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The Australian People

The population of Australia is some 16 million and predominantly of European descent. Nearly 4 million of these people settled in Australia after World War II with the majority migrating from either Europe, Asia or Oceania. About 1 per cent of the population is Aboriginal.

When the First Fleet arrived in Australia with its cargo of convict settlers it is believed that about 300 000 Aborigines inhabited the land. In the first decade and a half after settlement that figure rapidly declined to 67 000 but it has since recovered to about 161000. Archaeologists believe the Aborigines have roamed the land for some 40 000 t ears but where they came from and how still remains a mystery’. The popular belief is that they came directly from the landmass to the north, when New Guinea was still attached to the Australian mainland.

White Australians first settled on the Australian continent in 1788. From the very beginning a unique national character began to emerge: independent, self-reliant and contemptuous of authority. Although these qualities still remain today, they are less evident in a multicultural society’ that relies predominantly on the cities for its existence.

The eve of the twentieth century was a day all Australians had been waiting for with confidence and tremendous excitement. The first day of January 1901 marked Federation E>ay. when Australia at last became ‘fair dinkum’ about being a nation. The first decade saw a great social change sweep the nation. Women were allowed to vote, worker’s compensation was introduced and Australian citizens systematically tore down the last remnants of Victorianism in an effort to become a classless society. The Australian character has nurtured a passion for liquor eclipsed only by its love of sport. To the world at large the Australian was epitomised as a laconic bushman, even though half of the population lived in cities and the nation progressively becoming one of the most urbanised on earth.

The post-war immigration scheme following World War II was arguably the most eventful and beneficial change of course in Australia since Federation. Although the population had almost doubled over the previous thirty-five years, the promotion of large-scale immigration saw an influx of 3.2 million refugees from war-torn Europe. Continental Europeans made up about 60 per cent of that influx. Today, one

out of every four Australians was born outside of Australia, and native-born Australians of all ages accept that among their neighbours they are likely to count an Italian or Greek, a Yugoslav or German, a Chinese or Vietnamese, or any other of the sixty nationalities that make up the population.

At first, native-born Australians of Anglo-Scots-lrish descent had little understanding of the national characteristics of other people who came to make such a large contribution to Australia.

Many thought they were a drain on the welfare and education resources, took jobs away from native-born Australians and were not as productive in the workforce. Nothing could have been further from the truth. These migrants and their offspring have contributed in all walks of Australian society, from science to sports, and helped enrich the Australian character as we know it today.

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