Many Filipinos would readily include Australia as their choice country to visit, work in or migrate to.
This is so because Australia is one of the wealthiest in the world which also offers relatively easy migration policy coupled with a host of opportunities both for professional and skilled workers. No wonder, there are more than 390,000 Filipinos living or working in the island continent today, according to data from the Commission on Filipinos Overseas.
Referred as the Down Under, Australia is in the Southern Hemisphere, “below” many other countries on the globe. It’s neighboring countries include Indonesia, East Timor and Papua New Guinea to the north; the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu to the northeast; and New Zealand to the southeast.
A highly developed country, Australia also ranks highly in many international comparisons of national performance, such as quality of life, health, education, economic freedom, and the protection of civil liberties and political rights. Thus, many citizens of the world prefer to see and visit Australia which is included in the top 50 most popular and visited countries.
Australia is a member of the United Nations; Group of 20; Commonwealth of Nations; Australia, New Zealand, United States Security Treaty; Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development; World Trade Organization; Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation; and the Pacific Islands Forum.
Records show that the relaxation of the White Australia Policy in the 1950s saw the arrival of Filipino students under the Colombo Plan. Some skilled tradesmen and professionals were also recruited from the Philippines to work in Australia since then Filipino immigration increased significantly during the 1970s, from a population of just 467 in 1971, to 3,455 a decade later. The end of the White Australia Policy in 1973 when Filipino immigration was no longer restricted,
and the declaration of martial law in the Philippines during the previous year caused many to seek a new life in Australia.
The increase in the Philippine-born population of Victoria between 1981 and 2011 has been one of the most dramatic of any community in Victoria: from 3,455 to 38,004 people. In this period there was a noticeable increase in the migration of Filipino spouses and fiancées under the Family Reunion Program.
Today the majority of Filipino communities in Australia are based in the Western suburbs of Melbourne. Around 73 percent of Philippine-born people in Victoria speak Filipino or Tagalog at home, while 21 percent speak English. The community is mostly Catholic, and nearly half the population is aged under 40. One quarter of working Filipinos are employed as professionals, while another quarter work in trades, production and transport.
One of the most awaited festivities among Australians, and most important event as well for immigrants, including the Filipinos, is Australia Day. Held every 26th of January every year, Australia celebrates a national holiday—Australia Day—in Melbourne and Victoria as the Victorian Government brings upon its people a festive atmosphere with an array of fun activities and free events.
The 26th of January refers to the First Landing Day or Foundation Day, in 1788 when Capt. Arthur Phillip, the first governor of New South Wales, arrived at Sydney Cove.
Thirty years after the arrival of the First Fleet in 1818, the governor of Australia ordered a 30-gun salute, hosted a dinner ball at Government House and gave government employees a holiday. In the following years, employees of banks and other organizations were also given holidays. In the following decades, horse racing and regattas were popular activities on January 26.
Since 1994 the Australia Day public holiday has been on January 26 in all states and territories. However, the anniversary of the first permanent European settlement in Australia is not a cause for celebration for all citizens. Indigenous Australians often feel that the celebrations on Australia Day exclude them and their culture, which was thriving for thousands of years before the arrival of the First Fleet.
According to Australian Ambassador Bill Tweddell, Australia Day means many things to different Australians.
“For some, it is the day when they make a public commitment to Australia in the citizenship ceremonies which take place across the country.
“For others it is a day for reflection on what Australia has achieved, on the Australian way of life, and on our hard-fought traditions of democracy, fairness, equity and individual opportunity,” he said
How Australians celebrate
Most Australians have a day off work and use the day to picnic in a park, to go shopping or to play or to watch sports events. In some places, particularly Lake Burley Griffin, spectacular public fireworks displays are held. In addition, the Australian of the Year Awards are presented. These are awards for Australians who have made an outstanding contribution to their country or community.
In some towns and cities, citizenship ceremonies are held on Australia Day. These are ceremonies to welcome immigrants to the country who have been granted Australian citizenship. Although official in nature, these ceremonies often have a festive atmosphere.
Celebrating Australia Day in the Philippines for the fourth year, Tweddell expressed belief that Australia’s relationship with the Philippines is grounded in the key elements of friendship and solidarity.
Here is the full text of Tweddell’s reflection on what it means to be the Australian ambassador in the Philippines.
“The friendship between the Philippines and Australia is being strengthened at both the government-to-government and people-to-people levels.
“As one important manifestation of this trend, during the past 12 months there have been a number of high-level visitors from Australia: the foreign minister, Ms. Julie Bishop, the trade and investment minister, Mr. Andrew Robb, the environment minister, Mr. Greg Hunt and a multiparty parliamentary delegation.
“All have experienced the hospitality of their Filipino hosts. Their visits underlined Australia’s desire to deepen the relationship with the Philippines and exposed senior Australians to just how strong the potential is to expand relations even further.
“Our people-to-people links will be bolstered in 2015 as we welcome the commencement of the New Colombo Plan in the Philippines.
“The New Colombo Plan is a signature initiative of the Australian government which aims to lift knowledge of the Indo Pacific in Australia by supporting Australian undergraduates to study and undertake internships in the region.
“It will encourage a two-way flow of students with the region, complementing the thousands of students from the region, including the Philippines, coming to Australia to study each year.
“The past 12 months have also reinforced to me the solidarity between Australia and the Philippines.
“In response to the loss of life and damage to infrastructure due to Typhoon Ruby, the Australian government, through the United Nationals Population Fund and the Philippine Red Cross, was able to provide health and dignity kits to women and family survival kits to those in affected regions.
“This was in addition to the provision, through the World Food Program, of 800 tonnes of rice which was distributed to 40,000 affected families.
“Last October I had the privilege of unveiling a memorial in Palo, Leyte, to honor the 92 Australians who gave their lives during the liberation of the Philippines in the Second World War.
“The monument stands close to the site where General Douglas MacArthur first stepped ashore after leading the advance from Australia, and helped to mark the 70th anniversary of the Leyte Landings.
“It was for me a somber reminder of the role of over 4,000 Australian personnel who fought alongside their Philippine and Allied counterparts during World War II to help
liberate the Philippines.
“In 2015 Australians around the globe will commemorate the Centenary of Anzac—100 years since our nation’s involvement in the First World War.
“But we will also commemorate 100 years of service and sacrifice by Australia servicemen and women, including those who helped forge the bonds of solidarity in the Philippines.
“Looking forward, 2015 will be an important year for the Philippines as Apec host.
“Australians look forward to working closely with our Filipino mates to make this important regional event a great success.
“So on this Australia Day we not only celebrate our national day, we celebrate the nature of our enduring relationship with the Philippines—through friendship and solidarity.
“Happy Australia Day!”