The Resettlement of Nauruans in Australia: An Early Case of Failed Environmental Migration
Journal of Pacific History, Vol. 46, No. 2, 2011
27 Pages Posted: 27 May 2011
Date Written: May 24, 2011
In the 1950s, Australia, the United Kingdom and New Zealand were forced to consider the long term future of their Trust Territory of Nauru, which had suffered escalating environmental damage from decades of rapacious phosphate mining. Plans were developed to resettle the Nauruans in one of the three metropolitan states or in one of their Pacific possessions. However, despite extended negotiations, the plans were never consummated. By 1964 the Nauruans had rejected, in turn, the idea of their dispersal as new citizens of one of those three Western states; their resettlement as a community in a mainland enclave; and their resettlement as a separate community of ‘New Nauru’ on an island off the Queensland coast. This article examines the history and context of the resettlement negotiations and concludes that preserving Nauruan national identity, avoiding Australian racism, and securing control of a key resource were the principal reasons for the ultimate failure of the resettlement plans. Nauru’s experience continues to provide important lessons for environmentally-induced migration in the Pacific today.
Keywords: Nauru, resettlement, environmental migration, resource depletion, phosphate, national identify, racism, independence
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