May 8, 2021

Maori News & Indigenous Views

Maori in Australia: the rise of a trans-national people (Te Ramaroa Marae)

5 min read

Maori in Australia: the rise of a trans-national people

Maori made their way willingly to Sydney to trade, acquire skills and learn new ideas. Many undoubtedly arrived as crew on whaling and trading ships. Theres a Maori Lane in The Rocks in central Sydney which commemorates the Maori whalers who lived there. A significant number of Maori entering Australia may have also been slaves in the Bay of Islands who were fleeing a life of captivity, mirroring the way escaped Australian convicts often made for New Zealand.

After the 1840s and 1850s when Maori were still a notable presence in Australia given the whaling trade, the export of their produce to the Australian colonies, and the presence of a number of them trying their luck on the Australian goldfields the documentary record of Maori in Australia becomes somewhat slight. This is probably because Maori had become less of a novelty in Australia, but also doubtless because of their dwindling population and social dislocation in New Zealand.

But there were Maori in Australia and references to them do pop up. There were apparently groups of Maori living in fishing camps along the shore of the Mornington Peninsula near Melbourne in the latter part of the nineteenth century, and a community of Maori pearl divers in the islands of Torres Strait around the same time. There were also regular theatrical performances by visiting Maori entertainers which greatly appealed to Australian audiences.

One thing worth reflecting on about Maori in Australia because it has echoes to this day is that they were spared the kind of racial vilification reserved for other groups such as the Chinese, and were on the whole much better treated than Aborigines. In fact they were, simply put, the great exception to the White Australia policy.

On the odd occasion an Australian government official tried to deport or withhold entry to a Maori, but it was likely to lead to a diplomatic incident, such as the one that saw an outraged Peter Fraser make a protest in 1948. Maori were expressly given voting rights in Australia in the Commonwealth Franchise Act of 1902 in an effort to allay New Zealand concerns about joining the Federation. Remember that Aborigines werent even counted as citizens until after a 1967 referendum.

One factor cited by some commentators for the Maori acceptance in Australia is the fact that Maori fought side by side with Australians in both world wars, Korea and Vietnam. As can be seen in a photo of Maori soldiers marching alongside Australian diggers on Anzac Day in Sydney in 1937, that was something Australians took seriously. But in reality the acceptance predates that. The Victorian British believed in a descending order of races and the Australian colonists readily placed the supposedly war-like Maori well above their own Aborigines, who were frequently detested.

Throughout the first half of the twentieth century Maori in Australia probably most came to the attention of Australians as soldiers passing through on their way to or from various wars or as visiting Maori rugby teams. In 1909 and 1910 in Sydney and Melbourne the famous Te Arawa guide Maggie Papakura led a large group of Maori entertainers who set up Maori villages for tourists to visit. The success of this venture again highlights the enduring Australian interest in Maori culture.

To illustrate the longstanding presence of Maori in Australia, when Australia finally asked an ancestry question in its national census in 1986, the great majority of Maori aged 65 and over were born in Australia. While were only talking about two or three hundred people in this age group, it does show that there were

So, after urbanization in New Zealand, Maori began to look further a field. Like other New Zealanders they were enticed from the 1950s and 1960s by the bright lights of Sydney and the opportunities Australia offered. At this early time, of course, economic factors werent the key driver for Maori to leave, because New Zealands standard of living was very high. Also, those leaving in the 1960s bucked the trend which had, till a point in that decade, usually always seen New Zealand take more migrants from Australia than vice versa. I suspect some Maori were curious to follow in the footsteps of their fathers who had been around the world at war.

Some may have also been those who had experienced that freedom first hand themselves. Theres a story about how a Maori soldier of the 28th Battalion returning on a ship to New Zealand went out with his mates for a look around the town when it docked in Perth. When he gets back to the ship a Pakeha soldier on the top deck yells out at him You look neat in uniform now but when you get home youll be working for me! Maori soldiers were immensely respected in World War II but some may have felt that respect didnt carry on when the fighting ended.

