Kenneth Tee, an immigrant from Cambodia, 1988.
Image: Emmanuel Santos
Source: La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria
Question: I have a project for school on immigration to Australia. We had to choose a country that people came from. I chose Cambodia. Can you help me get started on my project?
Answer: There was very little Cambodian immigration to Australia until the 1950s when a small number of students from Cambodia arrived under the Colombo Plan. The Colombo Plan was established in 1950 and encouraged economic and social cooperation between member countries in the Asia-Pacific region. It included a scheme under which students from developing countries could study in Australia.
Around 40,000 students from the Asia-Pacific region studied in Australia over a period of 35 years. Individuals were required to leave Australia when they had completed their studies, but some were permitted to remain under special circumstances such as marriage to an Australian citizen, sponsorship by an Australian employer or hardship in their home country.
By 1976 the Cambodia-born population in Victoria was still only 234. Under the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia large numbers of Cambodians fled their homeland, and many came to Victoria. By 1981 the Cambodia-born population of Victoria had reached 1,478. In another five years it tripled again to reach 4,889. Most settlers were young: in 1986, 87% of the Cambodian-born population in Australia was under 40.
Migration to Victoria from Cambodia slowed in the 1980s and 90s. By this time, political conditions in Cambodia had stabilised and most Cambodians were migrating to Victoria under the Family Reunion Program. By 2001 8,989 Victorians were Cambodia-born.
Today, many Cambodian immigrants live in Springvale and Greater Dandenong. The community has developed strong cultural and social support networks including its own Buddhist temple in Springvale.
In September 2008 a festival was held at the Immigration Museum that celebrated Cambodian culture and its impact on Victoria. In response to this festival, the Immigration Discovery Centre created a guide to resources about this community; this guide can be accessed at the centre seven days a week. A good starting-point for your project? Good luck!