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Home to incredibly diverse wildlife and stunning beaches, Australia has come to be a much-desired destination for emigrants all over the world looking to start a new life. Read on as writer Aneya Fernando interviews her family members to reflect upon the past history and present issues of Sri Lankan immigration to Australia.
Text by: Aneya Fernando      Country: Australia

veryone knows that Australia’s first and most famous immigrants were convicted felons from Great Britain, whose prisons were overflowing with criminals in the late 1700s. Australia, with its harsh climate and seemingly never-ending desert, appeared to be the perfect, isolated place to dump Britain’s low life convicts for good.

In 1851, not long after the colonization and settlement by the British, the discovery of gold in Australia sparked a new wave of immigrants from Europe, North America, and China. There was resistance to the Chinese immigrants (and visible minorities altogether), which created the White Australia Policy: all non-Europeans were excluded from entering the country. This policy was implemented from the 1890s to the 1950s, and some elements of the policy survived well into the 1970s.

However, after World War Two, Australia realized that it lacked a large population of soldiers and civilians, and therefore actively sought immigrants, mostly from Europe. After the abolition of the White Australia Policy by Prime Minister Gough Whitlam in 1973, the gates opened and immigrants from all over Asia – including India and Sri Lanka – arrived in the Promised Land that was Australia.

In the mid 1970s there was a huge increase in Sri Lankan immigration to Australia, partly due to the new Racial Discrimination Act, which made racially based selection criteria illegal. There are three Sri Lankan ethnic groups who immigrated to Australia during this period: Sinhalese, Tamil and Burgher. Sri Lankans immigrated to find a better life, to get an education, and later, to get away from the tumultuous civil war in their homeland, which began in the 1980s and continued for more than 25 years. Because of the conflict taking place in Sri Lanka, there was extreme tension between Sinhalese and Tamil communities in the 1980s within Australia, both groups blaming each other for the genocide happening in their motherland. Thankfully, the civil war has finally ended, and Sri Lankans all over the world can now live in peace, knowing their families are safe back home.

Sri Lankans are now the 16th largest ethnic group in Australia, with the city of Melbourne containing just under half of the population. Elsewhere, Sri Lankans are scattered around New South Wales and Victoria.

Sri Lankans have settled into Australia quite well, due to their proficiency in English and prominence in professional life. Terrence Fernando, 71, has lived in Cherry Brooke (just outside of Sydney) for over 23 years. He loves his life as a retired electrical engineer (and part-time magician) and says Australia has been kind to him: “It’s a fantastic place to live.”

Fernando is a Sinhalese Sri Lankan who lived in London for nine years prior to moving to Australia with his wife and daughter. “My family had a good holiday in Australia in 1985, so two years later I decided to come back and look for work. I was offered a contract job with the government [the Railway] and then in 1988 we moved here.” I asked Fernando why he chose Australia, and he rattled off a list of reasons why it is a perfect place to live: “Good weather, education system, living conditions and a great welfare system, just to name a few.”

There are other, newer immigrants who have similar tales of leaving Sri Lanka to find a better life abroad. Sahan Rajapakse, 30, left Sri Lanka in 2004 because of “the uncertainty of the future and the injustice and corrupt society in Sri Lanka.” He now works as a fraud analyst in Sydney. He says he was welcomed warmly into society in Sydney and is happy to call the city home. Rajapakse thinks that Australia is so appealing to many Sri Lankans because it gives new immigrants “the ability to have a secured, comfortable life, with equal rights for everyone.”

Sahan’s little sister Amesha, 27, followed her brother to Australia in 2009 and is currently a university student. She says she left Sri Lanka for a better future, and was treated very well from the beginning of her stay. Rajapakse cautions that, “the government is going to restrict new immigrants in the future,” and is happy she got in when she did.

When asked if he ever felt there was a racial prejudice against him, Fernando says he didn’t overtly see it but, “it may have happened behind my back.” He also feels that Sri Lankan immigrants are treated well in this day and age, emphasising that overall, Sri Lankans are treated equally. Fernando believes that because many early immigrants were professionals, such as doctors, engineers, and accountants, they were treated with the respect they deserved. Nowadays, the immigrants have changed in that their skills and training are in different areas. So, the treatment of immigrants may vary depending on what they do.

However, it’s easy to see why Australia is so attractive to new immigrants. Especially for people living in South East Asia, there are so many more opportunities in this kangaroo-laden land, and it can be an escape for many immigrants who face a tough life at home or simply wish for something more. Australia’s open immigration policy, top notch education system, and the overall kindness of its people make it a perfect place for new immigrants searching for a better life. And many of them have found it, in the Land Down Under.


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Easy Summary

Australia’s first and most famous immigrants were convicted criminals from Great Britain’s overflowing prisons in the late 1700s.

In 1851 there was resistance to the Chinese immigrants and other visible minorities. The White Australia Policy was created: all non-Europeans were excluded from entering the country.

After World War Two, Australia realized that it was now missing a large population of soldiers and civilians. It began to accept more immigrants, mostly from Europe. In 1973, Prime Minister Gough Whitlam ended the White Australia Policy and immigrants from all over Asia – including India and Sri Lanka – arrived in Australia.

In the mid 1970s there was a huge increase in Sri Lankan immigration to Australia, because of the new Racial Discrimination Act. This Act made racially based selection criteria for immigrants illegal. There are three Sri Lankan ethnic groups who immigrated to Australia during this period: Sinhalese, Tamil and Burgher. Sri Lankans immigrated to find a better life, to get an education, and later, to get away from the civil war in their homeland.

Sri Lankans are now the 16th largest ethnic group in Australia. The city of Melbourne contains just under half of the population.

It’s easy to see why Australia is so attractive to new immigrants: there are so many more opportunities in this land, and it can be an escape for many immigrants who face a tough life at home or simply wish for something more.

 

Comprehension

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From Sri Lanka to Australia

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Grammar in Use

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Elementary. Relative Clauses.

Advanced. Use of Adjectives.

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Inmigration in Australia.

Inmigration Terms.

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