P Anna Johnson

Australia’s Nuclear Migrants, Mostly from America

The Bulletin (Sydney, Australia)

November 16, 1963

By Patricia Rolfe

One of the most heartening, but from some points of view inexplicable, successes the Immigration Department has had in the past year or two has been the increased number of Americans who have come here. The department does not actually canvass for people in the Ban the Bomb United States although it offers assisted passages, and expresses itself “surprised” that the number of Americans coming here to live permanently is slowly growing.

In 1961-62 1050 migrants, 455 of them on assisted passages, came here from the United States. This was an increase on the previous year and a higher figure is expected for 1962-63. Most of them announced their reasons for coming as “better opportunities” or the hope that their children won’t grow up so quickly here, or because they regard Australia as the “last frontier.” These are all the right reasons as far as the Immigration Department is concerned. However, there is one group of Americans whose reason for leaving home is more succinct. They call themselves “nuclear migrants.”

They believe, one of them said, “that the statistical odds for a nuclear war are so great that it is neither safe or sane to remain in the vicinity of what will be the area of the war.”

He avowed nuclear migrants in Australia are linked only in a loose sort of freemasonry and none of them, apparently, knew each other before leaving home. One of them totted up about 50 people in Sydney who share the same grim belief and the same determination to cut themselves off from their own country. He said there was a group, probably smaller in Melbourne, and that most of those who came to Australia chose the larger cities because they believed it was easier to get work there. He said that many had gone to New Zealand (600 Americans entered New Zealand on permanent visas last year) but that it was harder to gat a permanent visa for New Zealand.

The strenuous nuclear migrant believes that the reasons most Americans give for coming here − the last frontier, and so on − are, either consciously or unconsciously, only a blind. “Lack of opportunities in America − that’s perfectly ridiculous,” one of them said. “There are still plenty of opportunities in America.”

These people call themselves nuclear migrants, but only at times. They have learnt not to at other times, because it simply means being branded as some sort of oddball. “If I go to a party and some girl asks me why did I come to Australia and I tell her the real reason, the next thing is I see her disappearing to the other side of the room with a funny look on her face,” a nuclear migrant said.

“In America if we told someone that we were going to Australia as nuclear migrants, they thought we were mad. But at least they knew what we were talking about, even if they thought it was dangerous nonsense.”

Some of the nuclear migrants admit to another fear, deportation. In some cases, and one hopes, groundlessly, they believe that any nonconformist view or conduct may mean deportation. “While another American, such as, perhaps, Harold Orr, the schoolteacher who was deported, might regard it as an inconvenience or disappointment, we regard deportation as the equivalent to a death sentence”, he said.

It is partly because if this that most of the nuclear migrants wish to preserve what they call anonymity. This means that they wish to fit as inconspicuously as possible into Australian life, to forget where they came from and why.

Recently five of them overcame their passion for anonymity to compile a series of articles for the Left-wing magazine “Outlook,” entitles “These United States.” Most of these covered fairly old ground. Mrs. Irene Summy compared the success of a neighbor’s campaign for clearer streets in Boston with the failure of her own campaign against nuclear weapons. Mr. Roy Richter suggested that recent American novels often dealt with the inability of the protagonist to face up to the demands of the world in which he lived, and suggested that the solution was to “Run, Rabbit, Run.” Mr. Ron Smith wrote about “The Ugly American.” Ball this, “Outlook” said, added up to the fractured American dream.

In spite of the wish for anonymity, a picture of the nuclear migrant does emerge. The group in Sydney is remarkably homogeneous. They are:

These migrants do not come from any one part of the United States. None knew each other before coming, nor were any of them persuaded by anyone to come. In each case it was an individual, isolated decision.

The motives of these nuclear migrants are not entirely simple. Some come here because they believe there will be a nuclear war and they have a better chance of surviving here. Others say they don’t want to live in a country which makes nuclear weapons. Others are absorbed, or obsessed, with fallout. With some of the more sophisticated these issues are extended to condemnation of the crude commercialism of the 20th century, heavy industrialization, “Hollywood” civilization, and even juvenile delinquency.

Then they open a map and look at the Southern Hemisphere. South America is generally ruled out because of the language difficulty and South Africa because of its racial policies.

The first choice of many is New Zealand, which to most Americans conjures up a picture of a green lush land. Australia, on the other hand, is thought of a s a dry, yellow country. The green, lush land is tied up with the idea of a return to the simple life. The more sophisticated and practical of the nuclear migrants think in terms of jobs or in terms of living a life as close as possible to the one they have left. These choose Australia.

Members of the Sydney group do not feel that they are expatriates in the classic American sense, although some of them feel they recognize signs of this in their fellows. “Most of us had good jobs at home and were happy there,” one said. “We had no great loathing of America, only a sadness about the way things are going there. We also have no great ideas that any country is basically different from another.”

These migrants say they are here for life. They haven’t come in sudden panic. “None of us feel that nuclear war is going to come right away. Some of us may think five years. Some of us may even think 20 years.’

And, of course, it may never come, a possibility the nuclear migrants must face with, let us say, mixed feelings.

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