Many of the first Maori migrants of this new era were entertainers. Popular music was changing and Maori were well positioned to capitalize on it. Talented Maori musicians and singers formed showbands and like their theatrical show forebears attracted good audiences and acclaim. By 1966 it seems there were about 4000 Maori in Australia.

The first major exodus of New Zealanders to Australia, to use that word fashionable in the newspapers, came in the late 1970s. This was the age of carless days, the wage-price freeze and so on. In fact the net permanent and long-term outflow of New Zealanders to Australia of the time, given our lower population back then, makes todays so-called exodus seem somewhat slight in comparison.

At any rate, at this time we knew a fair amount about rates of Maori emigration and return migration because we had an ethnic origin question on our arrival and departure cards. Some Maori didnt like the question, which till 1983 asked people only to record Maori if they were half-caste or more, but others bemoaned its dropping in 1986. Since then its been very hard to keep track of Maori migration patterns.<

As noted though, in 1986 Australia asked an ancestry question in its census. The idea was to see how the composition of Australias population had changed since the removal of ethnic criteria from Australias Immigration Act in 1973 (i.e. the final dismantling of the white Australia policy). The census revealed there to be 26,035 Maori in Australia. But there were some problems with this figure it included Cook Islanders, who were coded together with Maori; of course missed those who evaded the census (New Zealanders are more likely to do that in Australia than most other groups); and also failed to include anyone who wrote Maori third on the form. If you juggle those factors around a bit you still end up with roughly the same number of Maori, or perhaps a few more. Demographer Jeremy Lowe thought 27,000.

The biggest number around 40% – of Maori lived in New South Wales, and particularly Sydney. Theres an enduring stereotype of New Zealanders and Maori in particular congregating in Bondi, and this was certainly true for a while, but as early as the mid-1980s Maori had been effectively forced out by rising rents. In fact a group of Maori who styled themselves the Bondi Maori Self-Help Housing Group got themselves in trouble with the local council in Bondi in 1984 by squatting in a vacant council property near the beach in protest over their housing problems. Most Maori in Sydney today live in the outer western and southwestern suburbs like Blacktown, Mt Druitt, Campbelltown, and so on.

Unfortunately no sooner had the ethnic origin question been dropped from our arrival and departure cards that the Australians gave up on the ancestry question in their census, leaving it out in 1991 and 1996 and not reinstating it until 2001. So, at a time when Maori were obviously leaving New Zealand for Australia in large numbers particularly in the late 1980s as the economic reforms of the day had their impact and into the 1990s as benefit cuts had theirs it was next to impossible to know how many they were.

In the 2001 Australian census the number of Maori had leapt to nearly 73,000. But once more there were real problems with the question. Census respondents were not instructed to limit their responses, and in fact were encouraged to trace their ancestry back to their great-grandparents. Again, what no-one was told was that only the first two ancestries ticked or entered would be counted. This created an inevitable bias towards the mark boxes. Maori were heavily impacted by this because they, like other New Zealanders, tend to have a relatively high multiple ancestry response rate. The Australian census people tried to work out the rate of lost ancestries in the 2001 census and this showed that around 17,500 people entered Maori on the form and it wasnt counted. So there were in fact at least 90,000 Maori in Australia in 2001. several hundred Maori born in Australia in the first couple of decades of the twentieth century.

The 2006 census at last instructed respondents to name only two ancestries. This time the official figure was just under 93,000 Maori. Thats a 27% increase over the 2001 official figure but actually only a 3% increase over the number who we know did enter Maori on the form in 2001. Id actually anticipated a much higher figure in 2006 but I think it really shows that Maori do have multiple ancestries and many people will have squeezed Maori out in their list of choices.

Before I leave these numbers I just want to make one final point. That is that a surprising number of Maori do not enter Maori on the Australian census form at all despite there being no question of their strong sense of Maori identity. The 2006 Te Puni Kokiri Maori in Australia survey I ran asked the 1205 respondents how theyd answer the census ancestry question. No fewer than 14% said theyd only answer as New Zealander or Australian or something else other than Maori. It shows that many people interpret the ancestry question as a nationality one and why wouldnt you when Australian is one of the tick-box options and that for many Maori being overseas means their primary sense of identity is as a New Zealander.

