A Multicultural Landscape: National Parks and the Macedonian Experience
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4. Macedonian migration to Australia

Historical background Given that Macedonian history is not widely understood in Australia, a brief introduction to the country seems appropriate. The geographical area of Macedonia is located in the Balkans between the Shar Mountains in the north, the lower Mesta River and the Rhodope Mountains in the east, and the Albania highlands in the west. It is a mountainous and scenically beautiful country that produces cereals, tobacco, opium poppies and wool.

Macedonia’s geographical position is strategically significant. It controls the main north-south route from central Europe to the Salonika and the Aegean down the Moravia and Vardar Valleys. Such centrality greatly contributed to Macedonia’s power in the 4th Century BC when, under the leadership of Philip of Macedon and Alexander the Great, it was the most powerful state in the ancient world. Its strategic location, however, made it a valued prize for neighbouring powers. Macedonia has been occupied and divided for much of its history, dominated at various times by the Roman, Byzantine, Serbian, Bulgarian and Ottoman empires. Its present status is a direct legacy of the Balkan Wars of 1912-13 when Serbia, Greece and Bulgaria formed alliances to liberate Macedonia from Turkish rule. The country was carved up by the victors, with most of the northern or Vardar part of Macedonia going to Serbia and the southern part to Greece.

This basic division remained in place with the post-World War I peace settlement. Vardar Macedonia entered the Yugoslav federation in 1944 while the southern part, known as Aegean Macedonia, stayed with Greece.[62] With the breakup of Yugoslavia, Vardar Macedonia became an independent republic in 1991. Differences between Greece and the northern, now independent state, continue. Greece waged an intense international campaign against the use of the name Macedonia when the former Yugoslav state acquired independence.

Macedonians in NSW To address a question as apparently simple as the number of Macedonians in NSW, this history must be kept in mind. Australian residents who identify as Macedonian and speak the language could have been born in Aegean Macedonia (the Greek state) or the former Yugoslav republic. Census figures become problematic because people who are ethnically Macedonian, but born in the south, can be counted as ‘Greek’ in the population figures.[63] The situation is further complicated by the Australian Federal Government’s decision (influenced by Greek community lobbying) to put the acronym ‘FYROM’ (from Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) instead of ‘Macedonia’ as country of origin on the census form. The term FYROM is not used in the former Yugoslav republic and is widely resented as a foreign imposition. These limitations must be kept in mind in interpreting the population figures cited below.

Early migration to Australia Oral tradition relates that Macedonian emigration to Australia started in the late 19th Century when a group of itinerant workers heard about the discovery of gold on the ‘fifth continent’ and made their way to places like Kalgoorlie and Broken Hill. Being a rurally based and often impoverished economy, Macedonia has a well established custom known as pecalba which means working away from home. Pecalbari would travel abroad for a period in order to raise money that could be invested at home in the form of a new house, an extension to a building, or a new plot of land. Some pecalbari did reach Australia prior to World War II despite restrictive immigration policies. In The Macedonians in Australia Peter Hill relates that pre-War immigration occurred in two waves: the first, in 1924, when the USA imposed heavy immigration restrictions and the second, after 1936, when the fascist regime of Ioanis Metaxas in Greece forced an exodus of many Aegean Macedonians. Some did return to their homeland as originally intended, but others settled permanently in Australia.[64]

Post-World War II After World War II, Macedonians moved to Australia in increasing numbers. The majority arrived post-1960, moving to the suburbs of Fitzroy in Melbourne and Rockdale in Sydney. Much of the emigration is attributed to a disastrous earthquake in Skopje in 1963. The flow of immigrants waned in the 1970s but resumed in the 1990s with the break-up of Yugoslavia. The 1990s wave of immigrants was obliged to pass the rigid immigration tests that are still current in Australia. They are predominantly educated, professional people and thus very different to the earlier post-War migrants who came from peasant and working class backgrounds. As we shall see, both categories of migrant were represented in our focus group discussions.

Social snapshot Demographic information about people born in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia can be found in the 1999 Atlas of the Australian People. This is based on the most recent census of 1996 and, as previously mentioned, is subject to limitations (Aegean Macedonians not being included in these figures.) Even so, the Atlas does give a social ‘snap shot’ of a large sector of the community. I will quote from it at length.

The Atlas of the Australian People states that 18 573 people in NSW were born in the former Yugoslav republic.[65] 6.9 per cent of these arrived in the period 1991-1996 and 13.9 per cent arrived in the period 1981-90. Like other groups from the Balkans, males outnumber females quite considerably (109.3 males to 100 females). It is an aging population that is not highly qualified educationally. The proportion of degrees or diplomas is lower than that among Australian-born people. A high proportion (29.3 per cent) report difficulty speaking English. Almost all (94 per cent) speak Macedonian at home. They are religiously devout with a large majority belonging to the Macedonian Orthodox Church (75.5 percent) and a further 13.6 per cent belonging to other Orthodox congregations.

Australian Macedonians seem to value home ownership. 88.6 per cent own their dwellings (compared to 71.7 per cent of the Australian-born population). 64.1 per cent of NSW Macedonians live in Sydney. The largest concentration is in the St George-Sutherland area (population 5569). There are minor concentrations in Canterbury-Bankstown (2203) and Fairfield-Liverpool (population 1842). A concentration of 4791 people reside in Wollongong with smaller groups in Newcastle and Queanbeyan. Several informants pointed out that the proximity of Royal National Park to both Wollongong and the southern suburbs of Sydney was central in its emergence as a site for ritual gatherings like that on Christmas Day.

[62] Peter Hill, The Macedonians in Australia, (Victoria Park: Hesperian Press, 1989), pp. 1-2.

[63] It is reported that ‘For many years Macedonians have requested a method that allows ethnic Macedonians from Greece to be counted as Macedonians.’ See Victor Bivell, ‘A Political Strategy for the Macedonian Diaspora’ in Bivell (Ed), Madedonian Agenda, (Five Dock: Pollitecon Publications, 1995), p. 207.

[64] Hill, The Macedonians in Australia., p. 14.

[65] Jim Walmsley, Fran Rolley and Herb Weinand, Atlas of the Australian People: 1996 Census: New South Wales (Canberra: Dept of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, 1999), pp. 96-7. Following data from this source.

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