Did you know that there is a Malay community on this Australian island?

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Who would have thought that a small island in the Indian Ocean, about 1000 miles off the coast of Australia, would be home to a large population of Malays?

(Credit: Encyclopedia Britannica)

The tropical rocky point known as Christmas Island is unlike most of Australia.

Of the 1692 inhabitants of Christmas Island, 16.1% of the population are of Malay origin. Malay is the second most spoken language on the island after English.

It is the only place in Australia where Hari Raya Haji and Hari Raya Aidilfitri are on public holidays. The island also has a heritage-listed Malay district known as Malay Kampong, at Jalan Pantai.

Although Jalan Pantai may sound like the name of a street you’ll find in taman next to yours, the Malay Kampong at Jalan Pantai, Christmas Island, includes a mosque, a Malay school, a Malay club, a Muslim-owned market and an Islamic cemetery.

Masjid At-Taqwa on Christmas Island. (Credit: Dinieland/Tom Joyner via Twitter)

How they ended up on Christmas Island

The desolate island was given the name Christmas Island in 1643, but settlement didn’t begin until British surveyors discovered phosphate resources in 1886.

After colonizing the island in 1888, Britain granted a 99-year lease to the Christmas Island Phosphate Company.

Phosphate mining began in 1899, using Malay, Chinese and Sikh indentured labourers.

Living in abject inequality for years, it wasn’t until the 1980s that a concerted effort to organize and demand fairer wages led to change.

(Credit: Tom Joyner via Twitter)

The British Phosphate Commissioners (BPCs) paid Asian workers only a fifth of what white workers received and had the power to dismiss employees without cause or hearing.

Within twenty-four hours, the authorities expelled the dismissed employees, stamping their passports with NTR – “Never to Return”.

The island’s housing, transportation, and education system were all heavily segregated.

Christmas Island High School, in 2021. (Credit: AISWA Languages ​​via Twitter)

Asian families lived in flats with few or no facilities, while white families resided in houses built to Australian standards.

Single Asian men shared bathroom-sized dorms with no mattresses.

The Christmas Island Workers’ Union, led by a Malaysian president, eventually won all industrial demands, including wage parity in 1981.

(Unedited image from 911metallurgist.com)

What the future holds

Today, the younger generation of Malays residing on the island have big goals and yearn for a better future.

Malay girls, in particular, are leading the charge. Many of them are motivated by their studies and pursue higher studies in universities on the continent.

Due to the rich history of migration from Malaysia and Singapore, Christmas Island is known as one of Australia’s most multicultural places.

Malaysian favorites found on Christmas Island. (Credit: Gina G via Twitter/Malay Club via Facebook)

The gotong royong the spirit is still strong on Christmas Island. Everyone in the community comes together to help out at weddings or funerals.

Traditional Malay wedding on Christmas Island. (Credit: Tom Joyner via Twitter)

At the height of the pandemic, most of them tuned into TV3 to stay up to date. However, Christmas Island has had no reported cases of Covid-19 until today!

Solid rock, unstable ground

However, Christmas Islanders still face injustice.

The Australian government closed the phosphate mine in 1987. The mine was purchased and reopened by unionized workers in 1990, but other attempts at economic diversification ended in failure.

Moreover, the struggle against the legacy of colonialism is far from over. According to Article 73 of the United Nations Charter, Christmas Island exhibits many features of a Non-Self-Governing Territory.

However, Australian governments continue to treat it as a distant possession.

(Credit: Tom Joyner via Twitter)

The Malay community on Christmas Island works hard to preserve Malay culture. They remember their roots and strive to pass on these values ​​to younger generations.

So, while the future of the island remains uncertain, we hope they can continue to call this island their home.


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