Waltzing Matilda Test for Aussie migrants
A friend of mine, a quick-witted mechanical engineer, is ahead of his
times. He began saving his head long before this became the vogue among
yuppies here. A few years ago he had to travel on assignment to
When he went for his visa interview, the visa officer spent a long
time checking his application and asked him, "Do you have any criminal
record?" His prompt response was to ask whether that was still a
qualification for entry to Australia. No more questions. He was issued
I was reminded of this on reading the news of a new draft law being
presented to the Aussie parliament for a special test for those seeking
Australian citizenship. They will be tested on knowledge of English, as
well as Aussie history and culture.
Long before this Draft Bill came to the Aussie parliament there were
consultants on Aussie citizenship offering help to would-be migrants to
the Kangaroo Land, on beating this new barrier to their dream life Down
With private tuition being a means to a very lucrative income, there
are a few persons holding special classes, for a princely fee, to train
applicants for migration to Australia to scale this latest hurdle.
I happened to get a seat in one of these classes.
With most of our Burghers migrating to Australia in the mid 50s to
the 70s, the class comprised Sinhalese, Tamils, with a sprinkling of
Malays and Moors. The Tamils felt more at ease because most of them had
family over there, ready to offer them additional distance training via
e-mail on how to face this new test.
The teacher was quick to come to the point. "This class will not
teach you English for Australia, which is a highly specialised subject,
requiring an extra fee. It is very different to English, English. We
will concentrate here on history and culture. One of the questions most
likely to be asked is who were the first settlers in Australia? Can
anyone answer that?"
Several hands went up. The first person to answer said: "The
"I guessed you will say that.
"Now remember not to use the word Aborigines in any of your answers.
You can lose marks."
"Then who were the first settlers?"
"They were those who arrived in 1788, the eleven ships of the First
Fleet that landed their 'cargo' of around 780 British convicts at
Botany Bay in New South Wales. Two more convict fleets arrived in
1790 and 1791.
Make a note of that.
"But weren't these convicts?"
"Yes, they were. But again try to avoid using the word convicts in
your answers. It is better to say that Botany Bay was a Penal Colony."
"Did they all come to Botany Bay?"
"No, no. There was a good spread of the convict population, for
cultural diversity. While the early convicts were all sent to Botany
Bay, by the early 1800s they were also being sent to destinations such
as Norfolk Island, Van Diemen's Land,
Port Macquarie and Moreton Bay."
"Were all these first settlers, men?"
"Good question. Nearly 20 per cent of the first convicts were women.
"The majority of women convicts were sent to the 'female factories',
which were originally profit-making textile factories. You might get a
few more marks if you say the Paramatta Factory grew as an enclave for
pregnant women and also doubled as an orphanage from the 1830s."
"Did all these colourful first settlers come from England?"
"No again. While the vast majority of these early settlers were
English (70%), Irish (24%) or Scottish (5%), this population had
multicultural origins, much to the annoyance of today's white Aussies.
Some convicts had been sent from various British colonies such as India
and Canada. There were also Maoris from New Zealand, Chinese from Hong
Kong and slaves of African origin from the Caribbean."
"What had they been convicted for?"
"Very interesting: Remember it was the heyday of the British Empire.
A large number of soldiers were transported for crimes such as mutiny,
desertion and insubordination. "Most of the others were thieves who had
been convicted in the cities of England. The Irish had been convicted
for rural crimes, such as stealing sheep. 'Transportation' the
fashionable word for this exercise was an integral part of the English
and Irish systems of punishment. Simple larceny, or robbery, could mean
transportation for seven years. Compound larceny - stealing goods worth
more than a shilling (about $50 or Rs. 5,500 in today's money) - meant
death by hanging. With transportation, the English and Irish saved the
cost of imprisoning these people back home or the rope of the hangman.
The men who were sent had usually been before the courts a few times
before being transported, while women were generally transported for a
"When did this system of bringing settlers end?"
"Well the records show that when the last shipment of convicts
disembarked in Western Australia in 1868, the total number of
transported convicts stood at more than 162,000 men and women,
transported on 806 ships."
"Why did it end?"
"The transport of convicts to Australia ended when the population
stood at around one million. By then there were enough people there to
take on the work, and enough people who needed work. The colony could
sustain itself and continue to grow. The convicts had served their
It was time for me to leave the class.
It is a strange beginning for a country now trying to export
democracy to the Middle East and even helping kill the Iraqis to achieve
this. It is also strange why Prime Minister Howard is so worried about
the new boat people from Asia seeking migration to Aussie land. With no
criminal records, they should be able to serve
Australia even better than the original settlers. Anyway, it seems
time to sing "Let's go waltzing Matilda with me."