Baltics (Eastern Europe)

Baltics (Eastern Europe)

For the Danish, Swedish, Polish, Germans and Finnish, the discovery of gold in Australia was incentive to emigrate. The Tasmanian and Queensland governments also established emigration agencies in Denmark, Germany and Sweden.

The disbanding of the Danish army after the war in Schleswig-Holstein (between 1849 and ’51) and loss of land to Prussia caused large emigration of young Danes. Danes were offered the promise of a land grant of 16 ha to come to Queensland in 1871. Danish experts and farmers also emigrated and subsequently influenced the Australian dairy industry in the 1880s, establishing butter factories.

From 1952, the General Assisted Passage Scheme was applied to Scandinavians. During difficult economic times in 1957, the Finnish were encouraged to emigrate under the scheme.

Meanwhile, a Swedish shipping line that established a trade route to Australia encouraged emigration from 1907. Up until World War I, Latvian sailors arrived on trading ships from Europe and quite a few never left Australia, working on coastal vessels around Australia. The Finnish were also deserters from ships, seeking adventure and better wages on foreign seas.

Before 1905, Estonian and Latvian men had sought refuge in Australia after a failed revolution. Before World War I, Russian immigrants were considered persecuted minority groups, political adversaries, exiled ethnics, deserters and escapees. Migration of these groups increased after 1905 when Russian politics returned to reactionary governance. In the 1920s, defeated opponents of the Red revolutionaries began to arrive in Australia. Another wave of Russian immigrants came between the mid 1950s and the early 1970s. After escaping the political regime of their homeland, they moved to China and then migrated to Australia 30 years later. Disadvantaged and oppressed Russian-born Jews also migrated to Australia in the 1970s.

Significant German emigration occurred between the mid 1850s and ‘70s because of the economic downturn, poor grain harvests, overcrowding on the land and in the cities, political unrest in Central Europe and the failed revolution in 1848. Australia was an attractive prospect due to the promise of land, prosperity and political and religious independence. However, World War I impacted on the German population with some interned in Australia, and others deported. Immigrants from Germany were prohibited until 1925. A migration agreement was set up between Germany and Australia in 1952.

As a result of the Nazi and Soviet occupations and military campaigns between 1940 and ’50, Estonians, Polish, Latvians, Russians and Lithuanians became refugees. One in five Estonians were deported from their homeland or forced to flee. In 1944, 60,000 Lithuanians left their homeland to escape the terror. Russians were generally prisoners of war, recruited to participate in the war against their will or forced to flee their country to seek asylum elsewhere.

The “Balts” came to Australia as displaced persons from camps in Germany. Arthur Calwell, the first Minister for Immigration, went to camps for displaced people around Europe to look for suitable immigrants. A boatload of Estonians, Lithuanians and Latvians arrived in November 1947 and had been carefully chosen to ensure they were blond, blue-eyed and able to assimilate to White Australia policy. Most refugees were obliged to enter into two-year contracts to work for the government as coal miners, cement factory workers, cane cutters, textile factory workers, hospital aids, zinc miners or tunnellers through the mountain at Guthega in NSW.

After the war, the arrival of Polish immigrants declined but picked up again in the late 1970s because of the country’s deteriorating economic conditions, strikes, the formation of the Solidarity trade union movement and the declaration of martial law. Most came as refugees after Australia decided to extend the definition in 1980.

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