Bearing all this in mind it makes me think that there were probably around 30,000 Maori in Australia in 1986, 100,000 there in 2001, and probably at least 110,000 there in 2006. This means weve had a rise from one in 50 Maori in Australia in 1966, to one in 16 there in 1986, to one in seven there today.

Incidentally the net out-migration of New Zealanders to Australia has ebbed and flowed as the Australian and New Zealand economies have done well relative to each other. There were peaks in around 1979, 1989 and the year 2000 just before Australia tightened access to benefits for New Zealanders at the start of 2001. After all these peaks theres been a drop-off and then steadily building flows again over the years that follow. Right now weve hit another of these peaks but, if history is anything to go by, itll keep peaking for another year or two before it drops back again. The year of arrival figures for survey respondents in the 2006 survey bear these trends out very nicely.

Okay lets leave all these numbers aside and ask the burning question: why have they gone? There are essentially a mixture of push and pull factors at play here Ill look at the pull factors first.

I believe that, fundamentally and like most other New Zealanders, Maori are leaving for Australia for the job opportunities it offers. New Zealand wages are now something like 30% lower than Australian wages and many are enticed by that. We have to remember that New Zealanders have also moved to Australia in large numbers during the last 35 years when there wasnt such a big wage gap and when New Zealands unemployment rate was the lower of the two countries. But Australia offers the prospect of opportunity, in much the same way that Auckland does within New Zealand.

New Zealanders have a reputation for hard work in Australia and Maori are to the fore in maintaining that notion. One man wrote that if youre Maori and turn up at a building site with mud on your boots, youre almost guaranteed a start on the job the next day. The stereotype of the Bondi Beach dole bludger had now all but vanished, although its relation the idea of New Zealanders as job thieves is still alive. Some Australians do see New Zealanders as a threat to their wages and conditions, if not their employment itself. Unions in Australia have remained relatively strong during the 1980s and 1990s and some New Zealanders have been prepared to work longer hours for less pay. The shearing industry is a case in point, and the bitter dispute between Australian and New Zealand shearers over such matters led to some violent clashes that climaxed in about 1983.

Today an occupation thats attracting many Maori is mining, particularly in the so-called resource states of Western Australia and Queensland. The resources boom has driven wages very high and created what some Maori in Kalgoorlie described to me as a blue-collar paradise, because the mines suck up labour and mean other employers have to stump up to compete. There arent just drillers and excavators in the mines of course drivers, mechanics, electricians and other tradespeople are also in big demand.

The mines are certainly not where the majority of Maori are working. Like other Australians the big Maori trend has been a move to booming south-east Queensland. Between 2001 and 2006 the Maori population of the Gold Coast-Tweed Heads statistical district went up a staggering 86% and that of Brisbane up 45% (remembering that the national average rise was 27%). The Sydney Maori population went up only 12%, which in fact probably represents a decrease when you consider those complicating factors such as census instructions and lost ancestries. Sydney, which has always been the focus for the Maori community in Australia and which was the Australian destination of almost all Maori in the early nineteenth century, is now being increasingly passed over for Queensland. Its not surprising given Sydneys traffic and house prices.

Then theres the whanau factor. Grandparents will often go over to be with their mokopuna, for example. In other cases one whanau member will go over and secure a base and siblings, parents, children, aunts, uncles and grandparents will all follow suit until the move of one person can lead to 30, 40 or more Maori relocating to Australia to keep the whanau together.

Another enticement is the lifestyle of Australia the sun, the multiculturalism, the shopping, the range of leisure activities, and the bright lights.

So these are the pull factors. The other side of the story is the push factors the things about New Zealand that make people want to leave. I cant say what proportion of people feel this way, but some themes do come through from the research I conducted for Te Puni Kokiri.

