FAST-FIN-1 Finnish Institutions Research Papers

Finnish Immigration to Australia in the 1950s and 1960s
Anne Aaltonen, Spring 2011 (GB)
A FAST-FIN-1 (TRENAK1) Finnish Institutions Research Paper
FAST Area Studies Program
Department of Translation Studies, University of Tampere

During the first 150 years of Australian colonisation, the country attracted very few Finns. The first Finns to settle in Australia were early seamen and gold diggers in the mid-1800s. A hundred years later, after World War Two, Finnish immigration to Australia rose to a peak after Australia started to offer ’assisted passages’, or sponsored trips for immigrants.

People leaving Finland to try their luck in another country was by no means a new phenomenon. Previously, the most popular destinations had been Sweden, Canada and the United States. Yet, Finnish immigrants in Australia faced challenges their compatriots did not face in the three other countries, all of which offered climates and livelihoods which were similar to those in Finland. Thousands of Finns embarked on a journey into a country where everything would be different: the climate, the nature, the people, and the language. After the journey from Finland to the Australian shores was over, the journey into the Australian culture and society began. This transition, as most of the Finns would find out, often lasted decades.

This paper examines the lives of the Finns who decided to immigrate to Australia in the 1950s and the 1960s. Why did Australia want immigrants? Why did Finns choose Australia? What were their first impressions of their new home land? Did they manage to learn English and adapt to the Australian society? Did they maintain the Finnish language and traditions?

The First Finnish Foothold in Australia

One of the highly detailed drawings for which Herman Spöring is known
(Photo source: Institute).

The Finnish presence in Australia goes back to 1770, when Herman Dietrich Spöring1, a Finnish explorer, botanist and naturalist, landed in Botany Bay along with James Cook’s crew. He was a member of Cook’s scientific staff, gathering and documenting specimens of native plant and animal life. He became widely known for his highly detailed drawings of Australian botanical phenomena.

A century later, the discoveries of gold lured Finns to try their luck on the gold fields of Victoria and New South Wales. The number of Finns in Australia around the time of the Australian Gold Rush, the 1850s and the 1860s, is estimated to have risen up to 200 (Koivukangas, Finns 354).

In the 1870s, the Government of Queensland started to offer assisted passages and land grants to Finns, Swedes, Norwegians and Danes, recruiting them especially as unskilled rural workers, in particular as cane cutters in the sugar industry (Walsh 21).

The number of Finns in Australia in the 1800s and early 1900s can only be estimated, since Finns were designated as ’Russian’ in Australian censuses until 1921 (Koivukangas, Sea 13). Between 1921 and 1939, almost 2,000 Finns arrived to Australia (Koivukangas, Southern 189)2 approximately half of whom subsequently returned (Koivukangas, Kaukomaiden 100).

In the 1930s, the first Finnish communities started to form in the mining town of Mount Isa and the sugar cane fields in Tully, Long Pocket, and Ingham in north-western Queensland (Kansanaho 47). The communities were always small, seldom exceeding a few hundred people (Parr 266).

The War Years: From Heroes to Enemies of State

An article in The Examiner (11 November 1939) acclaiming Finnish perseverance.
(Photo source: Trove).

During the Finnish Winter War3 Finns and Finland suddenly became a lot better known in Australia. Newspapers published articles about brave Finns who fought for their country against an insuperable enemy (Oja 156, Kansanaho 56-57). Niilo Oja, who migrated to Australia in 1927, recalls in his book Coral Beach and Spinifex:

Suddenly we [the Finns in Australia] became much appreciated; after all, we too were a part of the heroic nation of Finland. Many of my Australian co-workers wondered how it was possible for such a small country to defend itself against the million-headed troops of Russia, and declared that Finns were the best immigrants who had come to the country.4 (156)

However, the situation rapidly changed after Finland affiliated with Germany. On 7 December 1941, both England and Australia declared war on Finland. Finnish immigrants who had not been naturalized as Australian citizens were now considered enemies of the state. In January 1942, Finns were denied the right to assembly. Three months later, the Australian authorities started taking Finnish men to prison camps5 (Kansanaho 62). In many Finnish families, the Australia-born sons of the family served in the Australian army while their fathers would be arrested and taken to prison camps (Oja 163). However, after the war, the lives of Finnish-Australians soon got back to normal.

Finland after the Second World War

The new wave of Finnish immigration to Australia between the 1950s and 1970s was incited by various factors. Finland had been severely affected by the war and had lost a major part of its territory to the Russians, forcing emigration from Karelia (Baron 22). Others were motivated to seek better conditions overseas because of unemployment, high taxation, and difficulty getting a home loan and finding housing (Fallgren 226). The United States of America had historically been a popular destination for Finnish immigrants. However, new immigration controls in the US had come into effect in 1921 and Australia had since gained popularity as a destination. Encouraged by expectations of a warmer climate and high wages available in the cane fields of northern Queensland, thousands of Finns headed “Down under”. Very few of them knew any English, but this was not considered to be a major issue: many assumed that once in Australia they would pick up the language easily (Järvine n, H. Pietilä).

