Feature Article - 100 years of diversity in Tasmania
Contributed by Hilary Lovibond Johnston
It is widely recognised, both within this country and internationally, that contemporary Australia has one of the most ethnically heterogeneous populations in the world today. Tasmania, however, is sometimes regarded as being the exception to this phenomenon, the state in which the population is ethnically and culturally homogeneous. While this state today receives only a small proportion (less than 0.01%) of the annual migrant intake, it is far from true to say that Tasmanian society is not culturally diverse. Indeed, it may be said that Tasmania’s population has been characterised by cultural diversity for the last 100 years.
In 1900, persons born in more than 32 countries were resident in Tasmania1, comprising 14.2% of the total population. Nearly one hundred years later, at the 1996 Census, persons born in more than 140 countries were resident in Tasmania2, making up 10.2% of the state’s total population. These figures cannot be compared directly, however, as the categories used for the enumeration of the birthplace groups are different. Furthermore, the figures for 1900 are somewhat misleading in today’s terms. More than 90.0% of those born in countries other than Australia were born within the British Empire, and as such would have been largely indistinguishable from the Australian-born of the day.
Tasmania’s trend towards increasing diversity is consistent with national and global patterns of greater mobility. It also reflects the impact of Australia’s post-war immigration program, one of the largest and most protracted planned migration intakes in modern history. Numerous migrants have come to Tasmania in the post-war years and thereafter, joining the Australian-born and the Aboriginal community. A number of sizeable communities have been established, notable among them the Italian, German, Polish, Dutch, Chilean and Greek communities.
In the early years of the post-war migration program, significant numbers of ‘displaced persons’ from the Baltic States and the Ukraine also arrived in Tasmania, many of them joining Italians and Poles working on hydro-electric schemes as a condition of their entry. More recently, communities originating from countries as diverse as Vietnam, Laos (the Hmong), El Salvador, Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Sudan and Somalia have been established in Tasmania, largely composed of those coming to Australia as refugees or humanitarian entrants. Other birthplace groups of significant size in Tasmania include the English-, Scottish- and New Zealand-born.
1 Figures drawn from Statistics of the Colony of Tasmania for the Year 1900, Government Printer, Tasmania, 1901.
2 Figures drawn from ABS unpublished statistics, 1996 Census of Population and Housing.