First of all a number of people told me or wrote in their survey comments that theyd come to get away from gangs to get out of that lifestyle themselves or to stop their kids getting into it. As one man put it to me in Sydney, I came to get away from my bad habits. In fact a regular theme was the notion that one can come to Australia to sort yourself out. Drugs were another issue some teenagers get sent to live with whanau in Australia for secondary school to keep them safe from P. I also heard cases of women fleeing domestic violence in New Zealand, and several sad stories where Maori grandparents had taken grandchildren off their daughters in New Zealand because the daughters domestic life was putting the children at risk.

So, for Maori suffering through some of New Zealands worst social statistics, Australia can offer the prospect of security or a new start.

Then there are perceptions of anti-Maori negativity in New Zealand the idea that if you pick up the newspaper therell be some story casting Maori in a bad light. As a man in Canberra told me, People are always thinking “the bloody Maoris”. Many Maori simply find it very nice to go to Australia and to instantly climb the race ladder and see a lot of that negativity being directed at other groups like Asians, Aborigines and, increasingly, the Lebanese. Many people said that, in a city like Sydney, it feels as if everyone is accepted. Also, if you do well in Australia no-one will detract from it and say you must have had a hand-out. I found that many Maori were quite motivated to succeed in Australia to prove a point.

Finally, there are those who want to leave what I might call the Maori environment. By this Im grouping together people who said things like success wasnt celebrated in their whanau and that if one tried to get ahead one was accused of being too Pakeha; or that they resented the notion that ones actions had to benefit the whanau first and foremost before oneself individually. Some said that Maori in New Zealand are often in a rut, with Pakeha seeing no potential in them and Maori themselves not being able to step outside this limiting paradigm.

All in all, there are likely to be a mixture of factors in every individuals decision to leave New Zealand. A lot of people also just go for a holiday and stay on when never having intended to in the first place. I do think the economic reasons are the key, but my conclusion is that if you want to understand why Maori are moving to Australia you have to look at some of those push factors as well.

So thats the story of the growth of the Maori population in Australia and the reasons why people have been moving there to live during the last 30 or 40 years. Theres much more to the story though so let me just note very briefly that Maori in Australia

mostly intend to return to New Zealand to live (thats amongst the New Zealand-born, who are still the large majority);

are fighting an uphill battle to retain knowledge of their culture and language;

suffer a lack of community cohesion arising from the problematic nature of pan-tribal and kaupapa-based (as opposed to whakapapa-based) representation and governance;

lack communally-owned cultural space and face many difficulties, culturally-speaking, when a death occurs; but

report that their finances, employment, housing and social life have all significantly improved since they left New Zealand.

Let me conclude by saying that one in seven Maori now living in Australia gives some pause for thought from a policy perspective.

If the growth in the proportion of Maori living in Australia carries on at the same rate one in three will live there by 2050. Even if it starts to taper off quite a bit it should still be one in four or five. Bear in mind that it doesnt take too many people leaving for it to shoot up because those leaving tend to be in the young adult age bracket and so they have children there not here. In my view, Maori have become a trans-national people, and one should no longer see Maori development solely in terms of the New Zealand nation state, just as Samoan development clearly occurs well beyond Samoa itself. Theres no Pacific-like remittance culture but there is a two-way flow of language, ideas, money and people across the Tasman that is having a profound impact on Maori society.

So I concluded my report with the suggestion that the Government engage more with Maori in Australia through the moderate extension of cultural benefits and support to them in order to help maintain their connection and potentially reap an ongoing benefit to New Zealand. This is much in the same way that all kinds of states around the world engage with their diaporas because they see them as important sources of development money, facilitators for home businesses entering the global market, and vital contributors to the national image abroad.

Simply, Maori are going to be a much more enduring component of the New Zealand diaspora, because while second-generation Pakeha in Australia have become white Australians, Australian-born Maori are remaining strongly linked to New Zealand in identity and outlook. And I think thats something Maori in New Zealand can leverage off. Ultimately, we have something they want in terms of the language and the culture, and they have something we can benefit from, in terms of their economic success. Its not about obligation, it should be about opportunity. There are many Maori children growing up in Australia. In my view, these kids can be part of New Zealands future as well as Australias.

