Thai women are behind the success, expansion and integration of the Thai community in Australia which has grown by nearly 60% since the last census in 2001.
Throughout the 20th century and into the 21st century Thailand has had links with Australia. In early days these contacts were instigated by the Thai Royal family and the visit to Australia in 1962 by the Thai King and Queen did much to raise the awareness of Thailand among Australians. In recent years, there has been a surge in tourism with Australian men and women visiting Thailand.
The arrival of internet dating and Thai dating sites has brought about a surge in the number of Australian men marrying Thai women. In a recent survey on internet dating, on Thailand's No. 1 dating site, it was found that 46% of all foreign relationships formed were between Thai women and men from Australia. One of these Australian men is Jim Thompson, a car dealer from Victoria, expressed his surprise at the skills and business acumen of his Thai wife Sai after only nine months living in Australia: 'She's the nicest lady I have ever met and she's also so switched on, I don't like when people talk about my Thai Wife, yes, Sai is a my wife, but she's also my best friend and a great business partner. I've never met anyone like her.
This testimony is not surprising, it's actually quite predictable. Thai women are world beaters as business leaders. To illustrate this, a recent study by The Nation newspaper in Thailand found that 38% of top executives in Thai companies comprised of women as opposed to the world average of 24%. The success of Thai women in Thailand has not dampened thousands of younger Thai women seeking foreign adventure. Like people from all over the world, Thai women and men continue to flock to Australia. Many Thai students see Australia as the ideal location to learn English and pursue third level education, while other Thai women and men seeks work in Australia still expanding economy including the flourishing range of Thai restaurants spread throughout Australia. Many Thai women (and some men) use employment in Thai restaurants as a stepping stone to a new life and possibly marriage down under.
There are ongoing and disturbing reports of Thai women being lured to Australia to work in the sex industry but these numbers are said to be declining thanks to a robust government immigration policy, police enforcement and stiff jail sentences being handed down to those convicted of exploiting vulnerable Thai women. However, this unfortunate trade continues and Thai women working in the Australian sex industry feel excluding from the growing Thai community in the country. This, thankfully, is also changing. Australian government and agency initiatives to provide Thai interpreters and health services to Thai sex workers have been undertaken and there are now active agencies to assist Thai women, of all backgrounds, dealing with the problems and challenges they face in Australia. Thai women, themselves, are also the key drivers behind the establishment of a range of support agencies that have successfully integrated the developing Thai community into Australian society.
'Although it is traditional for Thai women to support their men, what most people do not appreciate is that in Thailand, it is Thai women who support the monk hood and are very active in community agencies and in business,' says Mike Jacobs, an Australian man who recently married a Thai woman from Chiang Mai. In New South Wales, 63% of the Thai community comprises of women born in Thailand who have migrated to Australia, many of them through marriage to Australian men.
In Sydney, Thai women were founding members of the Thai Welfare Association, an agency which was established in 1990 to assist Thai women, many immigrants through marriage to Australian men, who faced cultural challenges and isolation. The Thai Welfare Association is linked to the Thai-Australian Association which is a key mover behind the success of the Thai community in Australia. This association, which now includes second and third generation Thais, organizes cultural and social events for Thais living in Sydney.
Of course, the Thai community is not limited to Sydney or even New South Wales; there are now active Thai communities in all major Australian population centres. These are supported by a growing Thai media network including a radio service and a Thai language newspaper. The Thai-Oz was launched in 1990 and now has a circulation of about 7,000 covering local, Thai and international news. The Thai community is also supported by a network of Thai Buddhist temples all linked with mother Temples in Thailand. One of these caused quite a stir, just this week, when a Buddhist temple in Perth was cut off for violating a ban on the ordination of women.
The links between Australia and Thai women have changed dramatically over the past 10 years alone and it is now a very different picture to the stereotypes of the 1970s and 1980s.
- Thai women, who from ancient times in Thailand have a tradition of taking part and leading business activities. Now many modern Thai women, who have immigrated to Australia, are putting these traditional skills to work for the benefit of society, their marriages and families.
- A sponsorship/permanent residency visa is possible only if it can be shown that a valid relationship or marriage exists over a period supported by evidence such as family photographs and letters of support.
- Thai women are active in social organisations throughout Australia seeking to improve relationships between Thailand and Australia while seeking to foster a distinct Thai culture. They are also seeking to integrate the Thai community with mainstream Australian society.
- A growing number of Thai women, who immigrate to Australia, have third level education. This reflects an increase in the number of Thai professionals immigrating to Australia but it has also emerged that a significant proportion Thai women, who through marriage to Australian men, subsequently emigrate, have third level qualifications (17%).
- Thai women of all backgrounds and education now use internet dating sites to meet to meet foreigners, including Australian men, from all over the world for language development, friendship and prospective life or marriage partners. This has particularly resulted in an increase in the number of younger men from Australia developing relationships with Thai women using international Thai dating sites.
- The internet has also changed the type of relationships being formed between Thai women and men from Australia. Many men from Australia now have girlfriends in Thailand and regularly visit Thailand, sometimes more than twice a year and for extended visits.
- There have been a very small, but growing number of Australian women using Thai dating sites to meet Thai life partners or boyfriends.
- There is also a notable increase in the number of single Australian men particularly from executive and academic backgrounds who opt to retire to Thailand sometimes dividing time between both countries. These Australian men predominantly use Thai dating sites to meet suitable Thai women for long term and short term relationships.
The emergence of the internet and new social influences such as dating sites and new lifestyle factors has led to a growth of the Thai community throughout Australia uniquely influenced by Thai Women. At the same time, many Australian men have relocated to Thailand and the internet itself has forged a growing set of relationships between the two countries. The western lifestyle of Australia, the distinctive Thai lifestyle and the relative proximity of both countries has brought about an exchange of relationships which has been empowered by the internet and particularly by Thai dating and social networking sites.