2 Egyptian girls at the Coptic Orthodox Church of the Virgin Mary in Melbourne.
Image: Liz Gilliam
Source: Liz Gilliam
Question: Why do my Egyptian ancestors speak Greek?
Answer: Immigrant communities are sometimes linguistically and culturally diverse – even if they come from the same country. Victoria’s Egyptian community is an example of this, with settlers and their descendants speaking a range of languages and professing many faiths. Of the 11,575 Egypt-born Victorians counted in the 2006 census, 47% spoke Arabic at home, 15% Greek, and 11% Italian. A further 20% reported speaking only English.
This linguistic diversity reflects the cosmopolitan nature of Egypt. Since ancient times, Egypt and Greece have had significant cultural and political ties. From the mid-19th century, the Egyptian cities of Alexandria and Cairo were home to substantial Greek communities. A change of government in Egypt in 1952 caused rising political tensions, prompting many members of the Greek communities to migrate to Australia and elsewhere.
Cultural diversity is further evident in the range of religions to which Egypt-born Victorians belong, from Coptic and Greek Orthodoxy to Roman Catholicism and Islam.
Since World War II, Egyptians have been immigrating to Australia in large numbers. Many have made Victoria their home: in 2006, a third of all Egypt-born Australians resided in Melbourne.
Victoria’s Egyptian community displays characteristics associated with a long-established settlement: relative gender balance, high levels of English-proficiency and an aging population. This correlates with the fact that almost two-thirds of the population came to Victoria before 1986.
This large and stable community has made significant contributions to Victorian cultural life, and has produced leading scientists and cinematographers along with an Australian chess champion. Egyptian communal life is supported by a range of cultural, political, media and religious organisations.