Most of these emigrants came from the southern and eastern parts of Finland, primarily from Helsinki, Tampere, and Lappeenranta (Koivukangas, Southern 190). The large number of people emigrating from Helsinki may be explained by the fact that many migrants from elsewhere in Finland moved there first to seek work, were unable to adapt to the new living and working conditions and took up the challenge of emigrating (Mattila 13).

Populate or Perish: Immigration from Australia’s Point of View

The post-Second World War era in Australia began in an exceptional atmosphere of reform and reconstruction. After the war, Australia was short of houses, schools, hospitals, transport services, power and many consumer goods. In industry, there were vacant places left by skilled men lost during the war (Australian Department 5). Furthermore, Australia had faced air attack and potential invasion by the Japanese during the war. Slogans promoting mass immigration such as “Populate or perish”6 soon spread all over the continent. The plan now was to increase both industrial and military capabilities of the country through a massive increase in the population. The country succeeded in this task excellently, and ended up having the second highest proportion of immigrants of any country after Israel (Burnley 27).

The first Minister for Immigration, the Labour Party’s Arthur Calwell, declared in August 1945 that Australia would start to seek “new healthy citizens who are determined to become good Australians by adoption” (in Tanni 66). These new healthy citizens initially meant Western-European and Nordic people. In order to attract these people to come to Australia on a large scale, the Australian government introduced the Assisted Passage Scheme, which meant offering free trips to suitable immigrants. The citizens of Finland, Sweden, Norway and Denmark were included in the scheme in 1954. In return for the sponsored trip, the migrants had to stay in Australia for two years and agree to take English lessons on arrival. The latter requirement, however, was rarely enforced (Baron 22-23). The government believed that the migrants would soon alienate themselves from their old national identities and adapt to the Australian way of life (Tanni 70).

According to James Jupp, the Director of the Centre for Immigration and Multicultural Studies in the Research School of Social Sciences at the Australian National University, the ideal Australian was considered to be of “Nordic descent and British culture, of rural background and enterprising character” (Seeking 30). As the Nordic countries were largely rural, they were a promising source of immigrants.

However, the preference for Nordic people was not a new feature in the Australian immigration policy. Even during the first 150 years of Australian colonization, between the 1870s and 1914, when all immigration from outside the United Kingdom and other English-speaking countries such as Canada and the United States was discouraged, “Nordic racial cousins” had been welcomed to the country (Jupp, Immigration 100). Racial theories in the second half of the 19th century argued for the close affinity of the English, German and Nordic peoples. The developing of an “Australian race” was based on such ideas, as was the White Australia Policy7 (Jupp, Immigration 101).

While Nordic people were welcomed due to their cultural and physical similarities with the British, there was a considerable prejudice against southern Europeans. They were sometimes attacked as “non-white”, especially by trade unions such as the Australian Workers’ Union (Jupp, Immigration 61). Even as late as in the mid-1960s, when the great majority of Scandinavian immigrants to Australia came on assisted passages – 88% of Finns, 86% of Danes, 79% of Norwegians and 72% of Swedes – only 15% of Mediterranean immigrants were assisted even though they were showing far more interest in Australia than Scandinavians (Jupp, Seeking 32).

Finns responded to the Australian invitation more eagerly than other Scandinavians. By the summer of 1960, over 6,000 Finns had found their new home in Australia, which was almost as much as the Danish, Norwegian and Swedish counted together (Pajunen 21-22). It could well be that conditions in war-torn Finland were prompting Finns to try their lucks elsewhere.

The end of the 1950s and the end of the 1960s were particularly high periods of Finnish immigration to Australia. The first peak took place between 1958 and1960 when a staggering 4,467 Finns arrived on the Australian shores. After a more subdued phase in the early 1960s, another peak in immigration occurred in the late 1960s, after Australia decided to sponsor the trips of new Finnish immigrants even more indulgently (Mattila 13).

(Data source: Koivukangas, Suomalainen 18. Graph source: Aaltonen)

First Impressions of Australia

When new immigrants arrived to Australia, they were taken to reception camps. Once at the camp, they were given free room and board until the head of the family was appointed to his first job. The largest and best-known of these camps was Bonegilla, an ex-army camp in northern Victoria. Most Finns, along with over 300,000 immigrants from other countries, started their new lives in Bonegilla between 1947 and 1971.

