In the early 1990s some estimates put the number of people with Māori ancestry living in Australia as high as 80,000. One Māori elder, Graham Anderson, predicted that by 2020 there would be more Māori in Australia than in New Zealand. Although such calculations had little basis, they did point to the dramatic growth in Māori migration from the 1970s onwards.
According to the Australian census of 2001, 73,000 people of Māori origin were living there. For every eight Māori in New Zealand, one lived in Australia. This made them easily Australia’s largest Polynesian group. Because Polynesians were not numerous in that country, Māori were often mistaken for Greeks, Lebanese, Italians, and even South Americans. As a result many wore hei tiki (neck ornaments) to indicate their ethnicity.
Miri and her husband migrated to Melbourne, then Perth. In both cities sport helped them to settle in:
‘When we moved to Melbourne we knew no one there. We were living in a little bed-sit, until we joined a rugby club and, next thing, different ones provided us with a TV, table and chairs, blankets and towels, and they’d even pick us up and take us to the rugby club because we had no car. If you have no money and no jobs, you’ll find work through a rugby club after a few beers at the bar. Then when we moved to Perth my husband’s first job was through the [rugby] league club!’ 1
Most Māori settled in Sydney’s suburbs of Waverley, Rockdale, Randwick, Bondi, and other areas which had mostly rental accommodation. There were also communities in Brisbane (especially Fortitude Valley), Melbourne, Perth and Darwin. Brisbane’s Māori community grew in the 1990s, and by 2001 its population was estimated at 19,000.
Some playful nicknames have emerged for Māori in Australia, including Maussies (Māori Aussies), Ngāti Kangaru and Ngāti Skippy. These names suggest that many Māori are in Australia for good. First generation Māori often intended to be temporary residents rather than permanent migrants, but children born and educated in Australia naturally felt a greater attachment to that country than did their New Zealand-born parents.
Like many other New Zealanders, Māori have travelled back and forth across the Tasman. Many make return trips to New Zealand for tangihanga (funerals) and gatherings held at their home marae. It seems that Māori who returned to New Zealand to stay were mostly family groups. The number of Australian-born Māori children in New Zealand rose markedly from 1,113 in 1986 to 2,934 in 1996. This did not mean that a higher proportion of Māori were returning from Australia; rather, there were now more Māori in Australia to return.
In 2003, elders in Sydney met to discuss the issue of repatriation of bodies to New Zealand so that people could be buried with their ancestors.
The Bondi myth
The myth that Sydney’s eastern beach suburb of Bondi is largely populated by unemployed Kiwis has persisted for decades in both Australia and New Zealand. It began in the 1970s and 1980s, when thousands of Māori and Pākēha moved to Bondi and found accommodation scarce. In 1984 the Bondi Māori Self Help Housing Group was formed. They moved into an empty council-owned property as squatters, but they were eventually evicted and the building was demolished. Most Māori had arrived in search of work, but not all found it: Australia’s unemployment rate grew from 2% in 1974 to 10% in 1983.
In the early 2000s the Ngāti Bondi touch rugby team played in the Sydney league, and on New Zealand’s Waitangi Day the Bondi Māori community holds an annual festival with kapa haka (traditional Māori performing arts) and other events. Even so, the perception of Bondi as a Māori stronghold exists more in myth than it does in reality. There was still a Māori community in Bondi, but in the 2000s more Māori, like other New Zealanders, lived elsewhere in Sydney.