Sociology of Malaysian-Australians

Australia is home to 5.3 million migrants, meaning that one quarter of Australians were born overseas, and a further 20% of Australians are children of migrants – making half our nation first or second-generation migrants! Malaysia-born migrants are our 9th largest migrant group (with the UK, New Zealand and China being our biggest).

Malaysians are also one of our oldest-settled migrant groups, first arriving in the Northern coast in the 18th Century. Sociologist Peta Stephenson has a wonderful study of Indigenous Australian Muslim “reverts” (converts) who have reclaimed this heritage by converting to Islam. Today, however, in Victoria, most Malaysia-born Australians are either Buddhist (28%), No Religion (16%) or Catholic (13%).

While most other non-English speaking groups tend to settle in the Western and outer suburbs of Melbourne, Malaysian-Australians are largely living in the inner city, one of the most affluent areas in our state. Generally speaking, Malay are one of our most upwardly mobile migrant groups, with second-generation migrants averaging greater educational and professional success in comparison to Anglo-Australians.

The photos below are from the Malaysian Street Festival, which was held over the weekend. The Festival showcased the rich cultural diversity of Melbourne’s Malaysian communities. The focus was on food, music and family activities (what I’ve previously termed “emblems of identity” or surface-level culture).

Photos by Zuleyka Zevallos.


10 thoughts on “Sociology of Malaysian-Australians

  1. Malaysians and Australians have had a difficult time, (IMHO). Mahathir made it difficult – I certainly avoided KL when travelling. I love the food though, and the day looked great. I enjoy Australians celebrating a mixed culture, we don’t do it often enough.


  2. It is nice that Australians enjoy a mixed culture. Yet, why do they run a “‘No Way. You will not make Australia home.” campaign to scare off asylum seekers? Maybe more ‘culture’ to mix in is a bit too much for the Aussies?


  3. Hi Pieter van Pelt  Just as the Netherlands has faced waves of xenophobia at different points in time, especially towards Muslims and Black migrants, unfortunately, Australia is not immune to racism. The asylum seeker policy by the Liberal Government has been broadly protested by the public. I write about this often, especially on my Facebook page and Twitter. The Government appeals to scaremongering and economic malaise. This is the legacy of the Liberal government that goes back to 2001. I wrote about that history here ( 


  4. Zuleyka Zevallos First of all: I am glad that this campaign is meeting resistance from many Australians who have a heart on the right place (i.e. left). It is true that not one single country, no matter how rich and big, can solve the problem of mass migrations of people fleeing from war, poverty, corruption and hunger. This is a world problem and requires the support of all nations. All of us, world citizens, can do a little bit and influence our governments to create fairer conditions in the world so people do not have to undertake these, often perilous, journeys over the seas to escape their fate.


  5. Thanks for the link Dirk Schweitzer It’s an awful campaign and policy indeed, including the language used (“illegal”) which actually goes against Australia’s obligation under the United Nations convention. Public condemnation is having some impact, as our Immigration Minister was recently called before a public inquiry into the health impact of asylum seekers impacted by Government policy. Still, much more change needs to happen.


  6. Like some of the others I loved travelling in Malaysia (over a decade ago now). It looks like a great event.

    I’d love to attend future events, let my kids share in some of the great diversity in food, crafts, music, etc.

    Do you know if similar events are held in Sydney?

    As the son of a first-generation & third-generation immigrant, I’m amazed at how backward thinking our society has let our government become. 


  7. Hi Michael Woods Oh yes there are many excellent multicultural events in Sydney! I recommend signing up with the newsletters for What’s on Sydney ( or Weekend Notes ( For others reading this thread these websites have coverage for all major cities and that’s how I found out about this event! They only have FB pages no G+ 😦

    Yes indeed these are awful times. There are other troubling issues beyond our asylum seeker policy like the marginalisation of minority groups like Australian-Muslims (; the fact that a significant proportion of Australian people of migrant-background experience routine racism (; and other political issues regarding gender, education and science funding; and so on.

    Unfortunately a proportion of our population is politically apathetic. In part this is due to problems we have as a society (lack of empathy for those who are different, lack of knowledge about our political system and so on). Yet the other issue is poor political leadership, which is a direct result of this apathy. (A vicious cycle!) This great article in The Conversation explains that Australia has experienced similar periods of apathy so it’s possible to turn things around (


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