Arthur Calwell had decided to reuse the facilities at the isolated military camp to provide accommodation, security and catering services for the new citizens (Bonegilla). Glenda Sluga, Professor of International History in the University of Sydney, paints a darker picture of the government’s motives:

Bonegilla was used as a “staging camp” for “processing” migrants. Voluntary and refugee migrants who had exchanged two years of their labour for assisted or free passages could be railed from Bonegilla to remote areas of the Australian continent, to be placed in jobs Australians didn’t want to do, away from metropolitan centers and in “critical areas of the economy”. - - [In Bonegilla] their fates, at least in the immediate future, would be decided for them. An informal policy of “non-confrontation and dispersal” and of keeping these groups largely isolated from the urban Australian society maximised the immigrants’ potential as a directable and controllable pool of labour. (Sluga, Preface ix-x)

Finns at the entrance of Bonegilla, September 1958
(Photo source: Institute).

People’s own impressions of the camp in general seem to vary considerably. For some, it was “like a hotel. We felt like we were on vacation. I said to my husband every morning: ’I hope they don’t find a job for you today!’ I never wanted to leave” (Berg).

For others, Bonegilla was “a nightmare. There are no other words to describe it. I cried myself to sleep every night and every morning, after I woke up and realised where I was, I started crying again” (Suominen).

For some, Bonegilla alone was enough to make them go straight back to Finland (Rasa 33).

The degree to which these individual experiences differ from each other is unusual, especially taking into account that both of the people quoted above arrived to Bonegilla in the same year. One of the factors that could explain these differences in opinion is the time of the year when the immigrants got to the camp. Those who left Finland during the Finnish winter arrived during the Australian summer. The temperature would often rise above 40 degrees Celsius. There was a lake nearby where they could go swimming. Even if work was not available immediately, life still possibly seemed quite pleasant.

Those who left Finland during the Finnish summer months, however, got to Australia during the coldest time of the year. There was no heating in the barracks and it often rained. One of the Finns recalls: “Sure, they brought us blankets, they brought us [a family of four] twenty-two blankets altogether, but it was nowhere near enough. We couldn’t sleep at night, that’s how cold we were. I stayed up all night and prayed to God to keep my children warm” (Suominen).

Immediately after arriving to Australia Finnish immigrants started to notice that getting along in Australia with no knowledge of the English language wasn’t as easy as they had expected. There were very few people who were able to help them in both Finnish and English. Pastors of the Finnish Seamen’s Mission8 helped in this task as often as they could (Kansanaho 122). The way “job interviews” were often arranged in Bonegilla could be confusing for those weren’t able to negotiate for themselves in English. Sluga describes these events as “cattle type auctions” where men had to stand in a line to allow prospective employers to inspect them and pick the ones they wanted (21-22).

On average, Finnish immigrants stayed in Bonegilla for a month (Kansanaho 122). After the head of the family was assigned a job and was taken away, the rest of the family would either stay in Bonegilla or be taken elsewhere until housing was found for the whole family. Only a few families were able to stay together from the beginning. This too, was hard for many:

My husband was very lucky. We’d only been in Bonegilla for a week when this Finnish man came looking for carpenters to work for him and he chose [my husband] immediately. Then they took him away, and put my daughter and me on a train and took us to Villawood. And nobody, nobody, was able to explain to me what was going on. They kept talking to me but I didn’t understand a word. I didn’t know where my husband was. I didn’t know when I would see him again . . . The next time I heard from him was three months later. (Järvinen)

Finns on the Job Market

Sluga states that “the migrants were classified ’just the same as an Australian’, except that their work or educational qualifications had little or no bearing” (20). This was an impediment that many Finns, too, were to experience. The greatest obstacle for getting one’s qualifications recognised was the lack of proficiency in the English language (Baron 23). It wasn’t enough that one had work experience in a particular field: you also had to understand the directions given to you by your superiors. Most Finns, no matter how qualified and experienced, ended up in unskilled and semiskilled jobs (Baron 23).

Most Finnish male immigrants found themselves in construction jobs, even if only half of them had worked in the field back in Finland (Rasa 34). Others worked as carpenters, factory workers and miners. Some continued the former Finnish cane-cutting tradition. Women sometimes worked in casual jobs, such as dressmaking or cleaning (Tanni 66), but many simply stayed at home: Over half of Finnish-Australian women were reported to be housewives in the 1971 Australian Census (Koivukangas, Suomalainen 88). In 1981, when most post-war immigrants were still in the workforce, 49% of Finns were employed as tradesmen or labourers, in comparison to only 25% of Australians (Baron 23).

Finns had a reputation as hard workers and were valued as employees (Pajunen 93, Ilpola 11). In some jobs, Finns even received a better salary than employees of other nationalities (Kiuru, H. Pietilä). Liisa Berg presents a surprising theory for this Finnish work motivation:

“I think the reason we worked harder than Australians was that we didn’t know any English. While they were drinking coffee and chatting, we continued working, not because we didn’t want to join them but simply because we couldn’t speak [English].” (Interview)

New Finnish Communities


The largest Finnish communities in Australia in the 1960s and 70s
(Image source: Aaltonen)9.

