The History of Coastal Settlement and Use
of Marine Resources in Australia
Best Practice Case Studies
The History of Coastal Settlement and Use of Marine Resources in Australia
Source: Island Nation - a history of Australians and the
sea by Frank Broeze, Allen and Unwin, 1998.
Australia is essentially a coastal nation, as almost 90% of the population
is concentrated on a thin strip of land between the sea and the interior
of the continent. Historically, the sea and sea life has always been integral
to Australian life. White settlement began as a fragmented archipelago
of ports that were established to serve their inland catchments. The ports
brought supplies to the emerging colonies and shipping continued to be
a major form of transport between population centres. Australia soon developed
a burgeoning maritime industry, and shipping and harbor life had a primary
role shaping the cosmopolitan character of these emerging communities.
In fact, port districts and maritime communities were the foundation of
modern multicultural Australia.
Ports were meeting points of civilizations far across the seas, visited
by transient sailors from many countries. Some would stay for longer periods,
getting work as wharfies in the thriving harbour areas. The ships themselves
brought migrants from all over the world wanting to start a new life in
Australia, and shipping remained the major means of entry right up into
the 1960s. For new migrants the harbor was the first thing they saw in
their new land, and many set up house in the local area, helping to create
the multicultural flavor of our coastal communities.
In the early decades of the colony, marine industries themselves were
very important. Produce from sealing and whaling was Australia's leading
export commodity up until the 1830s when the scale of killing meant stocks
declined. As wool became the dominant industry, sheep were abundant and
meat was very cheap. Settlers from Britain maintained the diet they were
accustomed to which was based on red meat rather than fish. Surprisingly
for a coastal colony, there was little interest in fishing and Australia's
fisheries remained modest in catch and economic importance. Rather than
acting as a food resource which sustained people in their daily lives,
the sea was used primarily as a means of transport between coastal settlements,
and between the colony and the rest of the world.
From its small beginnings in the 1860s, commercial fishing in Australia
was dominated by immigrants from Southern Europe, particularly Greece,
Italy, Dalmatia and Portugal. After the Second World War further immigration
from Southern Europe created local demand for fresh seafood products.
Many migrants set up business in fishing and seafood retailing, building
demand for a local industry and helping to change domestic eating habits.
Foods such as calamari, prawns, and shrimp, which were not widely sold
before the 1950s, are now readily available in most parts of the country
and are a regular part of the diet of many Australians.
For newly arrived migrants, the task of settling in to a new country
demands enormous amounts of time and energy. The challenges of finding
a house, job, and a school for the children are compounded by the stresses
of adapting to a new environment, health and other life issues, feelings
of loneliness and isolation and the responsibility of giving financial
support to relatives back home.
For migrants from non-English speaking background language is the most
obvious obstacle. If they cannot speak or understand English they may
be unaware of the services that are available to them as ordinary members
of the community. Even translated material can be of limited use as many
migrants are illiterate in their own language, particularly if their schooling
was disrupted due to war and political instability in their country of
origin. Without access to basic information, even a seemingly simple task
such as buying a car can present significant obstacles. Obtaining the
necessary permits and licenses involves navigating through a complex bureaucracy
that can seem impenetrable even to the native born and educated. There
are customs and conventions, such as how to negotiate with salespeople,
of which the newcomer will be unaware. These unwritten rules
are enforced unconsciously as they are implicit to the dominant culture.
These barriers will be particularly obvious for migrants from traditional
or non-western cultures where bureaucratic processes, family structures,
even concepts such as time are markedly different to our own.
The demands of settlement leave little room to engage in recreational
activities such as going to the beach. This is compounded by a lack of
knowledge of the local area. For refugees and migrants from war torn countries
who have experienced and survived real dangers such as torture and imprisonment,
safety is of primary concern. Fear of sharks, snakes or drowning may be
unwarranted but in the absence of information indicating otherwise most
people would prefer not to take the risk.
If people have had no personal experience of beach going in
their country of origin, they will be unfamiliar with the recreational
opportunities that that coast can offer. In some countries, beaches are
privately owned and accessible only to the very rich. Those who come from
inland cities may not have had the resources to travel to the coast for
holidays. In traditional coastal communities where the sea is the primary
source of food and income, fishing or boating as a hobby hardly exists.
Sports such as sailing, fishing, surfing, snorkeling and diving are predominately
the domain of western cultures and require resources that are beyond the
means of most people in the world. Even swimming is not a universal practice.
Even after some time in Australia these kind of barriers can remain. The
older people are when they migrate, the more difficult it is for them
to learn a new language, particularly if they are past working age, retrenched
or are women with children, and have less chance to socialize and develop
language skills. They often become isolated in their homes without transport
or resources for recreation.
Although most Australians live within a short drive from the coast, visiting
the beach is not necessarily accessible for all people. Settlement issues
and cultural factors limit the ability of migrants to use and enjoy the
coast, and this in turn will affect the way they perceive the coastal
environment. If we feel we belong to our environment we are more likely
to care for it. Migrant communities have essentially lost their sense
of place, so opportunities to get to know the local area will allow them
re-establish this connection and form meaningful relationships with their
environment, thereby re-establishing roots in their new land.
Best Practice Case Studies
Greening Hume Cultural Program
Greening Hume is a conservation program run by Hume City
Council in Melbourne's north western suburbs. The program runs a community
involvement program to support community conservation groups and involve
school children, people from non-English speaking background (NESB) and
general residents in planting in parks and along waterways and learning
to care about the local environment.
