A Multicultural Countryside? Ethnic Minorities in Rural Australia

Article excerpt

Abstract

This paper reviews previous social science knowledge about non-English speaking background (NESB) immigrant communities in rural Australia with the aim of systematising what has been a diverse and fragmented literature. We propose a number of unifying themes which suggest the outlines of an emerging social science of ethnic minorities in rural Australia. These themes Include demography; influences on NESB people's decisions to settle in rural areas such as cultural continuity, social exclusion and chain migration; access to resources and services; gender relations; intergenerational social mobility, and farming practices and natural resource management. In conclusion, we suggest that social capital is one theoretical approach that holds the potential to bring together aspects of the settlement experiences of immigrants in rural Australia.

Keywords: Immigrants, Ethnic minorities

Introduction

In recent years there has been growing Interest In Issues relating to ethnic minority groups in rural Australia. For example, since 1996 the Commonwealth Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs has promoted a policy of encouraging newly arriving Immigrants to settle In rural areas to ease the population pressures upon cities and revitalise flagging rural economies (Babacan, 1998; Withers & Powall, 2003}.° Around the same time, the Commonwealth and Victorian governments funded an Australia-wide study of participation by women and non-English speaking background (NESB) people in Landcare (Hogan & Gumming, 1997). In 2001, the Victorian Department of Natural Resources and Environment launched a major study of the Involvement of NESB communities In agriculture In northern Victoria and ways to improve service provision to these communities (Missingham, Dibden & Cocklin, 2004). The following year the Commonwealth Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry funded a two-year extension project to provide small business management training to NESB farmers in flve states (Richards, 2004).

Government agencies and their local staff working at the 'coal face' In rural areas increasingly recognise the Importance of minority groups and the need for evidencebased knowledge to Inform policy. As a first step, this paper aims to take stock of existing knowledge through a review of the social science literature on nonEnglish speaking background immigrant communities in rural Australia. This literature on rural migration and ethnic communities has tended to occupy a marginal place in Australian social science and has largely failed to make an impact on major debates about either immigration and multiculturalism or rural issues. The literature emanates from a diverse range of social science perspectives, but with little attempt to ground It In broader theoretical discussions within the study of migration on the one hand or rural societies on the other. Several of the major contributions to the social science of rural ethnic minorities are from the 'grey literature' of government or consultants' reports.

Nevertheless, we identify a number of unifying themes which suggest the outlines of an emerging social science of ethnic minorities in rural Australia. We begin by summarising some of the demographic studies, statistical data and other evidence to show why these issues matter in rural and regional Australia. We then consider ways of understanding the settlement process itself and the factors that underlie NESB people's decisions to settle in rural areas - factors such as cultural continuity, social exclusion and chain migration. Previous work suggests that access to resources and services are key issues for immigrant groups. Other topics emerging from the literature include gender relations, intergenerational social mobility, and farming practices and natural resource management. We also reflect on the themes suggested by the extant literature In relation to our work on NESB communities In rural Victoria (Missingham et al. …