After the new Finnish-Australians found their places in working life, new Finnish communities started to form. The sugar cane plantations in Ingham and Tully in northern Queensland and the mines of Mount Isa continued to attract Finns to a certain extent. In Mount Isa, people of Finnish descent came to represent approximately 11.5% of the town’s population (Watson, Diminishing 23).

Many Finnish-Australians ended up working for the factories of Melbourne and Tottenham. The cities of Geelong, Adelaide and Wollongong all had a community of over 300 Finns by 1959 (Kansanaho 123). Jobs in the building industry were constantly available in Canberra, the capital of the country, and therefore the city soon had a prominent Finnish community.

Ian Burnley, Emeritus Professor of Geography at the University of New South Wales, describes life in Canberra in the 1980s: “A distinctive northern European community in Canberra were the Finland-born, who totaled over 1,000 persons in 1981, 10.1% of the national total, compared to only 1.6% of the Australian-born population living there” (329).

Living in a community with other Finns had its advantages, but it certainly did not support English language acquisition or integration into the Australian society (Pajunen 58-59). As a result, Finnish-Australians ended up “leading a somewhat isolated life, developing their own subculture” (Koivukangas, Finns 471).

Finnish Societies: Building a Miniature Finland

After Finns settled in communities, they soon started to establish Finnish societies. Through these organisations, Finnish-Australians cherished the traditions of the old country. The societies reminded Finns of who they were and where they came from, and gave them a sense of belonging in the new country.

Left: Finnish folk dance. Melbourne, 1963 (Photo source: Institute).
Right: Members of the Mount Isa Finnish Society performing the play Tukkijoella (“At a Log Driving River”)
(Photo source: Institute).

The societies organised gatherings that ranged from sports and book clubs to traditional Finnish crafts and folk dance. Many societies had amateur theatre groups and Finnish baseball teams. Finnish national holidays, such as May Day, Midsummer or the Finnish Independence Day, were often celebrated together.

Establishing ethnic societies was quite common for ethnic minorities in Australia. However, Finnish-Australians were considerably better organised on ethnic lines than for example other Scandinavians. In 1992, there were 20 Finnish organisations in Australia against 14 for all other Scandinavians together (Jupp, Seeking 39).

However, not all Finnish-Australians participated in these activities. Those who never became part of the social networks of the new country found solace in the familiarity that these societies offered (Baron 26). At the same time, the few who learned the English language and were better integrated into the Australian society never felt the need to seek positive identification within Finnish organisations (Baron 29).

Finnish-Australians maintained their old traditions as precisely as possible. The sauna persisted as part of the Finnish-Australian way of life (Parr 262). The Finnish vasta, a bunch of birch twigs used to swat oneself in the sauna, was often replaced with eucalyptus branches. Traditional Finnish recipes were adapted to the Australian grocery supply (Kiuru). According to Finnish traditions, bonfires were lit on Midsummer’s Eve and Christmas was celebrated on December 24, a day earlier than the rest of the country.

Religion in the Finnish-Australian Community

Other very important Finnish ethnic organisations were Finnish churches. The main religion of Finnish-Australians was Evangelical Lutheran, although Pentecostalism also had a somewhat strong connection with the Finnish-Australian community in the 1950s and the 1960s (Parr 264).

The first Finnish-language church services in Australia were provided by the Finnish Seamen's Mission in 1916. The work field of a pastor of the Seamen’s Mission covered the continent of Australia, the island of Tasmania, New Zealand, the Fiji islands and the part of New Guinea that belonged to Australia (Pajunen 96) and was reported to be “the largest Lutheran congregation in the world” (Hytönen in Kansanaho 95). The over 7 million-square-kilometer congregation was managed by only one Finnish pastor at a time until the 1950s (Rasa 82). By then the number of Finnish immigrants in Australia had risen up to almost 10,000 and the need for more church workers was obvious. The first Finnish c ongregations were established in Melbourne in 1960 and in Sydney and Mount Isa in 1964. By 1976 there were 12 Finnish congregations in Australia.

Interestingly, church attendance of Finnish immigrants increased in Australia despite the fact that Finnish church services were not available as often in Australia as they were in Finland (Koivukangas, Suomalainen 127). Often even those who were not particularly religious would join a Finnish church in Australia and find their place in the community through participation in these activities (Parr 167). Attending Finnish church services could also help an immigrant reconnect with his or her roots:

The influence of a particular religion on individuals may become more pronounced when it represents a connection to an ancestral land . . . In a migrant context, affirming a sense of Finnishness can often take on the appearance of a religious belief. (Kankaanpää 22-23)

Yet, it is difficult to assess whether church services were attended more because they offered Finnish immigrants an opportunity to reconnect with their fatherland – a need they would not have if they still lived in Finland – or whether it was due to immigrants’ need of spiritual comfort in a strange new land.

