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Croatians in Western Australia: Migration, values and identity

Colic-Peisker, Val (2000) Croatians in Western Australia: Migration, values and identity. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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This thesis explores the process of integration of two post-war waves of voluntary Croatian migrants to Australia. The study is focused on changes in migrants’ values and the feeling of identity. The research starts from the proposition that differences in the socio-economic background (class) of the two waves of migrants, largely coinciding with their rural versus urban origin, will be significant factors in determining their migration experience.

The first group of Croatians migrated to Australia in the 1960s - early 1970s. This is the largest wave of Croatians that reached Australia. The second group is a smaller but still clearly identifiable wave of late-1980s - mid-1990s arrivals. Most of the 1960s wave of migrants are of peasant origin, with little formal education and limited English, who took working-class jobs upon arrival to Australia. They remain relatively uninvolved with the mainstream English-speaking society and mainly socialise within their ethnic communities. These communities have an important role in maintaining their traditional values and sense of identity, which are firmly connected to their native land and communities of origin.

The recent wave of migrants arrived in Australia from Croatian cities. Most of them have a tertiary degree and hold professional jobs in Australia. Their sense of identity is based on their education and professional work rather than their ‘Croatianness’. They do not form ethnic communities and are integrated into mainstream society through their work and socialising with non-Croatians.

Both groups experienced changes in their values and identity following migration, but to various degrees and in different ways. The 1960s group experienced ‘enlargement’ of their ethnic identity from local to national; this process can be viewed as a ‘modernisation’ of their ethnic identity. The turbulent political developments in Croatia in the 1990s influenced this process. The 1980s wave of urban professional migrants further ‘Westernised’ following migration by incorporating Australian cultural narratives, practices and values, and is developing a culturally hybrid identity. The meaning of the homeland and the type of connection to it significantly differ in the two groups. While the 1960s cohort fits into the idea of ‘diaspora’, the 1980s migrants do not define themselves by their connection to the homeland.

The fact that the two groups of Croatians came from a communist country, dominated by authoritarianism in social and political life and egalitarianism in its ideological matrix, is relevant in the process of identity and value change following migration to Australia. Changes in Australian immigration policies, and society as a whole from the 1960s to the 1980s, also influenced the migration experience of the two groups of Croatians.

This study challenges the way in which ‘outsiders gaze’ stereotypes the ethnicity of migrant groups on the basis of their country of origin. The two groups of Croatians do not form a single ethnic community in any sociologically meaningful way. The class differences between them largely outweigh the fact that they came from the same country.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Division of Social Sciences, Humanities and Education
Notes: Note to the author: If you would like to make your thesis openly available on Murdoch University Library's Research Repository, please Thank you.
Supervisor(s): Baldock, Cora and Campion, Michael
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