From island to continent

Oscar Richard Coombes
Oscar Richard Coombes (1846–1907) sought to establish a colony of Mauritian sugar growers in the Northern Territory.
Source: E. Duyker, Of the Star and the Key, 1988.

Mauritius and Rodrigues are two small islands located 2000 kilometres to the east of southern Africa, in the Indian Ocean. Rodrigues, the main outer island of the Republic of Mauritius, obtained autonomy in 2002. Colonisation of these once-uninhabited islands brought together people from France, Africa, India and China, which has resulted in a unique hybrid culture. The tropical beauty of the islands once led Mark Twain to describe Mauritius as paradise.

From the mid 1960s to the early 1980s, more than 65,000 people left the islands to make new lives in other countries, including Australia – a starkly different country to the tropical islands left behind.

A large number of immigrants settled in Victoria. Prior to the 1960s, the number of Mauritian immigrants to Australia was small. The Victorian gold rushes of the 1850s saw the short-term stay of some Mauritian gold seekers, with the majority of them returning home after little success.

A more permanent Mauritian presence was felt in the late 19th century when the weakening sugar industry in Mauritius saw ‘sugar men’ settle in Australia and contribute to the establishment of the sugar industry in Queensland.

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