Learning the English Language

The greatest obstacle to Finns adjusting to the Australian society was their poor command of English (Watson, Finnish 8; Baron 23; Jupp, Seeking 38). In 1981, a decade after the last peak in Finnish immigration to Australia, only 20% of Finnish-Australians reported that they spoke English at home, while an almost identical number “didn’t speak English at all” (Jupp, Seeking 38-39). For most, their English was limited to essential work language and dealing with basic everyday situations (Baron 23). When the Australian government organised free interpreting services for immigrants in the 1970s, Finns were their second largest customer group, outnumbered only by Spanish-speaking immigrants from countries in South-America (Ilpola 11).

Finnish employees at an English class organised
by a mining company,
Mount Isa, 1962 (Photo source: Institute).

Teaching English to immigrants was a national priority in Australia. After the initial English instruction at the reception center, immigrants were offered a vast variety of language learning possibilities. The state organised evening continuation classes, various full-time courses, part-time courses particularly suited to shift-workers and housewives, industrial and professional courses, rehabilitation courses in hospitals, instruction by radio, and correspondence and television courses (Ilpola 23). Many companies also organised English classes for their employees, and a so-called 'Home Tutor Scheme' sent volunteer teachers to people’s homes for private classes.

Regardless of Australia’s efforts, Finns often failed in learning the new language. On various occasions, the Finns’ Australian co-workers actually ended up learning Finnish before the Finns learned English (Koivukangas, Suomalainen 113).

People sometimes appealed to the fact that since Finnish was linguistically completely different from English, it was almost impossible for the Finns to learn (Baron 23). Nonetheless, the English language acquisition of Finns who immigrated to the United States contradicts this statement vigorously. American-Finns, regardless of the age at which they settled in the US, became fluent in English almost without exception (P. Pietilä 7-8).

It has been suggested that sometimes when a state tries to hasten its immigrants’ adaptation to the society by insisting that they learn the new language as quickly as possible, it in fact ends up hindering the immigrants’ social integration and may even cause hostility towards the host society (Gerletti in Toukomaa 62). This has often been the case with Finns who immigrated to Sweden in the 1950s and the 1960s (Toukomaa 61-62). Whether Finnish-Australians experienced Australia’s language teaching attempts as negatively cannot be convincingly verified here, but it could be one of the possible reasons for the poor language learning motivation of the Finnish-Australian population.

Finnish Language Maintenance

First generation Finnish-Australians generally stuck resolutely to the Finnish way of life and carefully maintained the Finnish language. However, their Australia-born children – second generation Finnish-Australians – had to accommodate to English and the Australian way of life. Gradually, the Australian culture usually became dominant (Koivukangas, Southern 206). Yet, if Finnish language maintenance is compared to that of other Nordic languages, one sees that Finnish-Australians held on to their native language quite keenly: over 75% of first generation Finnish-Australians, nearly 60% of the second generation, and 13% of the following generations maintained the Finnish language. The corresponding figures for Norwegian and Swedish immigrants in Australia are approximately only 45%, 20% and 1% (Clyne 66).

An institution that undoubtedly helped in Finnish language maintenance is the Suomi Newspaper10. The bimonthly newspaper was founded in 1926 by a pastor of the Finnish Seamen’s Mission (Koivukangas, Southern 204). By the time the newspaper turned 40 years old in 1966, it was the second oldest foreign newspaper in Australia that had been published continuously (Kansanaho 152). Suomi Newspaper provided information about both the new country and the old country, and connected Finns living in remote areas of Australia with their compatriots in other parts of the country.

Exceptionally Heavy Return Migration

It has been estimated11 that nearly half of the Finns who immigrated to Australia subsequently returned to Finland (Parr 265; Koivukangas, Southern 202). James Jupp argues that the high return rate indicates that the Finns experienced considerable difficulties in settling permanently in Australia (in Tanni 67).

However, other possible reasons for returning have to be considered too. Many never intended to stay in Australia permanently: they only wanted to save enough money to buy a house or a farm back home (Pajunen 99). Others moved back to Finland to be reunited with their families. Also, since economic conditions in Finland improved significantly over the years, many were encouraged to return to Finland to find work (Fallgren 232).

The return migration rate of Finnish-Australians is surprisingly high compared to that of Finns who immigrated to North America: only 20-30% of the Finns who immigrated to the United States returned, and of those who went to Canada approximately only 15% returned (Koivukangas, Southern 202). Arnold Parr suggests that the high return rate was related to economic conditions: “In Australia the economic opportunities were more restricted than in North America. It was easier for the Finns to take up farming in the United States or Canada, which then tied the migrants more to the host countries” (265).

