Fairfield, Australia

Rebecca Williamson and Elsa Koleth

The City of Fairfield, one of the municipalities that makes up the Greater Sydney metropolis, is one of Australia's most ethnically diverse, but also poorest areas. Since the 1940s, Fairfield has attracted recently-arrived immigrants, partly due to its proximity to hostels and reception centres for migrants and refugees and partly due to its relatively cheap housing. Today, various neighbourhoods of Fairfield have shops, eating places and community associations that cater for a great variety of origin groups. One of the best-known neighbourhoods is Cabramatta, famous for its Vietnamese restaurants and textile stores.



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The Fairfield International Monument was commissioned by the Fairfield Multicultural Society, which was formed in 1962 to reflect the collective interests and contributions of different migrant groups in the area. The sculpture was designed by local builders, the Denysenko brothers, and completed in 1977. The sculpture consists of the letter ‘A’ at its base, representing Australia, holding aloft a ‘space ship’ representing the ‘travelling vessel of migrants’. Today this iconic monument stands along The Crescent in the Fairfield city centre, and is symbolic of Fairfield’s history as a city built on successive waves of migration.

Fairfield City is characterised by a high level of linguistic diversity. The 2011 Census revealed that 69.9 per cent of the population of Fairfield spoke a non-English language at home, whether exclusively or in addition to English. A local café caters for the diverse population, advertising that its staff speak multiple languages. In an example of the dynamic lived multiculturalism that has evolved in this area the list includes ‘Ozi’ (Australian English) as one among many ‘ethnic’ local languages.

With many new migrants, including refugees settling in the Fairfield area 20% of the population in 2011 reported as not being able to speak English well or at all (as compared with 5.8% in the rest of Sydney). This sign advertising free English classes reflects the institutionalisation of a range of services provided to migrants in the area. The adjacent pharmacy sign reflects the appropriation of the ‘multicultural’ brand by local businesses in a local government area which has adopted the City motto of ‘celebrating diversity’.

The variety of signs along a street in central Fairfield highlights the range of ethnic businesses in Fairfield. Ethnic entrepreneurialism is crucial to the vitality of Fairfield city centre.

A local supermarket sign. In an area with a high unemployment rate (9.7%) relative to the rest of Sydney (5.7%), many migrants in the Fairfield area become self-employed as small business owners serving their local community.

Freshly baked Lebanese bread at a local bakery run by a Chaldean Assyrian family which supplies many of the local shops.

A Latin American shop with a money transfer sign. Money transfer shops are plentiful in the suburb, servicing a sizeable migrant population, many of whom regularly send remittances to family living in other countries. In many cases, remittances are crucial for the survival of family members overseas living in adverse circumstances characterised by conflict, and lack of economic development or employment opportunities.

Iraqi Chamber of Commerce sign reflects the large Iraqi community in the Fairfield area. Between 2006 and 2011 there was a significant increase in the number of residents in Fairfield City who were born in Iraq.

A poster for a Valentine’s Day event, targeting the local Middle Eastern community. Many communities advertise their cultural events in the locality and host artists from overseas. In the background is a fabric shop – one of many in Fairfield and Cabramatta, which are popular among many people of migrant background from within and outside the Fairfield area.

Assyrians are among the five main ancestry groups residing in the broader Fairfield City area, and have a notable presence in the suburb of Fairfield itself. A banner in the Fairfield city centre celebrates the Assyrian New Year and advertises the Assyrian New Year Festival. The Assyrian New Year Festival is one of many cultural festivals celebrated in the broader Fairfield local government area, reflecting the diverse cultural communities that have settled and grown in the Fairfield area. Other major festivals include the Lunar New Year Festival, and the Full Moon Festival, both held in Cabramatta.

A multi-lingual park sign in Cabramatta, advising local residents not to feed the birds. This activity was popular with some migrant residents who considered it an act of generosity. The local council deemed leaving food for birds a health hazard as it also attracted rats to the area, and children at the local school were asked to design a sign that communicated this message. The sign reflects the sizeable presence of Asian communities that have settled in Cabramatta and surrounding suburbs. At the 2011 Census Vietnamese was the main language (other than English) spoken at home by residents of the broader Fairfield area, as well as residents of Cabramatta specifically.

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