History of immigration from Burma (Myanmar)

Map of Burma (Myanmar)
Map date: 2013
The Victorian census of 1881 records 12 residents born in ’Burmah’. From 1886 Burma was administered by British India. In 1901 there were 13 Burma-born residents in Victoria; this number had grown to 22 by the following census in 1911. Burma was excluded as a category in the 1921 Victorian census; instead, British India was recorded, making it impossible to quantify the Burmese population. Although Burma became a separate, self-governing colony in 1937, and gained independence from the British in 1948, this was not reflected in the Victorian census until 1961. When the Burma-born are finally distinguishable in the 1961 census, their numbers had swelled to 238. From this point there has been sustained growth in their number.

In 1989 Burma adopted the name ‘Union of Myanmar’ for English transliteration. This name change, while accepted by the United Nations, is not widely used. Thus Burma is still the category recorded in the Victorian census.

The Burmese people have experienced decades of oppression from a succession of military regimes and internal displacement. This led to significant numbers seeking refuge in Australia, often after long stays in refugee camps. Many women have come here under the provision of ‘Women at risk’ visas.

The 2011 census records 5607 Burma-born Victorians, but even larger numbers have arrived since that time. The Burma-born population is composed of many ethnic groups with their own dialects, beliefs and customs. In 2011 33% spoke Burmese at home, followed by 29% Karen and 10% English. Whilst the vast majority is Christian, 19% are Buddhist. The Burma-born population has settled in significant numbers in the local government areas of Wyndham, Maroondah, Greater Dandenong and Brimbank. They are a relatively young group with almost 80% under the age of 45. Of those employed 28% are employed in managerial, professional and associated roles, a further 25% work as labourers.

The community is supported by a Burmese radio program on SBS and the celebration of events including Independence Day on January 4th, Burmese New Year or Water Festival on April 13th and the Light Festival, which is celebrated with the wider Buddhist community.

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