Those who did choose to stay in Australia permanently were in general extremely happy with their new home land, despite the language barrier and other obstacles (Mattila 32; Watson, Finnish 13). Reasons for this contentment usually centered around pleasant weather conditions, low taxation, an abundance of work opportunities, and affordable housing (Watson, Finnish 9).

Immigration Changes Character

In the 1970s, immigration to Australia changed dramatically. Economic problems in Australia forced the government to terminate the Assisted Passage Scheme in 1973 (Koivukangas, Finns 354). By the mid-1970s, Australia was mainly attracting immigrants from the poorest countries of Europe, such as Yugoslavia, Turkey and Portugal (Jupp, Immigration 110). NUMAS, the Numerical Multifactor Assessment System, introduced in 1979, meant migrants had to be proficient in English and have recognised professional qualifications in order to gain entry into Australia. This, together with the improved economic situation in Finland, decreased Finnish immigration to Australia to only a couple of hundred immigrants per year throughout the decade (Koivukangas, Finns 354).

According to Olavi Koivukangas, former Director of the Finnish Migration Institute, the Finns who immigrate to Australia today are very different from the immigrants in the 1950s and the 1960s: “Nowadays, Finnish emigrants are generally well-educated people who cross the Equator because of their business careers or desire to obtain new experiences. For them, living abroad is just a phase in their lives, not necessarily a permanent move to a foreign environment as was the case for most of the emigrants in bygone days” (Southern 200).

The Finnish Presence in Australia Today

According to the 2001 Australian Census, there were 8,200 Finland-born people in Australia. The latest Census in 2006 recorded 7,950 Finland-born people in the country, a decrease of 3% from the 2001 figure (Australian Government). However, Pirkko Kaikkonen, the Head of the Consulate of Finland in Sydney, says these figures could easily be an underestimate, since not everybody responds to the Census enquiries. According to the Consulate’s own approximations, at the end of 2010, there were around 20,000 Finns residing in Australia permanently and another 11,000 residing in Australia temporarily (Kaikkonen).

Bli Bli
Martti Väänänen’s Uuteen Maahan (“To the New Country”), Monument to Finnish immigrants in the Bli Bli Finnish Memorial Park (Photo source:

The 2006 Census states the median age of the Finland-born was 55.7 years compared with 37.1 years for the total Australian population. Old age may bring along whole new challenges for the Finnish-Australians. Many forget even the most basic English words and expressions (Rasa 110). To remedy the situation, a Finnish rest home, Finlandia Village12 , was opened in Brisbane in 1986.

Finnish ethnic organizations are still run actively in the country. In March 2011, there were 15 Finnish societies, seven Evangelical Lutheran and six Pentecostal congregations in Australia. Finnish language classes are given in Australia in four different cities. Finnish schools in Brisbane, Canberra, Melbourne and Sydney provide Finnish classes for children of Finnish descent from two to four times a month. The aim of these schools is to reinforce the Finnish language skills the children have learned at home, allow them to meet others from the same cultural inheritance, and familiarize themselves with Finnish traditions.

Epilogue: Building a New Life after a Tough Start

Australia’s history is unquestionably one of immigration, with the second highest proportion of immigrants of any country after Israel. Australia’s carefully planned immigration schemes were a result of an urgent need to boost the country’s industrial and military capabilities. Sponsored trips, abundant job opportunities and a warmer climate convinced thousands of Finns to contribute to the peopling of the country.

The Finns’ first impressions of Australia weren’t always entirely positive. Some experienced the reception camps very negatively and many families were separated in the process of placing the new immigrants in the job market. Finns were never negatively labeled as ethnic because of their northern European looks; in fact, they were thought of as ideal immigrants. The boundary that forced the Finnish community to remain excluded from the Australian society was based on their inability to communicate in English. Since full adaptation to the surrounding culture was near impossible, Finnish-Australians developed a subculture of their own, and ended up having an active social and cultural life. They maintained their cultural traditions and held on to their native language as well as they could. Today, 50,00013 Australians can be classified as ethnically Finnish-Australian through being migrants from Finland or their Australian-born descendants.


  1. Herman Dietrich Spöring discovered and illustrated a number of previously unknown Australian species. The accuracy of Spöring’s drawings and annotations has later been greatly acknowledged. His zoological achievements, together with those of others on the voyage, enabled further advances to be made in the development of the evolution theory. Spöring’s drawings are still on view at the British Museum in London. There is a street named after him in Canberra and a monument at the place of his birth in Turku, Finland. Spöring died of food poisoning on his way back from Australia, and was buried at sea on January 24, 1771 (Koivukangas, Kaukomaiden 86).

  2. In this paper, Koivukangas’ article Finns is referred to as “(Koivukangas, Finns xx)” according to the normal MLA citation rules. His article Finns in the Southern Hemisphere is referred to as “(Koivukangas, Southern xx)”.

