Multicultural Queensland

People from around the world have influenced Queensland’s economic and cultural development since the earliest days of the colony, whether as migrants, tourists, visiting workers or students.

Overseas migration has been the largest component of Queensland’s growth since 2006. In the year to June 2009, over 36,000 overseas migrants arrived in Queensland on a permanent basis; more than half of these were skilled migrants and most were from the United Kingdom. This reflects an ongoing trend in migration to Queensland, which has always been dominated by British newcomers. However, Queensland also owes much to the skills of many other diverse groups who have made Queensland home.

A Diverse Workforce

Early British settlers had difficulty coping with labouring work in tropical conditions so throughout the 1800s people were drawn from elsewhere to develop the colony’s key industries, such as sugar and mining. Indentured labourers from China and the South Sea Islands were among the first to assist in Queensland’s development. Afghani camel drivers were brought to Queensland with their animals to help transport goods across the hostile deserts.

Italian and German migrants made up the majority of a considerable European community that developed across Queensland – some attracted to the goldfields in the 1870s, some escaping difficult economic conditions in the hope of a better life. These Europeans, too, worked mainly in labouring, with many eventually becoming land or small business owners. Queensland in the late 1800s was a large under-populated colony and without the aid of these workers had limited opportunities for economic expansion.

Shifting Migration Restrictions

After Federation in 1901, conservative immigration policies across Australia restricted the arrival of migrants who were not considered able to assimilate. During this period, many of the Asian and South Sea Islander workers were deported and enticements offered to newcomers from Britain, Ireland and Western Europe. For the first half of the Twentieth century Queensland’s growth was based mainly around these ‘white’ migrants.

From the 1950s, as the post-war economy in Europe improved, fewer European migrants arrived and Australia was forced to drop some of its restrictive immigration policies. Additionally, throughout the 60s and 70s, worldwide changes saw Australia become more reliant on regional neighbours in the Asia-Pacific for economic and defensive alliances, as well as stepping up to join other nations in accepting refugees. As universities grew, so did the possibilities for student exchange and, importantly, Queensland recognised the importance of its sunny lifestyle as a drawcard to tourists.

International Tourists

The very wealthy had always travelled for relaxation and exploration of new places, but for the majority the notion of free time was uncommon in the early days of establishing the colony. Most travel was undertaken for work or family reasons. Leisure travel for the masses opened up alongside the creation of a middle class and developments in transport in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Significant turning points in Queensland included the new coast road from Brisbane to Southport in 1925, and the amalgamation of the Queensland Railways Department with the fledgling Queensland Government Tourist Bureau to provide a single publicity and travel booking organisation (1929).

The expansion of rail and air travel was impeded by the two World Wars, but by 1958, Queensland’s QANTAS airline was offering round-the-world travel. Hotels and guest houses sprang up, particularly along the coast, as international visitors began to include Queensland on their itineraries. Interstate visitors travelled north to escape cold winters, whilst Queensland locals were also enjoying regular trips to the seaside or the mountains, developing the areas that would later become major tourist destinations like the Great Barrier Reef and Fraser Island.

The highly successful hosting of the World Expo in 1988 is often cited as Queensland’s ‘coming of age’ moment in terms of visitors. Expo attracted over18 million visitors to pavilions showcasing some 36 nations, and coincided with a major redevelopment of Brisbane airport. It functioned as entertainment, publicity and cultural exchange. It was followed by Tourism Queensland’s legendary ‘Beautiful one day, perfect the next’ advertising campaign, securing tourism as Queensland’s leading tertiary industry.

21st Century Diversity

As the 20th century came to a close, Queensland was a thriving, multicultural state committed to advancing a diverse population. Though this was by no means the end of discrimination and intolerance, government policy was no longer based on assimilation. Rather there is a focus on encouraging and supporting the steady influx of international and interstate workers and tourists who provide cultural enrichment and make a substantial contribution to the state’s economy.

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