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
(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
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
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
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.
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
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,
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
(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
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
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
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
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
“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].”
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
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”)
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
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
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
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
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
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).
Martti Väänänen’s Uuteen Maahan
(“To the New Country”), Monument to Finnish immigrants
in the Bli Bli Finnish Memorial Park (Photo source: www.dundernews.com).
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
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.
- 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,
- 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
- 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.
- This and all subsequent translations are by
- 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
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).
- 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.
- 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).
- 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
- The map outline was found on the web and the
content was added by the author.
- The newspaper is still published twice a
month except for December and January. In March 2011 the newspaper had
1,400 subscribers (Soder).
- 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).
- 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.
- 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).
- Australian Department of Immigration. Australia and Immigration.. Melbourne: Victorian Government Printer, 1969.
- 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.
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.
- Clyne, Michael G. Community Languages: The Australian Experience.. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991.
- 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 (<Sanomat.Syd@formin.fi>). 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.
- - - - . Suomalainen siirtolaisuus Australiaan toisen maailmansodan jälkeen. [Finnish Immigration to Australia After World War Two]. Turku: Institute of Migration, 1975.
- 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 (<Info@afrha.com.au>). 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.
- Pajunen, Veikko. Australian kahdet kasvot: suomalaisia siirtolaisia tapaamassa . [The Two Faces of Australia: Meeting Finnish Immigrants]. Helsinki: Kustannusosakeyhtiö Otava, 1961.
- 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:
- 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 (<email@example.com>). 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.
- Trove. Viewed on 10 March, 2011.
- Walsh, Kate. The Changing Face of Australia: A century of Immigration 1901-2000.. Crows Nest: Allen & Unwin, 2001.
- Watson, Greg[ory]. The Diminishing Sugar-Miners of Mount Isa, Australia.. Siirtolaisuus – Migration 1/1999: 23-33.
- - - - . Finnish Emigration to Australia: A Bitter-Sweet Decision.. Siirtolaisuus – Migration 3/1997: 3-14.