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Finding historical gems: Filipinos and Filo Musos in Australia

If you belong to a Filipino family and you have relatives overseas, chances are, your relatives are either in the Middle East or the USA. Australia? Yeah, it's famous for being both a country and continent. And who lives there? The aborigines, they say...


"I now know that I have a responsibility to share these and made it known by my fellowmen."

By now, I'm halfway through my PhD candidature. I've written around 30,000 words for some of my chapters. This includes a chapter on Filipino migration and Filipino musicians in Australia. Despite the volume of what I have read and written by now (not yet enough, I know), I still get amazed by the things I read and hear about Filipinos in the land down under. So I wanted to share some of these bits here:


  • Currently, about 4% of Australia’s population are Philippines-born. The Philippines was the eighth largest source of new arrivals in 2001, and now the fifth largest non-Australian population (Australia Bureau of Statistics, 2018; Simon-Davies, 2018). About 232,328 people living in Australia are born in the Philippines, out of the 26% who are born overseas. Most of the Philippine-born population in Australia are residing in New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, and Western Australia.


  • Though the widely-known year of the arrival of Filipinos in Australia (Broome, Torres Strait Islands, and Darwin) is around 1884, they may have arrived in Australia as earlier than that (around the 1790s) as there may have been Filipinos helping the galleon ships importing/exporting sugar and coal, plying between Manila to Australia (NSW, VIC, QLD and/or Newcastle) via Guam/Canton/Singapore (Battersby, 1993; Legarda, 1999; Shnukal, 2009; Aguilar, 2012; Perdon, 2014). Research also shows records indicating that there were some ‘Manilamen’ who were granted passports and recruited as crewmen in merchant vessels for trade or whaling in 1851 headed specifically to Sydney and other ports around the world (PNA, Protocolos de Manila – Marina 304, 1851; Aguilar, 2012). Hence, some Filipinos may have seen Australia before the boom of pearl-shell and beche-de-mer fishery industry.


  • Some Filipinos in Australia helped their fellows back home during the Filipino revolution in the Spanish period. One prominent Filipino during this time was Heriberto Zarcal, a jeweller and businessman living in Queensland. He was a naturalised British citizen, who was also noted to have played a part in the Philippine revolution and the Philippines-Australia relations during this period (Ileto, 2017).


  • Candido Iban and Francisco Castillo won the lottery in Australia in 1894 with pot money of Php1,000.00. As they went back home, they had a chance encounter with Procopio Bonifacio, the brother of Andres Bonifacio (Philippine revolution's Supreme Leader), who convinced them to join the revolution and eventually donating their money to the cause. The money was specifically used to buy a printing machine to produce the official newspaper of the revolution, the Kalayaan. With this, membership of the revolutionary group, Katipunan, increased as the number of printed materials were widely circulated in the local language.


The overwhelming presence of Filipinos in Australia is often overlooked. But more interestingly, the life and works of Filipinos or Australians with Filipino heritage living here are fascinating as we'll see below. And now, the Filipino identity and culture are being diffused. through different mediums of communicating music and life to the community.

  • In the different states of Australia, Filipinos are represented in community radio through their programs involving discussions about life and music. There is the Filipino programming group on 4EB Multicultural Radio in Brisbane, Queensland; the SBS Radio in Sydney, NSW and Radio Tagumpay on Triple H 100.1FM in Waitara, NSW, and Filipino program on 2BOB 104.7FM in Manning Valley, NSW; Radyo Filipino Australia in Canberra, ACT; Filipino groups on 5EBI 103.1FM and PBA-FM 89.7FM in Adelaide, South Australia; Filipino program on Radio 3ZZZ 92.3FM in Melbourne, Victoria; Tunog Pinoy Perth on 6EBA 95.3FM in Perth, Western Australia; Filipino program on Radio Larrakia (8KNB) in Darwin, Northern Territory, and the Filipino Hour on City Park Radio 103.7FM in Launceston, Tasmania.


This is even more fascinating in terms of music....

  • The first female singer to top the Australian pop charts between the 1950s and 1960s is a Filipina known as Pilita Corrales (real name Pilar Garrido Corrales). She was widely known in the country through her hit song ‘Come Closer to Me’. Because of her achievement, a street in Victoria (Pilita Street, Forest Hill, Victoria) was named after her.


  • At present, some artists with Filipino heritage are also making names in the Australian music industry, including Mo'Ju ( formerly known as Mojo Juju; real name Mojo Ruiz de Luzuriaga) from NSW, Chela (real name Chelsea Wheatley) from WA, and some others who either joined some singing competition or who are still trying to break the scene through their own music. Most of these artists are second-generation having been born in Australia with one or both Filipino parents.


Watch the critically-acclaimed song of Mo'ju here:


Here's the latest music video of Chela:


  • Speaking of mixed heritage, one of the most successful bands in Australia called the Pigram Brothers involves Filipinos-Aboriginal Australian heritage. They are a seven-piece country folk/rock band from the pearling town of Broome, Western Australia. The band was formed in 1996 and been writing albums since. They bagged their first award (Deadly Award) for Best Album in 1998 for their release called Saltwater Country. They were also nominated for two ARIAs for Best Original Soundtrack, Cast or Show Album and Best World Music Album in 2011 and 2012, respectively. See them here: <https://pigrambrothers.com.au/about-us/>


Here's the Pigram Brothers during the Brunswick Music Festival in Brunswick, Victoria:


  • Another group who had hits in Australian music scene, but not even known mostly by Filipinos, is the hip-hop group Sound Unlimited (formerly known as Sound Unlimited Posse, Westside Posse, and eventually reforming as the Renegade Funktrain) from Burwood, Sydney. The group is composed of Rosano (El Assassin) and Tina Martinez, siblings who are of Filipino heritage, and MC Kode Blue and Vlad DJ BTL (Russian and Spanish origins). The group signed a recording deal with Columbia Sony in the 90s and have significantly contributed to the Australian hip-hop scene in that period although they only released one album, A Postcard from the Edge of the Underside (1992). To date, Tina is now happily living with her family in Texas, USA while Rosano is still in Sydney continuously doing art and keeping peace and harmony with the youth in their area.


Here's the second single of Sound Unlimited:


Thanks to Brian Estepa, who himself has released 6 studio albums throughout his career as an independent musician in Australia, for introducing me to Sound Unlimited and for sharing his stories and experiences as a Filipino musician in Australia. Brian just released a song called 'Weight in Gold' amidst the COVID19 pandemic. Check out his single and the rest of his albums here: <https://open.spotify.com/artist/02TdMHgV84E5S2LHxbWUdd>


Watch the lyric video of 'Weight in Gold' here:




These are fascinating facts that I've recently discovered through my research. I now know that I have a responsibility to share these and made it known by my fellowmen. Nonetheless, this is just the beginning of the exploration. There is definitely more to come soon.


Have you read or seen any other stuff and people of Filipino heritage? Feel free to comment below. Let us know also what you think of the artists mentioned here if you've heard them before.

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