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White Settlement

Marriage and family life among the early white settlers were very much shaped by the circumstances of their settlement and laws of their country of origin. White settlement began in 1788 with the arrival of convicts transported from Great Britain to penal colonies in Australia, along with officials and military personnel. In the early days men dramatically outnumbered women. By 1836 around 100,000 convicts had arrived, of whom only 13,000 were female.

During this time, no provisions were made for a wife and family to follow male convicts except for those with life sentences. In 1812, however, an experimental group of ten women who were seen as industrious and of good character were sent out to join their convict husbands ( Jose and Carter 1925). Married convicts who had been separated from their spouses for seven years were permitted to remarry. As the demand for labor increased, convicts were sent out more frequently, with the numbers peaking in 1833. All transportation had ceased by 1868.

From the 1830s onwards, free immigrants became the dominant source of population growth. The gold rushes of the 1850s extended this period of rapid population growth until the late 1850s (Jackson 1988). Although more men than women were free immigrants, the imbalance was not as great as it had been for the convict population.

In the nineteenth century migrants were mostly from Britain and Ireland. To exclude non-Europeans, the Immigration Restrictions Act was introduced soon after Federation (in 1901). A strict English-language dictation test was used to retain the Anglo-Celtic profile. A surge of European migrants after World War II sparked the beginning of ethnic diversity. Gradually, the government relaxed the rules on the migration of non-Europeans. Nevertheless, it was not until the early 1970s that the White Australia Policy was formally abolished. Australia has since become one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world, although the proportion of Australians who were born overseas was exactly the same in 1901 and 1996 (22.8 percent) (Hartley 1995; Hugo 2001).

Families in the twentieth century were affected by other significant demographic and economic changes. For example, urbanization continued throughout the century. The rural population fell from about 40 percent to less than 15 percent, with a concomitant fall in the proportion of workers in agriculture—from around 33 percent to less than 5 percent. The proportion of workers in the manufacturing industry began to fall in the second half of the century from nearly 30 percent to around 13 percent at the close of the century (Hugo 2001).

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaMarriage: Cultural AspectsAustralia - Indigenous Australian Families, White Settlement, Family Trends: A Long-term Perspective, Family Diversity