With Immigrant Heritage Month bringing immigrant stories into focus, this MultiConnexions blog honours and celebrates their many integral contributions to our economy, culture, community, and common identity.
Whether it was the wave of immigrants that flocked to make their fortune in the Gold Rush, the displacement of peoples following the two world wars, or the refugees who fled for their safety and livelihoods after the Vietnam War, immigration is the foundation of Australia’s rich heritage and multiculturalism.
Today, there are over 7.6 million people of migrant backgrounds living in Australia and 30% of our population were born overseas, according to the ABS. Communities such as the English, Chinese, Indian, Greek, Italian, Vietnamese, Lebanese, and Greek communities continue to play an important part in our diversity. More than 200 languages are spoken at home .
The success of migration in Australia highlights the importance of celebrating the stories of immigrants, migrants, and refugees who have contributed immensely to our economy, culture, and shared identity. Honouring the achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is also important to recognise the ongoing influence of Indigenous contributions to Australia’s prosperity.
Below, we bring you the inspiring stories and achievements of four prominent Australians of immigrant backgrounds who have enriched our nation.
Image: Bernama / Free Malaysia Today
Malaysian-born Sri Lankan migrant, Maha Sinnathamby, came from humble beginnings to become one of Australia’s most iconic property developers as the visionary behind Greater Springfield, the largest privately owned master-planned city. Maha grew up in the British-owned rubber estate in the small farming village of Rantau, Negeri Sembilan, during the Japanese occupation of Malaysia.
After moving to Australia, Sinnathamby completed a Bachelor of Civil Engineering at the University of New South Wales in Australia. It was in 1971 that he eventually started his own property business before moving to Queensland in the 1980s, where he purchased the economically depressed 7000-acre parcel of land which would later transform into Greater Springfield.
Today, Greater Springfield has been named the world’s best master planned community by the International Real Estate Federation (FIABCI). It has a population of more than 46,000 and is predicted to grow six per cent per annum over the next 20 years. Maha has also been recognised for his incredible achievements and entrepreneurship, being awarded the Appointment as a Member (AM) of the Order of Australia in 2019, and the Ernst and Young Master Entrepreneur of the Year.
Image: Louise Kennerley / Sydney Morning Herald
Before he became a billionaire and Westfield Founder, Jewish Holocaust survivor Frank Lowy faced many hardships growing up during the economic depression and political turmoil of 1930s Slovakia. From being forced to live in a Hungarian ghetto with his mother during the Second World War, the murder of his father at an Auschwitz concentration camp, to fighting in the Arab-Israeli War, Frank’s story is one of remarkable human resilience and courage.
Frank lived as a refugee in France, Cyprus, Palestine, and Israel before arriving in Australia to join his family. In 1959, he co-founded with fellow Holocaust survivor and immigrant, John Saunders, what would become Australia’s largest shopping centre company in the western Sydney suburb of Blacktown. Although Frank eventually sold Westfield in a $16 billion takeover, he continues to be an influential and respectable figure in Australian society who developed one of the nation’s largest shopping centre chains.
Today, Frank is renowned as one of Australia’s most successful businessmen. Frank is the ninth richest person in Australia, according to the Financial Review Rich List, and is ranked 244th amongst the world’s wealthiest individuals with a net worth of $8.51 billion. He was also knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 2017, received the Companion of the Order of Australia for his service in the expansion of the property development and retail sector in Australia, and was recognised as Australia’s leading philanthropist by peak body Philanthropy Australia.
Image source: CNBC
Silicon Valley entrepreneur Tan Le was only four when she and her family left war-torn Vietnam by boat for Australia. As her father had worked briefly as a soldier in the South Vietnamese army, the communist regime in the North persecuted families like hers in the six years following the fall of Saigon in 1981. Tan faced the very real and dangerous prospect of starvation, drowning and being attacked onboard their boat, which was disguised as a fishing vessel to ward off pirates.
Fortunately, Tan’s boat was discovered by a foreign oil rig and they were sent to a refugee camp in Malaysia for three months before being offered refuge in Australia. Tan and her family settled in Victoria to begin their new life, where she would study a combined degree of Law and Commerce at Monash University. At the same time she was studying, Tan volunteered to help new migrants through assistance in filling out their forms, providing work training programs and offering counselling for Vietnamese women. Within three years, she was President of the Vietnamese Community of Footscray Association, and in 1998, became the Young Australian of the Year for her community service and volunteer work.
However, Tan would abandon her career in law as she discovered her passion and dream of creating her own path. After a successful if brief business venture in introducing SMS text message voting on TV, and processing messages for telecommunications companies, she went on to co-found Emotiv Systems in 2003. This was a bio-informatics and technology company that developed electroencephalography (EEG) products including neuroheadsets, mobile apps, and other data-related and software products.
Tan went her own way again in 2009, co-founding Emotiv Inc. with Australian inventor Geoff Mackellar, a neuroinformatics company developing EEG technology to help people understand their own brain. This involved people comprehending their concussions and addressing the damage of dementia, to improving human performance and boosting workplace productivity. The company is headquartered in San Francisco, with offices in Sydney and Vietnam, and is supported by the work of researchers and developers across 120 countries. At 42 years old, Tan is the pioneer of brain-computer interface (BCI), regarded as one of the most ambitious and difficult innovations to disrupt the technology sector today.
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