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John Yiannakis

Hellenes in Western Australia:

: A century of changing relations,
responses and contribution.

Dr John Yiannakis

Organisation: University of
Western Australia

Australia was a society that dreaded the “mixing of races” and was obsessed with protecting racial purity. Such sentiments were well expressed by Western Australia’s Premier John Forrest who, in 1897, concluded debate about his state’s Immigration Restriction Bill by saying “we desire to restrict this country, so that it shall not be over-run with races whose sympathies, and manners and customs, are not as ours.” [1]

Forrest, like other colonial leaders forging the new Commonwealth of Australia, wanted the nation, and his state, to remain British, Protestant and white; a desire enshrined in the legislation that became known as the White Australia Policy. While this policy was aimed primarily at prohibiting the entry of Asians and non-Europeans to Australia, it also made it difficult for non-British Europeans to enter.

For early 20th century Australia an “olive peril” was almost as threatening as the yellow one. In the coming years, government policy towards Hellenic (Greek) arrivals would fluctuate. Restrictions and quotas would be imposed, only to be disregarded, and then observed stringently.

The fear and contempt held by Anglo Australians for most Greeks and other southern Europeans intensified as their numbers increased. Verbal and physical abuses were common forms of antagonism. Overseas and Australian born Greeks, pre and post 1945, had to endure a seemingly endless list of derogatory names. Anti foreign sentiment was prevalent throughout society. Even the local schoolyard could be a place perpetuating bigotry and division.

Greeks also found it necessary to change their names to suit Anglo Saxon “ears and tongues.” In pre-multicultural Western Australia, a strange name was as much a stigma as was a darker complexion. Mispronunciation of a name was often and regularly deliberate. To save face and avoid ridicule many Greeks changed their names. Formal applications made by numerous Greek immigrants requesting name changes are held in the Australian Archives. Imposed name changes were not uncommon in assimilationist Australia.

Incidents such as the 1916 and 1934 Race Riots – where Anglo- Australians in Perth and Kalgoorlie resorted to mob violence targeting Greeks and their properties in 1916 and then primarily Italians in 1934 - are the most virulent examples of local xenophobia. These incidents blemished Western Australia’s wholesome image as a friendly, warm and welcoming abode, destroying the consensus notions of WA society, but remaining unknown to many local residents. [2]



1. ABS Census for 1901, 1911, 1921, 1933, 1954, 1971, 1976, 1986,
1996 and 2001.

2. ABS figures for interstate migration, 1989-90.

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