The Cultural Project within Greening Program was initiated
in 1995 in response to the high proportion of residents from NESB and
the contrasting low number involved in Greening activities (in some suburbs
up to 49 % are from NESB). A Community Development Officer is employed
part time to proactively seek the involvement of NESB groups. Each year
the program involves up to 600 people in over 50 activities planting up
to 3000 plants.
Many of the activities are conducted with English as
a second language (ESL) classes, with students getting to practice English
while learning more about the local area and participating in hands on
environmental action. In 1998 the International Year of the Ocean activities
were designed around a catchment theme, using word games to reinforce
links between the effects of planting trees along waterways and the health
of rivers, bays and oceans.
Over the last three years Greening Hume has organised
an annual Multicultural Planting Festival which now has links with the
celebration of Refugee Week and reconciliation with the local Wurundjeri
people. The celebratory nature of these events gives people a chance to
express their culture are share it with others. Providing food and entertainment
is an important contribution which allows participants to personalize
the activity, creating greater ownership and a desire to protect.
The festivals have brought together conservation, multicultural
and indigenous groups that would normally have little chance to meet.
Through working together with their hands in the soil, relationships have
been built between individuals and communities. Interest has grown about
the creeks and wetlands that are the hidden treasures of their neighborhood.
There is a renewed sense of community pride and concern for these natural
assets and an awareness of their connection to broader environmental issues.
For more information contact Dimi Bouzalas, Greening
Community Development Officer, Hume City Council, PO Box 119, Broadmeadows,
VIC 3047. Ph : 03 9309 1052.
Inner Western Region Migrant Resource Centre Cultural
Perceptions of the Coast Project
Since April 1998 the Inner Western Region Migrant Resource
Centre has been conducting an innovative project to identify the perceptions
of the coast and uses of the coast within migrant communities in Melbourne's
western suburbs. The aim is to facilitate ongoing relationships with coastal
managers, planners and community conservation groups so that ethnic communities
can be involved in coastal conservation and management over the long term.
People from the broader community with an interest in
coastal conservation and management can get involved through programs
such as Coast Action / Coast Care. However, in the past, the participation
of people from non English speaking background communities has been limited.
Information about the coast is not accessible to many ethnic communities
due to language, literacy and other cultural barriers. Similarly, coastal
managers have had little understanding of the cultural values and experiences
of ethnic communities.
The aim of the Coastal Project is to explore the cultural
perceptions of the coast and barriers to use of the coast with in communities
from the Philippines, Africa, and the former Yugoslavian region and Spanish
speaking communities. This information will be delivered to coastal planners
and managers to assist them in decision making and to build networks to
enable more effective implementation of environmental initiatives in the
long term. It offers an innovative opportunity for migrant groups to get
to know our coastal environment and to help protect the coast for future
With funding form the Coast Action / Coast Care Community Grants Program
a part time Coastal Project Worker has been employed for twelve months
to consult with talking with ethnic communities about their experiences
of living with and visiting the coast, both in their country of origin
and in Australia.
What memories do you have of the seaside in your country?
How did people use the coast there?
What are your impressions of the coast here in Australia?
What kind of things do you like to do at the coast?
What does the coast mean to you personally?
The most exciting thing about the project has been actually getting out
and visiting the coast with the communities themselves. Activities conducted
include coastal tours, picnics at coastal parks, and tree planting days.
These activities have been a great way to get to know the communities,
to stimulate discussion about the coast, and have a great time down by
A lot has been learnt about the similarities and differences in the coastal
environment across the world; the diverse ways that people from other
countries use the coast; and the special place it holds in the hearts
of people from a diversity of backgrounds as a place to come together
for rest, recreation and renewal.
For more information contact Laura Stuart, Coastal Project Worker, Inner
Western Region Migrant Resource Centre, 41 - 45 Pickett St, Footscray,
Ph: 03 9689 2888.
Vietnamese Fisheries Education Project
Since 1997 the Coast Action / Coast Care Program has provided funding
for a Vietnamese Fisheries Education Officer, Ms Dam Tran, to work out
of the Vietnamese Community Centre in Footscray. The project aims to build
knowledge and develop better working relationships between the Vietnamese
community and Fisheries Victoria regarding the management of Victorias
Project activities have included radio interviews, liaison with local
traders an restaurants, site visits and working bees at coastal locations
by Vietnamese community groups, educational talks, a cross-cultural workshop
for fisheries enforcement officers, the training of Fishcare volunteers,
and a schools program. With support from SBS radio, Dam has worked extensively
and very successfully to promote a wider understanding of fisheries regulations
across the Vietnamese community in Melbourne. The project has lead to
a great reduction in some fisheries offenses and an improved understanding
of Vietnamese values and cultures by Fisheries officers and a greater
commitment and cooperation to protecting Victoria's unique marine life.
For more information contact:
Dam Tran, Vietnamese Fisheries Education Officer, Vietnamese Community
in Australia / Victorian Chapter, PO Box 2115 Footscray, VIC 3011. Ph:
03 9687 9198.
Pauline McCarthy, Team Leader Community Programs, Coastal Unit, Department
of Natural Resources and Environment, Locked Bag 3000, PO Box Hill, VIC,
Ph: 03 9296 4535.
John Tomkin, Senior Fisheries Education Officer, Fisheries Victoria, PO
Box 103, Geelong, VIC, 3220.
Ph: 03 5226 4667