Maltese down under

In the middle and later decades of the last century Malta faced the opportunities and challenges of migration when thousands of Maltese left this country to seek a better life abroad. We gained directly from the economic and social benefits that flowed from such emigration, not only in easing unemployment in our own country, but also from the sums of money sent back. The Maltese Diaspora is now to be found in countries as far afield as Australia, Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and elsewhere. We are understandably proud of the contribution our compatriots have made to those countries.

All this has been brought home to us vividly with the reports of the Prime Minister's travels through Australia where he has come face to face with second, third and fourth generation Maltese-Australians remembering with passionate nostalgia their Maltese roots. By various estimates there are between 150,000 and 300,000 Australians of Maltese descent living in Australia today of whom more than 40,000 were born in Malta. That migrant community represents by far the largest community of Maltese descent outside Malta anywhere in the world. Since the peak period from the mid 1950s to the late 1970s, the Malta-born population has been declining as well as aging. Most of these have lived in Australia for more than 15 years and over 70 per cent have taken up Australian citizenship, with Victoria and New South Wales attracting by far the largest number of Malta-born persons.

Wherever they may settle, Maltese remain fiercely proud of their identity: Their history and culture, their folklore and food and, above all, their language. While the majority assimilate well wherever they may be - and in Australia, for example, they have made a most positive contribution to the cultural enrichment and economic development of that country - there remains a magnetic pull, which is passed on from generation to generation, to the country of their birth.

This manifests itself most strongly in the wish not to lose the knowledge of their spoken and written language as generation succeeds generation and Australian inevitably supplants Maltese. Australian state and federal governments are most enlightened when it comes to fostering ethnic diversity programmes. For example, Maltese is an official language on one of the major television channels and there are many Maltese language programmes on community radio too. Maltese is taught as a language other than English at one secondary school in Melbourne and it is compulsory for primary students in North Sunshine. There is a Maltese language school in New South Wales - L-Iskola Maltija ta' Wollongong - with others in Adelaide and Victoria.

The Prime Minister has pledged support to keep the Maltese language alive among second and third generation migrants in Australia by setting up a "specialist unit based in Malta to ensure that linguistic and cultural links are maintained and developed". This may not go as far as Maltese-Australians were urging, but it is a start. Also needed, but not yet addressed, is closer, deeper and easier access by Maltese-Australians to knowledge of Malta's culture, history, art, music, drama and heritage. The Maltese High Commission in Canberra should be urged to do more in organising regular programmes of lectures, performances and exhibitions mounted in Malta - perhaps with the active support and co-operation of the Australian High Commissioner in Malta - to give greater contemporary exposure to what Malta has to offer among Maltese-Australians down under.


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