Migrant Blokes And Sheilas Celebrate 50 Years Of Learning Strine

The Age

Thursday May 21, 1998


Vegemite, bonza and beaut are not the kind of words you'd study at an adult migrant English class. The program, which celebrated 50 years yesterday, is about giving people basic language skills to settle in Australia.

The mates and sheilas can be acquired outside class.

At one of Mrs Allissar Daghistani's first lessons, for example, she learnt to greet people. When you've recently arrived from Lebanon and you don't speak much English, even learning the correct way to say "hello" can be a help.

Mrs Daghistani is one of thousands of migrants who have benefited from the scheme launched in 1948 by the nation's first Immigration Minister, Arthur Calwell.

The program has come a long way since the first makeshift classes were held on ships on their way to Australia. "Attendance was high throughout the voyage, except for days of sea sickness," recalled one shipboard instructor, Mrs Lois Carrington.

The program now provides up to 510 hours of basic English tuition to migrants and refugees. Last year, nearly 40,000 people from 89 language backgrounds attended classes around Australia.

The composition of the student body reflects the changing climate of post-war migration.

In the first stage, southern European migrants took advantage of the scheme. Today, most students have come from China, Vietnam and the former Yugoslavia.

Graduates include the former Mayor of Maribyrnong, Ms Mai Ho, who migrated from Vietnam, and the Sarajevan-born coach of the Australian National rifle shooting team, Mr Miroslav Sipek.

The Immigration Minister, Mr Philip Ruddock, believes the program is a world leader.

He said the importance was highlighted by studies showing migrants with low levels of English had poor employment prospects and faced social isolation.

At the 50th anniversary party in Melbourne yesterday, attended by former students and teachers, the state Minister for Tertiary Education and Training, Mr Phil Honeywood, launched a new program available on the Internet.

A virtual Independent Learning Centre will allow participants in the adult migrant English program to develop their English while learning how to use computers.

© 1998 The Age

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