Photo Credit: Grant Faint
Everything To Know About The African Diaspora In Australia
How much do you know about the African diaspora in Australia? Did you know that the oldest foreign artifacts ever discovered in Australia were African coins? They were minted by the medieval kingdom of the Kilwa Sultanate— the equivalent of modern-day Tanzania— found on the Wessel Islands, which indicates trade with Africa from as early as the 12th century.
There were Black passengers on the first fleet of British ships that arrived at Botany Bay, Sydney, in 1788. The British established a penal colony on the mainland, which was populated by exiled British convicts. Over time, the British ventured further into the interior and established other colonies, decimating indigenous Aboriginal communities through war and disease.
Much of the money that went into establishing British colonies in Australia was financed by Britain’s involvement in the Transatlantic slave trade. The Legacies of British Slave-Ownership database at the University College London details many prominent European settlers in Australia who had benefitted financially from the slave trade. They include the former Mayor of Melbourne Godfrey Downes Carter, Reverend Robert Allwood Vice-Chanecellor of Sydney University, and Archibald Paull Burt, the first Chief Justice of the Supreme court of Western Australia.
As mentioned, people of African descent arrived via the First Fleet and throughout the 19th century. Notable examples include Billy Blue, John Caesar and Black Jack Anderson.
Billy Blue was a Black convict who was transported to Botany Bay on the convict ship Minorca in 1801 to serve the remaining two years of his sentence. Upon release, Billy became a boatman, ferrying passengers across Sydney Harbor. Blues point on Sydney Harbor and Blue Street, Blues point tower and the Billy Blue College of Design are all named after him.
John Caesar, nicknamed ‘Black Caesar’, was the first Australian bushranger and one of the first people of African descent to arrive in Australia. Born in the West Indies, he was convicted of stealing and was transported to Australia as part of the First Fleet in 1788. Caesar escaped four times during his sentence, but was eventually caught or handed himself in, every time apart from the fourth time when he was mortally wounded by his captors.
Black Jack Anderson was an African-American pirate and seal hunter who operated off the coast of Western Australia. He arrived in 1826 on the American vessel Vigilant and escaped to the Recherche Archipelago. Black Jack Anderson made his money by trading furs along the coast and robbing passing ships. Black Jack was eventually murdered by his fellow pirates.
The oldest African diaspora group in Australia is the Mauritian community, which established a trade relationship in the early 1800s when Australia began importing Mauritian sugar. However, the wider African diaspora in Australia as we know it today is relatively recent. During the 1960s, the Special Commonwealth African Assistance Plan facilitated students from Commonwealth African countries travelling to Australia, where many of them chose to stay.
In more recent years, African migrants have entered Australia for a number of reasons, whether as skilled workers, through family connections or on humanitarian programs. The largest African diaspora communities in Australia hail from South Africa, Zimbabwe, Sudan, Mauritius and Kenya.
To learn more about the African diaspora worldwide, check out the ‘Freedom Is Mine’ YouTube channel where I have made videos on black communities around the world. And you can follow Freedom Is Mine on Instagram for daily global black history content!