Ministry of Culture and Heritage public talk, 5 March 2008

7 thoughts on “Maori in Australia: the rise of a trans-national people (Te Ramaroa Marae)

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  2. Kia Ora Mark

    If this report was so good why then has it been 5 years since it was completed and the only thing many Maori in Australia have to show for it is a book that works as a door stop!!

    Of course I realize this document serves a purpose (all research does) in the decision making world of politics and policy making in NZ SURE – in Australia maybe/perhaps I dont think so?? What did it do beyond number crunching for the people in the floods – any movement beyond that??? maybe NOT!!YOU TELL ME!! (Im excited to hear its strength!!)…

    So how does the reports content trickle down to the people it is written about (participants) – the ones here in OZ – how many Maori do you think read the report ohhh maybe it was not written for them in the first place – OH HANG ON let me refresh our memories on this one – we are suppose to be the researched NOT A RECIPROCAL PARTNER in YOUR view of good research – that went out the window with the discovery of imperial academia being defunct – (that is a good debate – what intellectual actually means then) perhaps you should read DENZIN AND LINCOLNS PERSPECTIVE OF INDIGENOUS RESEARCH I do not think they are trying to divide maori/non maori but they are saying the same thing oooppps as me…

    Supporting lobbying YEP I agree BUT for what!!! the position we have in this land is what needs to be established first and this report only illustrate or gives a view with no real push for recognition of this position – it does not even create a hook in that direction – probably because it was written for policy makers in NZ. Dont worry buddy – I sat at the lunch table and listened to their rhetoric on their visit to launch the report emmm they are not in a hurry to jump to the aid of anyone here/oz I can tell ya. Christel B. is no doubt one of the most committed and kind hearted people I know but really that is simply NOT enough (all power to her in those efforts) – what we NEED is to establish a mandate in this country about our place in this land – until then (the report) will ONLY ever be useful numbers and stories to remind those of us who read reports that its there as a source to reference – REALLY in the world of development and economic instability the report will probably be shelved by politicians its the people who push to pull them out!!. Hang on Key and Gillard had a yarn recently – predictable outcome…yeah not much to come of it I reckon – I hope I am wrong!! by the way how long has key lived here lately?? oh and he makes decisions for us…same haircut just different head!

    BUT – back to the issue of research method – if you have any idea about what WE the ants under the microscope NEED – it is a hell of a lot more than a report you and I can debate about!! Perhaps that is why we need more than a report written by someone who lived for 9 months in our world actually no Ill be generous and say 12 months – No disrespect to the participants and their contribution I believe it was shared in good faith BUT WHAT??? Mark can you tell me after reading the report?? will it do for our children and mokopuna born and living here in OZ. Be a good source for the debate over whether whanau should get compensation or not??

    Research has many purposes including gaining entry into the elite world of academia, getting paid to do a job, creating a perspective and a lobbying document and dare i say it improving the world for some. This/these positions can do and will influence how a report unfolds you choose which one works for you here in this instance.

    Furthermore let me say that in terms of research and academia -not only does Smith talk about reciprocal obligation so does Durie, Walker, Bishop, Pihema, Denzin, Creswell, Ellis, Bateson, Capra, Babbie, Laszlo and the list goes on – who might I add are recognised academics with some serious wear on their tyres.

    You SEE if you care to open your EYES Mark its not about dividing Maori/Non Maori that has always been HERE even with MY 50 cents worth – its about being mature enough to recognise and acknowledge that today this GAP can be closed if people could only see that practitioner and participant relations in research are one in the same – you give this info and I fullfil my aims and ill give you what??? maybe a nice document that you can use to lobby WHERE??? for WHAT??? by WHO??? or a useful door stop!!

