Every country celebrates its national day in its own way. For Australia, it is a time to remember the stories that have helped shape us into the modern country we are today. We think about what has come before, and the challenges and opportunities that may lie ahead.
Our story began a long time ago. For at least 65,000 years, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have lived in the great southern continent now called Australia. For millennia, Indigenous Australians have been the land’s traditional owners and custodians of a vibrant culture. In the twenty-first century, Australia is a multicultural nation. Just like me, one in four Australians are migrants, and almost half of all Aussies have a parent born overseas.
And it would not be possible to tell the story of Australia without also mentioning the Philippines. Filipino migration to Australia can be traced back to the 1880s, when pioneering ‘Manila Men’ arrived in northern Australia to work in the pearling industry. Many of these first Filipinos settled in remote coastal towns like Broome, Cooktown, and Thursday Island. Here, they built new lives, bringing with them their traditions, culture, language, food, and religion.
From these humble roots, the Filipino community in Australia has grown to become one of our largest and most important. Today, more than 400,000 Australians were either born in the Philippines or are of Filipino ancestry, making it our fifth largest ethnic group.
Quite apart from permanent migrants, the people-to-people links between Australia and the Philippines are strong. In 2019, Australia was the top international destination for Filipino university students. On my recent visits to Cebu and Davao, I have greatly enjoyed meeting some of our alumni and hearing of how their studies in Australia have enriched them both personally and professionally.
Having now been in the Philippines for six months, I can see that the depth of ties between our two peoples is due to our similar national characters. While there are obvious points of difference (I have yet to meet a Filipino who liked the taste of Vegemite or was interested in cricket!), I see that both Filipinos and Australians value humour, adaptability, openness, and are ‘down-to-earth’ people. Perhaps most significantly, we value true friends and share a willingness to band together, including in times of adversity.
This strong connection underpins our excellent bilateral cooperation across the important areas of inclusive development, security and trade relations. Yet, there is so much more we can and must do together. And I am committed to driving and raising our bilateral relationship to that of a Strategic Partnership this year. We have an exciting 2023 ahead!
Mabuhay and Happy Australia Day!