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Population

Ethnic Group

The United Kingdom and Ireland were traditionally the principal countries of origin for the majority of immigrants to Australia, reflecting the colonial history of the country. Since World War II (1939-1945), however, Australia’s population has become more ethnically diverse as people have immigrated from a wider range of countries. The proportion of residents born in other countries increased from 10 percent in 1947 to 24 percent in 2000. In 1947, 81 percent of new arrivals came principally from the United Kingdom and Ireland, and to a lesser extent from New Zealand, Canada, South Africa, and the United States. In 2000 only 39 percent of new arrivals came from those major English-speaking countries. From 1995 to 2000, people from New Zealand constituted 18 percent of total immigration; those from the United Kingdom, 11 percent; China, 8 percent; the former Yugoslavia (overwhelmingly refugees and asylum seekers), 7 percent; South Africa, 5 percent; and India, 4 percent. These six principal countries of birth represented about 53 percent of total immigration during those years. Since the early 1970s the countries of South, Southeast, and East Asia have become an increasingly important source of new arrivals, both settlers and long-term visitors (who are primarily in Australia for educational purposes). In 1999-2000 Asian-born arrivals made up 34 percent of all immigration to Australia.

People of European descent constitute about 91 percent of Australia’s population. Although most claim British or Irish heritage, there are also Italian, Dutch, Greek, German, and other European groups. People of Asian descent or birth constitute about 7 percent of the population; their countries of origin include China, Vietnam, India, the Philippines, and Malaysia. People of Middle Eastern origin make up an estimated 1.9 percent of the population. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people constitute about 2.2 percent; their proportion of the total population rose strongly during the 1990s. Also known as Indigenous Australians, these two groups are the original inhabitants of the region. Torres Strait Islander people, who are a Melanesian people, are indigenous to the islands of the Torres Strait, which lies between the Cape York Peninsula of Queensland and the island of New Guinea.

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