A mountain people
Albanians are an ancient mountain people who have used their terrain to resist invaders and preserve their ethnic identity. Ruled by the Islamic Ottoman Empire for 450 years, Albania was predominantly Muslim by the time the Balkan Wars brought an end to the occupation in 1912.
Rivalries and conflicts among the nations of Europe created much hardship for the people of Albania. During World War I, forces from Italy, Serbia, Greece, and France all sought a foothold within their territory. International agreements fixed the country's boundaries, but divided many ethnic Albanians between neighbouring states, imposing new social and economic stresses.
Letter from Morton Frederick Eden to the Agent-General for Australia, London, 25 August 1924
NAA: A461, B349/3/5, pp.20–22
Life in Albania has always been a struggle – the land is as hard as the country's history, and families are traditionally large. In the hope of improvement, Albanians have often looked abroad for opportunities. A number of Albanians educated in Turkey under the Ottoman Empire improved their lot by serving in the Turkish army or administration. Others went further afield, emigrating to the United States, Canada and eventually, Australia.
Albanians began to consider Australia as a possible destination in the 1920s, when the United States imposed strict limits on immigration from Southern Europe. As European Muslims, Albanians were not excluded under the White Australia Policy. However, the sudden increase in arrivals from Albania in 1924 worried Australian officials, who sought to limit the issue of visas to around 100 per month.
'Influx of Southern Europeans to Australia', letter from the Secretary, Home and Territories Department, to the Secretary, Prime Minister's Department, 31 December 1924
NAA: A461, A349/3/1 PART 1A, p.145–6
At the time, there was growing concern about the impact of Southern European immigration. Any 'influx', it was argued, threatened both the jobs of Australian workers, and the nation's British character. The racial qualities of Southern Europeans were compared unfavourably with immigrants from countries such as France, Sweden and Norway. It was assumed that 'nordic' types would be more easily integrated into Australian society.
'Alien migrants – Influx to Australia', Age, 8 January 1925
NAA: A461, A349/3/1 Part 1A, p.142
Letter from LF Cussen, Deputy of the Governor-General, to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, 3 September 1924
NAA: A1, 1936/13639, p.134
There were also fears that Albanians, in particular, might become a burden on the state. Jobs in Australia were not as easy to obtain as the advertising of shipping companies had led them to believe. In January 1925, authorities in Western Australia reported that 36 Albanians were being fed and housed by the State Charities Department.
'Alien migration to Australia', memo from the Secretary, Home and Territories Department, to Secretary, Prime Minister's Department, 9 January 1925
NAA: A461, A349/3/1 Part 1A, p.132
Letter from 11 Albanian immigrants to the Director, Immigration Bureau, Sydney, 11 January 1925
NAA: A461, A349/3/1 Part 1A, p.84
To restrict entry to those classes clearly able to support themselves, the government required intending migrants to have £40 'landing money'. In 1929 explicit quotas were introduced, limiting the number of visas issued to Yugoslavs, Albanians, Greeks, Poles, Estonians and Czechoslovaks. Only 25 Albanians were to be admitted each month. With the onset of the Great Depression, quotas were cut again.
Instructions issued by the Passports Control Office of the British Foreign Office, 30 January 1929
NAA: A433, 1950/2/2402, pp.72–3
Gaining entry to Australia was only the first of many trials that faced Albanian immigrants. Their lack of English made it difficult to secure employment, even though most were young and single, eager for opportunity, and accustomed to hard labour. Eventually they found jobs, such as land clearing and cane cutting, in rural areas of Western Australia, Queensland and Victoria. The work could be back-breaking and living conditions were often primitive, but gradually these pioneers established a foothold. By 1933, there were 770 Albanians in Australia.
Already struggling on the fringes of Australian society, immigrants were amongst those hardest hit by the coming of the Great Depression. Work became even scarcer, prompting some Albanians to try their luck on the Western Australian goldfields. In 1931, the Albanian government was disturbed by reports of its country folk becoming stranded in Australia – unable to find work, or afford the passage home. A discounted fare was made available and advertised by Australian authorities.
