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Throwback: 1963 photo shows group of Maltese migrants arriving in Australia
A total of 175,563 people live in Australia have Maltese descent.

Emma Galea

The National Archives of Australia has taken to Facebook to share a photo shot back in 1963 showing a group of stylishly clad ladies posing with Malta’s former Minister for Labour and Social Welfare, Dr Cachia Zammit, at an Australian airport.

These ladies had just made it to Australia after a long journey, having decided to leave their life in Malta behind in search of a better one on the other side of the globe.

Dr Cachia Zammit was in Australia on an official state visit where he welcomed the migrants pictured.

Although Australia welcomed thousands and thousands of Maltese immigrants after World War II, it was not always like this.

“Migration from Malta was once heavily restricted because the Maltese were seen as a threat to ‘white Australia’,” the National Archives of Australia wrote. 

In fact, a group of 214 male labour workers that arrived from Malta on the 28th October that year were denied entry. They were referred to as ‘coloured job jumpers’.

The Maltese travellers were sent back home as their Mediterranean skin tones and features were seen as a threat to the northern European-looking Australian population.

The anti-conscription Labour parliamentarians and trade union leaders went out and said that they feared that the Australian workers will now be kicked out of their jobs because of cheap imported labour from Malta.

The Australian Workers’ Union even went as far as to call the Maltese a ‘black menace’.

The Immigration (Restriction) Act set at the time made it legal to deny anyone entry if they failed a spelling test of any of the European languages. As expected, the Maltese labour immigrants failed as this was the main cunning reason why the act was enacted in the first place.

Eventually, said migrants made it to Noumea where they lived in poverty hoping for to be eventually allowed entry into Sydney.

This discriminatory behaviour led to uproar in the country.

Pressure from public groups eventually led them into being allowed in during February 1917. However, even when they arrived, they were held as prisoners for two weeks before being let out for work.

These same Maltese migrants, known by people at the time as ‘Billy Hughes’ children’, went on to build many of the rail extension in New South Wales that are still being used to this day.

All of this changed after the Second World War when Malta became one of the first countries Australia signed an assisted migration agreement with.

Additionally, Maltese people were viewed as heroic after their suffering during World War II which led to better acceptance in Australian communities.

Nowadays, according to the 2016 Australian census, a total of 175,563 people living in Australia have Maltese descent.

Do you have any Maltese relatives that immigrated to Australia?

Facebook/National Archives of Australia

9th August 2022


Emma Galea
Written by
Emma Galea
Emma is a Gozitan writer who loves all things related to English literature and history. When not busy studying or writing you will either find her immersed in a fictional book or at the cinema trying to watch as my films as she possibly can!

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