  3. The Winter War was a military conflict between the Soviet Union and Finland. It began with a Soviet offensive on 30 November 1939 and ended on 13 March 1940 with the Moscow Peace Treaty.

  4. This and all subsequent translations are by the author.

  5. Life at the Australian prison camps was made as tolerable as possible. The guards provided materials and tools for the prisoners to build gardens, tennis courts and other sports facilities. They were also given the opportunity to work in exchange for a small salary. Most of the prisoners were highly educated men. To keep themselves occupied, they organised lectures for each other, with topics ranging from theoretical mathematics to literature history (Kansanaho 58-59). Foreign language courses were the most popular. Paavo Hytönen, a pastor of the Finnish Seamen Mission who was sent to a prison camp in April 1942, counted that one could attend lessons in 13 different languages at the camp. He himself learned German during the two years he was there (Kansanaho 60).

    Even if life In the Australian prison camps wasn’t as daunting as it might have been In prison camps in other countries, living as a captive was not easy. Hytönen recalls: “The imprisonment did get to you in the end. Sometimes you just wanted to push yourself through the thick barbed wire fences and run to the surrounding desert, even if ending up in the desert would mean a certain death” (in Kansanaho 59).

  6. The slogan “Populate or perish” was first used by Prime Minister Billy Hughes in 1937 and was revived by Arthur Calwell, Australia’s first Immigration Minister, after the Second World War.

  7. The White Australia Policy unofficially began in the 1850’s in an attempt to create a uni-racial Australia. The policy discriminated against any person who was non-European and those of colored races by refusing to allow them to enter the country. It was based solely on physical appearance rather than geographic origin (Jupp Immigration 77). Its effect was particularly well revealed by population censuses. For example, according to the census of 1961, less than one per cent of the Australian population had been born outside of Australia or Europe (Tanni 71).

  8. The Finnish Seamen’s Mission (Suomen Merimieskirkko) was established in 1875. It was aimed to help Finns travelling abroad, providing church services and pastoral care, as well as cultural and social services to the Finnish community. The Finnish Seamen’s Mission works in close co-operation with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, although it is a separate organisation. Outside Finland, the Finnish Seamen’s Mission currently has branches at Antwerp, Brussels, Gdansk, Hamburg, London, Piraeus, Rotterdam and Warsaw. As well as seafarers, the facilities are increasingly used by Finnish truck drivers, students and other expatriate workers (Merimieskirkko). The church operated in Australia between 1916 and 1967.

  9. The map outline was found on the web and the content was added by the author.

  10. The newspaper is still published twice a month except for December and January. In March 2011 the newspaper had 1,400 subscribers (Soder).

  11. Statistics Finland is not able to provide exact numbers of return migrants. This is because separating return migrants from other immigrants and those who only intend to stay in the country for a short period of time is statistically very challenging (Korkiasaari). Moreover, emigrants did not always return to the old country. Some Finns from Australia moved to North America, New Zealand or South Africa (Koivukangas, Southern 202).

  12. Finlandia Village has a retirement village consisting of 23 houses and residential aged care unit with 45 places. The retirement village currently has a total of 30 residents and all of the residential aged care units are occupied. Of the total of 75 Finlandia Village clients, 5 are non-Finns (Moisander). Finlandia Village was the only ethnically organised rest home in Australia 1999 (Koivukangas, Southern 204) and may still be the only one today.

  13. The figure of 50,000 ethnic Finnish-Australians is an approximation based on the 1996 Australian Census figures of 8,619 persons who were born in Finland and 18,392 who had at least one parent who was born in Finland (Parr 262, 275).

