Two Waves of Croatian Migrants in Western Australia: Class and National Identity

By Peisker, Val Colic | Australian Journal of Social Issues, November 1999 | Go to article overview

Two Waves of Croatian Migrants in Western Australia: Class and National Identity


Peisker, Val Colic, Australian Journal of Social Issues


Introduction

This article deals with a particular aspect of the migration experience of two groups of voluntary Croatian migrants in the Perth metropolitan area. Croatians form one of the largest ethnic communities in Australia (Kipp et al. 1995; Collins 1991), but are under-represented in Australian migration studies. One of the reasons for this is that they have usually been included in the category of either `Yugoslavs' -- since Croatia was a part of federal Yugoslavia until 1991 -- or the even larger category of `Southern Europeans'. Croatians have accounted for the majority of postwar `Yugoslav' immigration (Community Profiles -- Yugoslavia Born 1990; Nejasmic 1990). The first group of Croatians dealt with in this paper is part of the late 1960s/early 1970s wave -- the largest to have ever reached Australia. The second is part of the 1980s/early 1990s wave of Croatian immigration. What is nowadays perceived to be the Croatian community in Western Australia is still dominated by the 1960s wave, which has been described as a `typical working class community' (Jupp 1988, 1991; Evans 1984; Johnston 1979).

A large proportion of Croatians -- according to some accounts up to 95 per cent -- who migrated to WA in the 1960s came from the coastal region of Croatia.(1) Most of them are Dalmatians from the coast, islands or immediate hinterland, which were emigration areas for more than a century (Holjevac 1967; Nejasmic 1995). People who migrated to Australia in the 1960s predominantly came from villages and small towns, with limited education and usually no English upon arrival. They took low-status manual jobs, representing therefore the `factory fodder' of the Australian post-war industrial boom (Evans 1984; Collins 1988). The main Croatian `push' factor for this wave of migrants was the unsuccessful attempt at market reform in 1965. This slowed down the previously extensive movement of rural population into cities, created unemployment (Demographic and Economic Aspects 1968) and redirected a part of the rural overpopulation abroad.

The more recent wave reached its peak in the late 1980s. At that time Australia did not need to import manual labour any more and immigration policies had changed in favour of skilled migrants (Madden and Young 1992; Collins 1991). At the same time, Croatia had much more skilled labour to offer (Meznaric 1991). The Croatian `education boom' during the 1970s created a surplus of professionals who could not fulfil their social aspirations in their native country, the economy of which had been sinking into a deep recession during the 1980s. The dramatic fall in the standard of living, coupled with the serious political tension in the late 1980s, and the war that started in 1991, resulted in a considerable number of professional people leaving the country; a portion of them migrated to Australia. Most came from Croatian cities and spoke rather good English on arrival. In the context of contemporary migration flows, this urban migrant group joined the ranks of the highly mobile `global professional middle class' (Stubbs 1996). In the case of Croatian migrants to Western Australia, Australia's highly selective immigration policy resulted in the majority of them being engineers or from other technical professions. On arrival, most found jobs in their professions and established themselves as `middle class' Australians.

In this paper, I show the influence of class on the construction of `diasporic' national identity of the two groups of Croatian migrants in Western Australia by comparing and contrasting the two waves of migrants who, due to specific Croatian as well as Australian circumstances, come from very diverse pre-migratory backgrounds. In connection with the issue of national identity, I also ask whether such different groups are likely or willing to form a single ethnic community in any sociologically meaningful way and whether it is justifiable to consider them as such. …

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