Press release, issued 24 December 1931
NAA: A461, B349/3/5, p.4
Most remained and, as conditions improved, Albanians began to build lives, families and communities. Some moved from Queensland to establish orchards and market gardens around Shepparton in Victoria. In the 1960s, the Victorian Albanian community worked to found mosques in both Shepparton and Melbourne.
Dr Helmi, the Indonesian Ambassador to Australia, opens a mosque in Shepparton, Victoria, 1960
NAA: A1501, A2360/2
In Western Australia, Albanians settled as farmers in the wheat and sheep areas of York and Northam. They sent for their fiancés or brides to join them (arranged marriages were still traditional). For Eid festivities the men and their families would drive down to the Perth Mosque, founded in 1905, and join together with the small community of Muslims from Pakistan, Malaysia, Bosnia and elsewhere.
From aliens to citizens
Albania was occupied once again in the months leading up to World War II. Italy, which already exerted considerable political and economic control over its neighbour, invaded in April 1939 and established a puppet government. When war came, Albanians in Australia were declared to be 'enemy aliens'. Their details were registered, and their movements and activities were monitored.
Interim report of the Aliens Classification and Advisory Committee, March 1943
NAA: A373, 4830, p.43
Form registering the details of Sherif Riza, as required under the National Security (Alien Control) Regulations, 7 October 1939
NAA: B6531, NATURALISED/1939-1945/RIZA SHERIF
Most Albanians opposed the occupation, and Australian authorities did not seem to regard them as a significant threat. Albanians who professed 'anti-Italian' sentiments were even allowed to be naturalised. Some served in the armed forces. But in 1942 the heightened fear of invasion, as well as reports of fascist sympathisers among some Italian and Albanian settlers, led to widespread internments in Queensland. Eighty-four Albanians were interned, although most were released after seven or eight months in camps at Enoggera and Cowra. Some were later called up to work on construction projects with the Civil Aliens Corps.
Memorandum concerning the status of Albanian nationals from the Director of the Security Service to the Director of Military Operations and Intelligence, Army Headquarters, 7 July 1941
NAA: MP508/1, 4/703/1084, pp.13–14
Internee Service and Casualty Form recording the details of Ali Nuri's internment, April to December 1942
NAA: MP1103, Q8964
Albania suffered greatly during the war. Many villages were destroyed and thousands were left homeless. Italy's surrender brought no respite, as German forces moved in to take the country. Armed groups formed to resist the occupation opposed each other politically. Their rivalry descended into civil war, with the communist-led National Liberation Movement eventually emerging victorious.
Seeking to escape communist rule, or simply hoping for a new life, many Albanians made their way to refugee camps. More than 200 were admitted to Australia under the Displaced Persons Scheme.
See A displaced person in Stories
After years of hardship and uncertainty, some Albanians left Australia in the years following the war. But others decided to make a commitment to their new home, applying for naturalisation. Applicants were questioned by authorities, who sometimes wanted to know why they had left their wives behind in Albania. Their answers reveal how hard the Albanian immigrants had worked over the years, how little they earned, and how long it took before they were able to save enough money to pay for a ticket on board a ship.
'Islam ADEM, 34, Albanian – Naturalisation', Department of the Interior memo, 24 January 1945
NAA: A435, 1944/4/1643, p.10
Albanian passport submitted by Islam Adem with his application for naturalisation, 1944
NAA: A435, 1944/4/1643, p.17
B Bregu et al., 'Albanians', in James Jupp (ed.), The Australian People
, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1988, pp. 265–66
Mary Lucille Jones, 'The years of decline: Australian Muslims 1900–40', in Mary Lucille Jones (ed.), An Australian Pilgrimage: Muslims in Australia from the Seventeenth Century to the Present, Victoria Press in association with the Museum of Victoria, Melbourne, 1993, pp. 63–86
Nahid Kabir, Muslims in Australia: Immigration, Race Relations, and Cultural History, Kegan Paul, London, 2004
Nahid Kabir, 'Muslims in Western Australia, 1870–1970', Journal of the Royal Western Australian Historical Society, vol. 12, part 5, 2005, pp. 550–65
Nahid Kabir, 'Muslims in a "White Australia": Colour or religion?', Immigrants & Minorities, vol. 24, no. 2, July 2006, pp. 193–223