Works Cited

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  • Australian Government, Department of Immigration and Citizenship. Statistical Publications, Community Information Summaries. Finland-born. Viewed on 18 February 2011.
  • Baron, Senja. The Finnish Migrant Community in Post-war Melbourne – “The Only Thing That Spoke English Was the Radio”. Siirtolaisuus – Migration 4/2000: 21-34.
  • Berg, Liisa. Interview. 10 January, 2011.
  • The Bonegilla Migrant Experience. Viewed on 19 February 2011.
  • Burnley, Ian H. The Impact of Immigration on Australia: A Demographic Approach.. Victoria: Oxford University Press, 2001.
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  • Fallgren, Leena. Some Post War Finnish Migrants in Australia. Political, Social and Religious Concerns.. Helsinki: University of Helsinki, 1976.
  • Ilpola, Peija. Teaching English to Immigrants and the School Success of Finnish Children in Australia.. Siirtolaisuus – Migration 1/1978: 11-23.
  • Institute of Migration. Online Picture Gallery. iewed on 18 February, 2011.
  • Jupp, James. Immigration.. Second Edition. Melbourne: Oxford University Press Australia, 1998.
  • - - - . Seeking Whiteness: the Recruitment of Nordic Immigrants to Oceania.. Scandinavian and European Migration to Australia and New Zealand: Proceedings of the Conference Held in Stockholm, Sweden, and Turku, Finland, June 9-11, 1998.. Eds. Olavi Koivukangas and Charles Westin. Vammala: Vammalan Kirjapaino Oy., 1999. 28-41.
  • Järvinen, Aino. Interview. 4 January, 2011.
  • Kaikkonen, Pirkko (<>). Head of the Consulate of Finland in Sydney. Suomalaisten lukumäärä Australiassa [The Number of Finns in Australia]. E-mail sent on Monday, 07 March 2011 at 23:59:05 EET.
  • Kankaanpää, Sanna. “Much More Than a Passport”: Markers of Finnish National Identity in Australia.. Siirtolaisuus – Migration 4/2006: 18-28.
  • Kansanaho, Erkki. Etelän ristin alla – Australian suomalaisten kirkollista elämää. [Under the Southern Cross – Church Life of the Finnish-Australians]. Helsinki: Kirjaneliö, 1975.
  • Kiuru, Seija. Interview. 28 December, 2010.
  • Koivukangas, Olavi. Finns. The Australian People: an Encyclopedia of the Nation, Its People and Their Origins.. Ed. James Jupp. Second Edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001. 354-355.
  • - - - . Finns in the Southern Hemisphere – a Comparative Approach.. Scandinavian and European Migration to Australia and New Zealand: Proceedings of the Conference Held in Stockholm, Sweden, and Turku, Finland, June 9-11, 1998..Eds. Olavi Koivukangas and Charles Westin. Vammala: Vammalan Kirjapaino Oy, 1999. 185–214.
  • - - - . Kaukomaiden kaipuu. Suomalaiset Afrikassa, Australiassa, Uudessa-Seelannissa ja Latinalaisessa Amerikassa. [Longing for Distant Lands: Finns in Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Latin America]. Jyväskylä: Gummerus, 1998.
  • - - - . Sea, Gold and Sugarcane. Attraction Versus Distance: Finns in Australia 1851-1947.. Turku: Institute of Migration, 1986.
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  • Korkiasaari, Jouni. Siirtolaisuus- ja ulkomaantilastot. . Helsinki: Statistics Finland, 1993.
  • Mattila, Tuulikki. The Finns in Australia: Their Living Conditions and Needs for Social and Health Services.. Turku: Institute of Migration, 1985.
  • Moisander, Paula (<>). Administration Officer at the Australian Finnish Rest Home Association. Finlandia Village Statistics. E-mail sent on Tuesday, 08 March 2011 at 06:54:00 EET.
  • Merimieskirkko Ry. Viewed on 10 March, 2011.
  • Oja, Niilo. Koralliranta ja Spinifex. [Coral Beach and Spinifex]. Brisbane: Finnish Cultural Society, 1972.
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  • Parr, Arnold. Globalisation, Nationalism and Finnish-Australian Ethnicity.. Scandinavian and European Migration to Australia and New Zealand: Proceedings of the Conference Held in Stockholm, Sweden, and Turku, Finland, June 9-11, 1998.. Eds. Olavi Koivukangas and Charles Westin. Vammala: Vammalan Kirjapaino Oy, 1999. 259–276.
  • Pietilä, Helmi. Interview. 6 January, 2011.
  • Pietilä, Päivi. American Finns as Language Learners – The Age Issue.. Siirtolaisuus – Migration 3/1990: 4-8.
  • Rasa, Jouni. Vuosien 1958–60 välisenä aikana Australiaan muuttaneiden suomalaisten selviytymishaasteet [The Survival Challanges of the Finns Who Immigrated to Australia Between 1958–1960]. Helsinki: The University of Helsinki, 1993.
  • Sluga, Glenda. Bonegilla: A Place of No Hope.. Parkville: The University of Melbourne, 1988.
  • Soder, Risto (<>). Editor in Chief of the Suomi Newspaper. Current Number of Subscribers. E-mail sent on Thuesday, 10 March 2011 at 01:56:46 EET.
  • Suominen, Anna. Interview. 6 January, 2011.
  • Tanni, Katri. Perspectives on Australian Multiculturalism.. Passages Westward.. Eds. Maria Lähteenmäki and Hanna Snellman. Helsinki: Finnish Literature Society, 2006. 64-75.
  • Toukomaa, Pertti. Korutonta kertomaa: Suomalaiset perheet ruotsalaisessa teollisuusyhteiskunnassa. . Tampere: University of Tampere, 1973.
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  • Walsh, Kate. The Changing Face of Australia: A century of Immigration 1901-2000.. Crows Nest: Allen & Unwin, 2001.
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  • - - - . Finnish Emigration to Australia: A Bitter-Sweet Decision.. Siirtolaisuus – Migration 3/1997: 3-14.

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Last Updated 28 April 2011