Victoria's Malay Community

by Nicole D
Publish date
23 April 2012
Comments (1)

Your Question: I’ve just returned from Malaysia and am curious about the history of the Malay community in Victoria. Do you have some resources you can recommend regarding on this topic and Malay cultures in general?

The Malay community in Australia is diverse, with people from a number of ethnic backgrounds and religions that reflect the diversity of Malaysia itself. The culture of the region that we today call Malaysia, which also includes parts of Borneo, has been shaped by interactions between the Malay, Arab, Chinese, Indian, European and South East Asian peoples from the middle of the 15th century. Intermarriage between people of various cultures from this early period, plus influxes of later Chinese, Indian and European settlers led to an ethnically diverse population, which is still obvious in the country today and is reflected in the Malay community in Australia.

Students from the Malaysian Students Association take part in Orientation Week, RMIT, February 2001. Students from the Malaysian Students Association take part in Orientation Week, RMIT, February 2001.
Image: Jun Siew Goh / Photographer: Unknown
Source: Copyright Malaysian Students Association 2001

The first stop for anyone wanting to do research on the Malaysian community in Australia is Immigration Museum’s Origins website. It tells us a little about the history of Malaysian immigration to Australia, as well as statistics from census data on the demographics of the Victorian Malaysian community.

Immigration from the Malaysia actually began in the mid 19th century and Malay workers were involved in the pearling industry, trepang, mining, agriculture, including cane fields. European descended Malays came to Australia during WWII. Following the end of the Immigration Restriction Act in 1973 Malaysian immigration increased and by 2006 there were 30,476 Malaysia-born Victorians and 92,335 in Australia. Most of these identified as ethnic Chinese (c 65,000), with smaller percentages of Malay (c 12,000), Indian (c 6,000) and other groups. English is the language most spoken in the home, followed closely by Cantonese, with smaller amounts of Malaysia-born Australians speaking Mandarin, Behasa Melayu, Tamil, other Chinese languages and Vietnamese.

Pencil Drawing by Thomas Le. Pencil Drawing by Thomas Le. It depicts the journey of of Mai Ho's family to Australia and shows their first few months here.
Image: Museum Victoria / Artist Thomas Le
Source: Copyright Thomas Le 1998

Some famous Malaysia-born Australians include singer Guy Sebastian, politician Penny Wong and entertainer Kamahl.

Further details and statistics regarding Malaysian born people living in the wider Australian community can be found on the Australian Bureau of Statistics website and this factsheet produced by Department of Immigration and Citizenship. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has some great general information on Malaysia, its people and their relations with Australia.

In the Immigration Discovery Centre we have a variety of books on Malaysian history, culture, contemporary politics and the Malay community in Australia. While the IDC is not a lending library, you are welcome to come and browse the books we have here.

Couple cutting the wedding cake, at their wedding in Singapore Couple cutting the wedding cake, at their wedding in Singapore
Image: Tuty Juhari / Photographer: Unknown
Source: Copyright Tuty Juhari 1997

There are a number of other useful websites and resources for finding out about the Malaysian community in Victoria, including Melayu Melbourne, the Malay Education and Cultural Centre of Australia Inc (MECCA), Malaysian Students’ Council of Australia (MASCA) Victoria, 92.3 FM ZZZ, Malaysian show, and Australian-Malaysian Film Festival. 

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Comments (1)

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Tompo 21 October, 2013 09:59
This answer/article seems to confuse the term Malay with Malaysian. It's important to explain that 'Malay' is an Austronesian ethnicity found mainly in the Malay archipelago (in Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei and Singapore). Malays are culturally Muslim and make up the majority of the population of Malaysia. 'Malaysian' on the other hand is a nationality - people who are citizens of the country of Malaysia. This includes people of a variety of ethnicities, primarily Malay, Chinese, Indian and the indigenous peoples of Borneo. Most of the Malaysians who live in Australia are ethnically Chinese, and not Malay. A similar comparison would be Fiji - where almost half the population are not ethnic Fijian, but actually Indian.
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