By : Sohail Amjad
People from Pakistan have been in Australia since the 1860s. Many came from the southern region of Baluchistan. Some lived in central Australia, working as camel drivers, trainers and breeders, wool and water carriers, hawkers and mail carriers. ‘Afghan’ hawkers, including people from what is today Pakistan, were commonly written about in those days throughout Victoria.
While most migration from Pakistan to Australia occurred in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the community remained small. In 1991, it was recorded 5,930 Pakistan-born people in Australia. Pakistan-born migrants over the past 20 to 30 years were mainly professionals from urban areas. The majority reside in New South Wales and Victoria. There were 11,920 Pakistan-born people in Australia at the 2001, making up 0.3 per cent of the overseas-born population.
The latest Census in 2006 recorded 16 990 Pakistan-born people in Australia, an increase of 42.5 per cent from the 2001 Census. The 2006 distribution by state and territory showed New South Wales had the largest number with 8640 followed by Victoria (4710), Western Australia (1170) and Queensland (1150).
The main languages spoken at home by Pakistan-born people in Australia were Urdu
(66.8 per cent), English (16.2 per cent) and Pashto (3.5 per cent). Of the 14,190 Pakistan-born who spoke a language other than English at home, 89.9 per cent spoke English very well or well and 9.1 per cent spoke English not well or not at all.
In recent years, Pakistanis have also requested the New South Wales Department of Education to include Urdu as an optional language in high school. However, this request has not been supported so far.
This initial wave of immigrants was dominated by males which resulted in a large number of bachelors and few families. This male-dominated group of early migrants did not find a need to build a community centre or other communal structures. They preferred to live and work independently and did not necessarily seek out other Pakistanis. Their focus was on building a career in a new country and other things mattered less.
There is little, if any, community support for newcomers to the country or for people who find themselves in a tight position. People of Pakistani origin in Australia tend to interact within small groups based partly on a continuation of the socio-political differences that they bring with them from Pakistan, partly on their history and experiences in Australia, and partly on their conceptions and misconceptions about Australia and Australians.
Another factor that plays a role in the inability of Pakistanis to form a unified platform has to do with educational qualifications and job status. Pakistanis, even those who are highly trained and skilled, are often unable to find suitable employment in their field of expertise. Many employers require job applicants to have Australian (or western)
experience. Since the new Pakistanis do not have such experience, they have to find alternate sources of employment. While some of these Pakistanis enrol in educational institutions to upgrade their skills and enter the professional job market, many others take up jobs as security guards or start driving taxicabs. These jobs, while paying good money, are considered by other ‘professional’ Pakistanis as befitting an ‘uneducated’ people, indeed as something of an embarrassment.
In year 2006, 65.7 per cent of the Pakistan-born aged 15 years and over had some form of higher non school qualifications compared to 52.5 per cent of the Australian population. Among the Pakistan-born, 53.2 per cent had Diploma level or higher qualifications and 5.4 per cent had Certificate level qualifications. From the Pakistan-born, 4910 had no higher non school qualification, of which 34.9 per cent were still attending an educational institution.
Among Pakistan-born people aged 15 years and over, the participation rate in the labour force was 62.5 per cent and the unemployment rate was 9.4 per cent. The corresponding rates in the total Australian population were 64.6 and 5.2 per cent respectively.