By Laksiri Fernando –
We have a new snapshot of Australia today. The Census data 2016 came out this morning. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, this is the largest information gathering conducted in Australia that tells the people about their way of life and help them and the governments and the businesses to plan the future of the country.
I must relate an anecdote as a preface before starting looking at the information. Last 10th of August (2016) when I logged onto to enter our information around 9.00pm, there was an online outage which persisted. Unfortunately, it was a cyber-attack. Although it was fixed eventually, without any data loss or security of information, by that time I had asked for paper forms and we entered the census finally through the traditional way. This reminds all of us that whatever the new technologies we have at our disposal today, we must give room at the same time for possible difficulties/troubles. If this is true for Australia, it might be truer for Sri Lanka.
Overall Population Count
The Census has counted 10 million dwellings and approximately 23.4 million people. Most of the people live in the Eastern side; New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland being the most populated states. There was a time that the Australian population and the Sri Lankan population were par with each other. That was mid-1990s, of around 18 million. That time I used to say that Sri Lanka is like the whole of Australian population placed in the ‘tiny’ island state of Tasmania. Tasmania is the size of Sri Lanka. This is true given the population problem/s in Sri Lanka even today. It is possible that most of our other problems, antagonisms or conflicts (including our temper!) are due to this factor. Australian population has increased fast since then, due to immigration. It is an open country in many respects and not a closed one, although these policies are more measured today due to unfortunate international developments.
Although Australia is vast, people are gathered around cities and towns, except those who live in large farms or working in mining industries. Those who traditionally live in the countryside are mainly the indigenous people. This pattern is different to Sri Lanka as the population has traditionally been village communities. Therefore, there is no internal migration from rural to the urban in Australia, like in Sri Lanka. Most immigrants settle in major cities and surrounding urban areas from the beginning.
Australia’s population is aging like in many other developed countries or even Sri Lanka. The average age now is 38. It was 23 in 1911, 28 in 1966 and 37 in 2011. By the way, Australian first Census had started in 2011, like Sri Lanka, under the British. Average age of indigenous population is 23 in 2016. They are young and growing (with difficulties of course) comprising around 3 percent of the population.
Plurality and Diversity
As the Census reveal, almost half of the population is recent migrants, as they or at least one of their parents born overseas. Traditionally they came from the West, now they mostly come from the East. Australia celebrates its diversity. It is the most multi-cultural society in the world. I am not saying that Sri Lanka should invite migrants to make it more complex; our population is already tight. But we should be able to appreciate the diversity and plurality that we already have in the country. Tolerance is the most important. Australia is by and large a tolerant society except occasional road outrage or rarer racial slurs. These are unavoidable in any mixed society, gravity and extent might be the problem.
It is true that the present Australia emerged with atrocities to the indigenous people. However, that is the past and not the present. While their socio-economic conditions still prevail behind other communities, clear improvements are visible even through the present Census. More importantly, their past and the contributions are well acknowledged now. Their languages and cultures are recognized.
Australia is now called a nation of nations. Australians come from almost everywhere and around 180 countries are clearly identified. ‘Common humanity’ is easy to recognize. 300 languages are revealed at the Census, as spoken at home, including the sign language, and we still speaking Sinhalese at home. We have a neighbour family on the same floor of this apartment speaking Sinhalese, and just across the road are our friends speaking in Tamil at home.
We Australians have a high proportion of overseas born people (26%), compared to New Zealand (23%), Canada (22%) or the United Sates (14%). United Kingdom is not even closer to 14%. This is not Pauline Hansen’s ‘one nation,’ but a ‘nation of nations.’
Australia can still be considered a religious society, but moderately. At the Census, 60 percent have indicated religious affiliation. In comparison, Sri Lanka is a highly religious society, at the Gallop Poll 2008, 99 percent indicating religious affiliation. It is the third most religious society in the world in that sense. But this could be misleading, perhaps many of the present day non-believers indicating their religion at birth. I personally know hordes of them.
In contrast, however, Australia is becoming more and more secular, 30 percent having indicated no religious affiliation, including ourselves. Christians are still the majority (52%), composing Catholics (23%) and Anglicans (13%). Other practiced religions are Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam. The non-religion group has clearly increased from 22% to 30% within last five years. When I walk to the Blacktown CBD on Saturdays, I could see many Evangelical and Islamic groups propagating religion. No one cares or harms them. Even there is a small Buddhist bookshop on the main street, where I once found U. G. de Silva’s Buddhist paintings published in Malaysia. I had the opportunity to review them.
Australians traditionally love for houses which they call home. The saying goes, ‘a man’s home is his castle,’ the woman apparently is neglected! The saying is old, now the gender equality prevails. Since recent times, as related previously by Dr Siri Gamage, housing market is getting tighter and tighter for the new generations. Nevertheless, Australia still is a nation of home owners. 31 percent of homes are owned outright, 34 percent owned with mortgage, leaving only 31 percent being rented. That is still a good indicator.
There are also people who live in caravan, cabin or houseboat. There are some pensioners almost permanently go on cruises in the Pacific or Southeast Asia. Our son recently suggested that to us to avoid the winter! Why not Sri Lanka also gets the country developed, without squabbling with each other too much, and allowing the ‘seniors’ to use such leisure and pleasure, at least going around the country by sea. It would be marvellous to disembark and embark at all the small ports around the country.
Let me get back to the topic and hard facts. The Census counted around 10 million households in the country; 72 percent were separate houses. Others were apartment, town houses and other structures. Town houses are not something common in Sri Lanka. Single family households were the most common (70%) in Australia while multiple (extended) family households were not rare, perhaps increasing. Due to increasing affordability issues, many young families prefer to live with their parents. Grannies flats are also popular on the other hand to look after old parents by young families in the same compound. By and large, the Australian society is a caring society. The Census also counted 47,000 same-sex couples, which might be rare in Sri Lanka or not revealed.
Our Sir Lankans in Australia
This piece might be incomplete, if something is not revealed about our Sri Lankans in Australia. As a multi-cultural society, Sri Lankans together and separately as Sinhalese and Tamils are well recognized. Sri Lankan migrants date back to the late nineteenth century, to work in the cane plantations and gold fields. By 1901, there were reported number of 609. Within the next century, by 2001, the number had increased to 53,610. During the last ten years, 70 percent of new Sri Lankan migrants have come under skilled category; another 17 percent for family reunion.
What was released this morning about the 2016 Census was the first round of data. Therefore, the exact number of the Sri Lanka-born population was not yet available, even after my few searches. But the last Census in 2011 counted 86,413 Sri Lanka-born, including us. This was an increase of 38 percent from 2006. Going by this trend, the present count could be over 100,000. Most Sri Lankans (over 50%) live in Victoria and that means around Melbourne. Around 25 percent in New South Wales (Sydney) like us, and perhaps around 10 percent in Queensland (around Brisbane) etc.
What is important to note is that most of the Sri Lankan-born Australians/residents wished to identify themselves just as Sri Lankan (60%) on the ancestry response. This is good for reconciliation. Only 18.4 percent as Sinhalese and 9 percent as Tamil. There were 4.3 percent others identifying their ancestry as English/Burgher.
The profile of the Sri Lankan-born Australians/residents generally is positive with few exceptions. Education profile is the best, over 70 percent having post-school higher qualifications. The average in the country is around 60 percent. Nearly 40 percent of them have degrees or even higher degrees. Among the employed, over 50 percent are in either skilled managerial/professional or trade occupations. Therefore, their incomes are also higher than the national average. Buying a good house, even under mortgage, is one of their ideals.