Chapter 4

Malaysians in Australia

Making Australia home

Possibly the first Malay immigrant to Australia was a 22 year-old convict named Ajoup who arrived in Sydney on 11 January 1837. Ajoup, described as 'of the Malay faith', had been sentenced in Cape Town, South Africa, to 14 years transportation to New South Wales. He received his ticket of leave—that is, his freedom—in the colony in 1843.2 But it would be some years later before Malays came to Australia in any numbers, mainly to work in the pearl diving industry. The 1871 colonial census records that 149 Malays were working in Australia as pearl divers in northern and western Australia, labourers in South Australia's mines, and on Queensland's sugar plantations. At Federation in 1901, there were 932 Malay pearl divers in Australia, increasing to 1860 by 1921.3 It was not until the mid-twentieth century, though, that a Malay presence was more firmly established. As well as students, evacuees from the Malayan Emergency began arriving in Australia in the 1950s. The 1961 Census shows that there were 5793 Malaysian-born people among the Australian population at the time. This number has increased significantly and Australia's Malaysian-born population was recorded in 2013 as 148 760, making them the 9th largest immigrant group in the country4

their student compatriots, many Malaysians who now call Australia home are one of the most cohesive and organised communities in the country. In 2007, a report to an inquiry into Australia's relations with Malaysia stated that 'Malaysian born people are one of the best communities we have in Australia for integrating into the Australian community'.5 As a highly active and organised group, Malaysian–Australians have made and continue to make a significant contribution to their adopted country. In the early 1970s, the Malaysian community was very much a part of Australia's transition to a multicultural society. At the forefront of this cultural change was the Australia Malaysian Singaporean Association which was formed in Sydney in 1970 and 'evolved into an autonomous organisation committed to multiculturalism and social and community concerns'.6 All around Australia similar community organisations and groups now connect Malaysians locally, nationally, and internationally.


Photo of Prominent Muslim Australian media commentator Susan Carland

Prominent Muslim Australian media commentator Susan Carland was the guest speaker at the Australian High Commission's Buka Puasa (breaking of the fast dinner), 2014.

Community building through faith

Included in the many community groups that have been formed is the Malay Australian Association of New South Wales (MAAN), established in 1988 to offer support to Malay Muslims in Australia.7 Today, there are Malay mosques in Perth and Sydney, and a Masjid Building Project is underway in Victoria led by the Malay Education and Cultural Centre Australia (MECCA), with the assistance of Australian architect Julian Harding, who has been involved in the building of several mosques in Malaysia.8 Faith is an integral part of Malaysian life and is a constructive area of intercultural understanding. The Muslim Leadership Program (MLP), an initiative run by Melbourne's La Trobe University in partnership with the Islamic Council of Victoria since 2007, convenes week-long civic education courses in Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney that introduce ways to 'build partnerships with other faith-based communities and the larger society' and work towards a more resilient society.9 In 2012, the Australia—Malaysia Institute (AMI) launched the Australia–Malaysia Muslim Exchange Program. The program enables young Muslim leaders from both countries to visit the other and take part in a range of activities aimed at enhancing cultural understanding and awareness and establishing networks between our two countries.

The Australian High Commission has also showcased Australia's diversity and vibrant Muslim community through public diplomacy visit programs featuring prominent Australian Muslims including Waleed Aly, Professor Samina Yasmeen and Susan Carland.

Photo of Malaysian Minister of Foreign Affairs Dato' Sri Anifah Aman

(From left) Malaysian Minister of Foreign Affairs Dato' Sri Anifah Aman with his wife, Datin Sri Siti Rubiah Abdul Samad, Australian High Commission Counsellor Ridwaan Jadwat and Australian High Commissioner to Malaysia Rod Smith at the High Commissioner's Buka Puasa dinner in 2014.

Photo of Muslim Exchange Program participants

Muslim Exchange Program participants
(from left) Nur Atiqah Mohd Zaki, Dyana Sofya and
Yana Rizal.

Photo of Australia–Malaysia Youth Forum 2015

Australia–Malaysia Youth Forum 2015, at the Australian High Commission in Kuala Lumpur.