policies and new migrants from Middle Eastern countries as well as settlement of Vietnamese refugees.
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