Filipino migration to the Northern Territory (NT) started more than 100 years ago. There were three main waves of Filipino migration to the NT.
The first wave began in 1895. A small group from the central and southern Philippines came to the NT and were employed as divers and processors of shells in the local pearling industry.
The Manilamen, as they were called, were culturally isolated from the mainstream community at that time, but in maintaining their customs and traditions, particularly their music, they soon found themselves performing at social gatherings and actively participating in sporting activities such as boxing and football. The Immigration Act of 1901, commonly known as the White Australia Policy, excluded non-Europeans from settling in Australia, resulting in a decrease in Filipino migration until the 1950s.
The Colombo Plan paved the way for Filipino students and other professionals into Australia.
Following modifications to the White Australia policy in the 1960s, and the demise of the policy in the early 1970s, the next wave of Filipinos arrived in Darwin. The deteriorating political situation in the Philippines, with the declaration of martial law in 1972, led professional and well-qualified Filipinos to seek better opportunities and improve their standard of living overseas.
At that time the NT was administered by the South Australian Government. Many Filipino teachers found opportunities through the attractive packages provided by the Commonwealth Teaching Service and undertook teaching positions in Darwin, Katherine and Alice Springs. Most of these posts were taken up in Darwin.
In the 1970s, the younger Filipinos used the English language over their own to gain acceptance into the wider community.
The third wave of Filipino migrants came to the NT in the 1980s through the Australian Government’s Family Reunion and Marriage Visa Scheme. This paved the way for the migration of the Filipino community’s extended family and spouses. Filipinos with trade skills as well as students studying at the former Northern Territory University taking up permanent residency contributed to this influx into the 1990s. The Filipinos were one of the top non-European migrants in the NT during this time.
Migration continues through the Australian Government’s 457 visa for business and skilled migrants - in jobs ranging from mechanics to civil engineers - and is part of the solution to a skills shortage in the NT. Spouses and children have accompanied many of these migrants, many of whom have obtained permanent resident status.
With a history of over 100 years of settlement in the NT, the practice of customs and traditions, particularly a love for music, continues in the Filipino community today.
According to the 2011 Census, there were 171,233 Philippines-born people in Australia, an increase of 42.1% from the 2006 Census, with 3,587 of this group residing in the NT.
It is estimated that there are 7,000 Filipino community members in the NT. As English is widely spoken in the Philippines most migrants are proficient in that language. Tagalog is also used.
While the Filipino community is predominantly Roman Catholic, some members also belong to other Christian denominations.