The Changing Face of Australia

Classic Australian stereotype: Crocodile Dundee
Classic Australian stereotype: Crocodile Dundee

Australia is one of those nations that has a very distinct and world-recognized stereotype of its people. However, the beach-loving rugged blonde who enjoys his beer and barbeque in the company of his fellow mates could not be further from the truth today. Although Australia is originally a land both of Indigenous peoples and European immigrants, this former penal colony is composed of a much more diverse population then one might imagine.

The Australian population is no longer one associated and born from a purely anglo-celtic culture.  According to the Australian Population Census of 2011 taken by the nation’s Bureau of Statistics, 26% of Australians today are born overseas. In addition, the proportion of those who hail from the European continent is declining.[1] In fact, one of the largest minorities in Australia is its Asian population. Of the top 10 countries of birth for the overseas-born population, China, Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia are all represented.[2] Sydney correspondent Nick Bryant of BBC news has noted that Australia “is a country where one in five people- 19% – speak a language other than English in their home. Of these, the most common is Mandarin, yet another reminder of how China specifically, and immigration more generally, is continually changing the character of Australia”.[3]

Asian Australians are the third largest Minority in Australia
Asian Australians are the third largest Minority in Australia

Asian migration to Australia began in earnest during the 1970s, as a direct result of the close proximity of Australia to Asian nations as well as significant world events such as the fall of Saigon in 1975 and the Tiananmen Square massacre for instance in 1989. In addition, the gradual dismantling of racist Australian immigration policy, known unofficially as the “White Australian Policy” which banned Asian populations from migrating to Australia, also allowed an important stream of people to settle in the country. [4] The numbers speak for themselves and are very telling of the significant changes occurring in the composition of the Australian population.  Journalist Tim Colebatch of The Age National, gives very demonstrative statistics about the evolution of Asian-Australians and states that “In 1947, only 0.3 per cent of Australia’s population had been born in Asia. But their numbers have roughly doubled with every decade since, rising to 2.5 per cent of the population by 1981, 5.5 per cent by 2000, and 9 per cent by mid-2010”.[5]

Australia is now more than ever an international melting pot, yet it continues to struggle to portray this new diversity in its representations abroad. Indeed, Australian culture and cinema have for the past few decades been largely pre-occupied with revisiting, recognizing and making peace with its social and political history, especially regarding the treatment of its Indigenous populations. This phenomenon has opened foreigners’ perspective and understanding of Australian society, culture and its inhabitants yet it has not allowed for an up to date and realistic portrayal of Australia today. Scholar Olivia Khoo of the Curtin University of Technology has published several works relating to what she terms as the emerging Asian Australian Cinema. She describes how “the portrayal of Asian Australians on screen” is still “unfamiliar”, despite the prevalence of Asian populations in and part of contemporary Australian society. [6]

An Australian television ad calling for auditions for a show titled "Tales of growing up Asian in Australia"
An Australian television ad calling for auditions for a show titled « Tales of growing up Asian in Australia »

The steady increase of Asian immigrants in Australia also converges with the rising influence and economic boom of nearby Asian States. The term Asian Century, used to describe the perceived dominance of Asian politics and culture in the 21st century, has profound impacts for Australia. Caroline Henshaw of The Wall Street Journal reports how Australia’s “economy has grown dependant on countries like China”[7]. It is no coincidence that Australia’s leading trading partner is in fact the Democratic Republic of China. In an effort to recognize the Asian trend both within Australia and the Pacific region, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard initiated a policy report in 2012 titled “Australia in the Asian Century” that looks at the role that the Nation can play in roles as diverse as the “economy, education, innovation, social cohesion, infrastructure, environmental management, security and diplomacy”[8].

The face and image of Australia and Australians is rapidly changing.  Hopefully with time and initiative the new social realities of this vast nation will be more accurately represented both abroad and in more cultural and professional spheres within Australia itself.

[1] « Reflecting a Nation: Stories from the 2011 Census », Australian Bureau of Statistics,
[2] Ibid.
[3] Brynt, Nick, « The Changing face of the average Aussie », BBC News magazine, 23 April 2013,
[4] Colebatch, Tim, “Asian Migration a tour de force”, The Age National, June 17 2011,
[5] Ibid.
[6] Khoo, Olivia, « Cinemas of Value : multicultural realism in Asian Australian Cinema”, Studies in Australasian Cinema Volume 2 Number 2, 2008
[7] Henshaw, Caroline,”Australia grows more Asian”, The Wall Street Journal, June 21 2012,
[8] Medcalf, Rory, “Australias place in “The Asian Century””, The Diplomat, November 4 2012,

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