Australia's 25,000th Maltese migrant

Patrick Ferry
Monday, 24 April 2023

On 31 May 1948, the Malta-Australia Migration Agreement was signed. To mark the 75th anniversary of this historic agreement, the National Archives looks at Alfred Bayliss, the 25,000th Maltese migrant.

'A very good tradesman'

Born in 1931, Alfred was of mixed Maltese – British ancestry. During the war, Alfred experienced the hardships and terror of war. His education was also disrupted.

Alfred became a mechanic employed by the British military. Despite lacking formal qualifications, he became a 'very good tradesman, hardworking and conscientious … [with] a very good knowledge of his trade'.

In 1957 Alfred married Aida Calleja. They soon had two daughters.

In late 1959, Alfred and Aida applied for assisted passages to Australia. Aida's parents already lived in Melbourne. Alfred stated he was ready to depart for Australia 'at the earliest'.

Treated like royalty

After passing medical and character checks, Alfred was selected as Australia's 25,000th post-war Maltese migrant. The Bayliss family was subsequently treated like royalty.

In February 1960, they were farewelled from Malta by senior government officials and the archbishop. On the 'Flaminia', the family was given their own cabin. This was handy as Aida suffered badly from sea sickness throughout the voyage.

After arriving in Melbourne on 8 March 1960, Alfred and Aida were flown to Canberra. There, they were guests of honour at a special luncheon at Parliament House. Immigration Minister Alexander Downer described Alfred's arrival as a 'great occasion in Australian-Maltese relations'. He wished the Bayliss family prosperity, happiness and peace of mind in Australia.

As a memento of this historic occasion, the Minister presented Alfred with a book. Alfred and Aida reciprocated with a Maltese lace tablecloth.

At the end of the luncheon, Alexander Downer told Alfred to contact him if he ever needed anything.

Hard times

After returning to Melbourne, the family moved in with Aida's parents. However, Aida's mother died in October 1960 and her father decided to return to Malta. Alfred and Aida needed a new home. Initially, they squeezed their family and possessions into a single room. They then rented a larger place in Brunswick, but this was soon sold.

In desperation, Alfred contacted Alexander Downer seeking his assistance. Downer had his department write to the Housing Commission:

My minister has requested that his personal interest in this case is made known to you, and that he would be most grateful for any assistance that could be given to this family.

Despite ministerial intervention, the Housing Commission was unable to assist because of a backlog of applications.

Hard work

The Bayliss family finally found accommodation at Glenroy in Melbourne's north. Aida had other relatives nearby.

Eventually Alfred and Aida bought a milk bar. It was hard work, opening at 6am and often not closing until midnight. To support a growing family, Alfred continued working as a mechanic too. He also worked nights.

In later life, Aida qualified as a nurse's aide, something she remains proud of.

Integration and discrimination

The Bayliss family always spoke English at home, which helped them ‘integrate’. However, this did not prevent the children from being bullied for being 'wogs'.

In 1972, Alfred and his family became Australian citizens. Whilst Australia was now his home, Alfred remained proud of his Maltese homeland.

Alfred passed away on 31 March 2008. It was 48 years after he arrived in Australia. Alfred was survived by Aida and his children Diana, Cristina and Wayne.

The assistance of the Bayliss family and Joseph Matina of the Maltese Community Council of Victoria Inc. is gratefully acknowledged.