    I think research is a powerful tool and indeed so is this report – for those who can use it to improve or change the world (all power to you jahan) I say go for it and good on you – but there is a lot more to learn about how we can treat people better which is what this research study has provoked discussion about!! Its not all about what is on the outside you know or is it! – ititahi

  3. The methods and methodology used by Hamer are academically rigorous. Likewise for the anthropological study undertaken by Paul Bergin (now deceased), who also happens to be Pakeha. Infact, Bergin’s study, in the opinion of some fable scholars, is that it is one of the best PhD’s they have ever read.

    Hamer’s study offers useful insights into Maori life in Australia. Instead of taking the easy option and criticising Hamer personally, I would have thought it is better to offer an intellectual critique of his work. Better still, the content in Hamer’s report can be used to highlight what the New Zealand Government aren’t doing for Maori in Australia and can be used to lobby for assistance. Just look at the lobbying led by Christel Broederlow has achieved: ex-gratia payments for New Zealanders, some of which were Maori, who were victims of the Queensland Floods and Cyclone Yasi.

    Comments such as those by ititahi, in my opinion, do more to increase the divide between Maori and non-Maori in Australia and New Zealand.

    Research by Paul Hamer, Professor’s Hugo and Beford, Dr Bergin and others research students should be encouraged. It assist provide knowledge on the Maori diaspora in Australia. For example there is little research of homosexual Maori’s in Australia, Jahan Tyson’s research may do something to fill this gap.

    I conclude by asking, what is the Maori party, who are in coalition with the National Party, doing to support Maori residing in Australia?

    1. Mark since you seem to know a lot about Maori perhaps you can answer your own question about the Maori Party helping Maori??…in the meantime heres my answer short and salty – out of sight out of mind until they need voting numbers – hangon wheres that report again says mr. sharples i’ll pull it up so we can see where all the Maoris are then…oh 1 in 7 in Australia mmmm thats helpful!

    2. Stop tiring to steal off the Australians ( dole bludgeoning ) Demanding that Caucasian should pay you anything that how you start war’s Arrogant racist( narcissist ) hypocrites

  4. As a New Zealand born, multiple-ancestry Maori raised in Sydney, this speech and its researched data is both personally valuable and pragmatically useful, historically and culturally. As a takataapui, whangai’d Mossie, concerned for issues of identity and identification, I both acknowledge and appreciate the comprehensively, research based outlook and, sure, opinion, of Paul Hamer. He was paid to provide statistical analysis and has done so admirably. I have the utmost respect for Linda Tuiwhai Smith’s caution with regard to research methodology, but is a pakeha incapable of competent research? And are applications of research necessarily incompatible with an authentic vision of Maori cultural possibility if they are voiced by those other than Maori. Clearly, there is a fine and very delicate line that must be respected by those culturally ‘other’ to Maori when speaking of any type of indigenous or trans-national Maori identity or future, but good research speaks for itself, and Hamer offers good research. He has the ‘bloody cheek’ to speak clearly, of history, of identity, of opportunity and of change. My personal belief is that we are all richer, Maori, Koori, Pakeha, Kiwi and Aussie, richer thanks to Hamer’s research.

  5. While this document offers lots of important history – it might be worth your while to read the last few lines – Ill even put them in for you!

    'Ultimately, we have something they want in terms of the language and the culture, and they have something we can benefit from, in terms of their economic success. It’s not about obligation, it should be about opportunity'

    yep thats what Paul Hamer was paid to do by Te Puni Kokiri – to find out how MAORI could use MAORI right there above – they got something we can benefit from 'the language, the culture' BLOODY CHEEK!

    Just pisses me you off to know that whanau ran around helping this bloody baldhead (as they do manaakitanga) and really all he wanted to do was FIND OUT HOW HIS BOSS COULD BENEFIT OFF MAORI – AND HIS BOSS WAS BLOODY MAORI AUE!!

    Research expert Professor Linda Tuhiwai Smith warns about people like this coming into the community and taking for themselves – find out for yourself google her name – now that’s a real read whanau – so back to the kaupapa – the author goes up the ladder the boss gets his political credit card and maori get a story about the hori to post on face book aue!

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