Updated: Dec 31, 2022
Carrying out research into Australian immigration as part of my university degree, I was amazed to learn about the plight of the first post-WWII immigrants from Southern Europe including Kytherians, who disembarked in Australia to a sea of controversy.
Up to 1946, immigration of Southern Europeans to Australia was quite restricted and had even gone through periods of total suspension. In that year, Arthur Calwell, Australia’s first Minister of Immigration identified the nation was in need of a population influx to fulfil the plan for economic growth after WWII, thus a major post-war immigration program was undertaken to populate Australia. The British and Europeans were encouraged to settle in Australia for a better life. In April 1947 an Egyptian ship named the Misr, arrived to a barrage of media coverage and controversy as it was carrying the first boat load of post-war “darker skinned” Southern European immigrants including several Kytherians.
At that time Australia was predominately an Anglo/Celtic society, where the White Australia Policy was law and assimilation of migrants into the Australian way of life was expected. Although the government had approved the entry of the Southern European migrants, the media and the public disapproved and questioned their ‘whiteness’, with newspapers and newsreels of the time circulating stories about the filthy state of these new arrivals and the squalid conditions onboard the ship. This appears to have precipitated the discrimination which was endured by these migrants and by subsequent generations to a lesser degree.
Examining the passenger list appearing on the NAA website, it reveals several Kytherian migrants onboard the first controversial voyage of the Misr. The ship returned again in December of 1947 carrying even more Kytherians on that trip. One of the passengers close to us who arrived on that second voyage has confirmed conditions onboard the ship, were very cramped and at times filthy. The plight of these Kytherian migrants and the hardship they endured arriving in a foreign country, met with animosity, but with a determination to succeed, is a testament to their resilient and resourceful nature.
Amongst the 624 passengers onboard the ship which arrived in April 1947, were 21 Kytherian men and women with the surnames of Bonnou, Diacopoulos, Kalinikos, Kaloutsis, Mavromatis, Moulou, Panaretos, Travasaros, Trifellis, Tzortzopoulos and Zantiotis. The ship’s log contains details of each passenger’s name, ethnicity, age, marital status and in some cases valuable information relating to their destination in Australia and who had sponsored them. To have a look at this ship’s passenger list or any other passenger arrival records for Australia from 1924, which could shed information for your own family history, visit the National Archive’s website.: https://www.naa.gov.au/explore-collection/immigration-and-citizenship/passenger-arrival-records/
I would be interested in hearing about any stories your relatives may have shared with you about their voyage onboard the Misr and the reception they received upon arriving in Australia in April 1947.
The Hon. Arthur Calwell, Question Immigration Speech, Australia, House of Representatives, 22 November 1946, Parliamentary Debates, no. 47, pp. 502-509.
National Archives of Australia, https://www.naa.gov.au/explore-collection/immigration-and-citizenship/passenger-arrival-records/