Nations on the move: Burmese migration to Australia
AuthorTaylor, Erin Marie
AffiliationSchool of Historical and Philosophical Studies, Faculty of Arts
Document TypePhD thesis
CitationsTaylor, E. M. (2013). Nations on the move: Burmese migration to Australia. PhD thesis, School of Historical and Philosophical Studies, Faculty of Arts, The University of Melbourne.
Access StatusOpen Access
© 2013 Dr. Erin Marie Taylor
This thesis is the first work to undertake a long-range historical examination of migration from Burma to Australia. Moving beyond the conventions of a traditional community migration history, it interrogates the intersections between the discourses of race and nation in both places, and explores how they impacted on the decisions of individuals and groups to emigrate from Burma, and their ability to settle in Australia. Throughout, what it means to be Burmese is critically examined. This is a term that often acts as a monolithic identity, eliding the complex ethnic, cultural and political allegiances that tie the people of Burma together, and which has been used uncritically in the small number of studies of this migration previously published. In interrogating the diverse histories, politics and migration journeys that lie behind the term Burmese, this thesis provides a more nuanced understanding of this community. Utilising government archival documents, parliamentary debates, Refugee Review Tribunal of Australia case files, media material, memoir and oral history interviews, the thesis examines both the political and the personal, highlighting that there are multiple modes of representing and therefore understanding this history. It largely focuses on two periods during which significant amounts of migration from Burma to Australia occurred: the late 1940s to the late 1970s, and the early 1990s to the present. It argues, however, that this pattern of migration was shaped significantly by the development of racially based national identities in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in both places. The drive of central Burmese authorities, both civilian and military, to inculcate a restrictive form of national belonging around a pan-Burmese identity has been a key site of conflict in Burma since independence in 1948, and has contributed to a large-scale refugee situation that remains an issue in the present. Racially based understandings of Australian national identity, defined as white, prevented many people from Burma from migrating to Australia until the late 1960s. Despite the abolition of racially-based immigration restrictions and the adoption of multiculturalism in the 1970s, racially-based understandings of national identity continue to have traction within Australian political discourse, most recently in relation to refugee and asylum seeker policies. This is significant given that the majority of people from Burma to migrate to Australia have done so via the humanitarian stream. By critically examining the impact of identity politics in Burma and Australia on migrants from Burma of a variety of ethnic and religious backgrounds, and over long historical period, this thesis makes an important foundational contribution to the limited, but emerging, work on this topic.
KeywordsBurma; Myanmar; Burmese migration; Australia; refugee; history; Chin Mon resettlement
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