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Charles Archibald Price (1920–2009)

by Peter McDonald

Charles Price, by Barry York, 1989

Charles Price, by Barry York, 1989

National Library of Australia, 21212036

Charles Archibald Price was the founding scholar of immigration research in Australia. Having completed a DPhil at Oxford University, the young Charles Price returned to Australia to take up an appointment in 1952 in the newly created Department of Demography in the ANU Research School of Social Sciences. He was asked by W.D. Borrie to devote his time to the study of international migration with special emphasis on migration to Australia. He pursued this research agenda for the remainder of his professional life and beyond his retirement from ANU Demography in 1985.

Charles Price was the son of the distinguished Australian geographer and historian Sir Archibald Grenfell Price, who produced books on the explorations of Mawson and Cook. Charles was destined for academic life as, from his early childhood, his father was Master of St Marks College at the University of Adelaide.

Price was one of a highly distinguished group of scholars of international migration who came together in the 1960s in the Department of Demography at ANU. Others included such luminaries as Mick Borrie, Jean Martin, George Zubrzycki, Reg Appleyard, Frank Jones and Frank Kunz. Together, this group led the world in their theoretical perspectives on the sociology and economics of international migration. They were responsible for such concepts as chain migration, assimilation, adaptation, integration and multiculturalism. They documented the importance of ethnic networks in the process of migrant adaptation. This work quite literally gave birth to the discipline of sociology in Australia.

Foremost among Charles Price’s numerous publications is the classic book, Southern Europeans in Australia, published by Oxford University Press in 1963. This remarkable book stands until today as the model of scholarship in international migration studies. It combines rigorous statistical analysis, modern sociological concepts and a fine understanding of social history to tell the story of one of the most important immigration movements to Australia. Price had a profound knowledge of the regions from which Australia’s immigrants from Europe had come and, hence, a deep understanding of their histories and their cultures. In the 1960s, he published studies of German settlers in South Australia, Maltese migrants, the Greek communities in Toronto and Sydney, Dalmatians in California and Western Australia, Slav-Macedonians in Canberra and Jewish settlers in Australia. His students produced studies of several other groups in Australia including the French, Scandinavians, Chinese, Armenians, Italians and Latin Americans.

Throughout his career, Price provided a considerable service to scholars of Australian immigration through the publication of the series, Australia Immigration: A Bibliography and Digest. The first of these bibliographies was published in 1966 and the final one in 1980.

As the locus of Australia’s immigration shifted away from continental Europe in the mid-1970s, Price shifted his own intellectual focus more towards the demography of international migration. His best-known work from this period was the estimation of the ethnic origins or ethnic strength of the Australian people, using data on intermarriage to allocate people to different ethnic groups according to their parentage. This division of people into fractions of ethnic origin by parentage was controversial at a time when self-identification was the prevailing concept in measurement of origins. Self-identification was based on the notion that, for example, if I think I am Scottish because I have a Scottish name, then I am Scottish. Price came under even heavier fire when his calculations were abused ‘to demonstrate the rapid Asianisation of Australia’. Ironically, with the outburst of interest in genealogy and genetics in the 1990s, many Australians today would self-identify in much the same way as Price would have measured in his estimates—a bit of this and a bit of that. On this issue, Price himself wrote in 2001, his final published words, that ‘the major ethnic community in Australia is the ethnic mix’. It was time, he said, to place emphasis on ‘a truly Australian identity and ethos, on a deep and positive sense of Australian peoplehood’. A fitting epitaph for a great scholar.

Price’s contribution was not restricted to the academic. From the 1960s through to his retirement, he contributed tirelessly to immigration policy in Australia through membership of successive government advisory groups such as the National Population Council. For this work, he was held in high esteem by ministers of immigration and by government bureaucrats at all levels. He was awarded the AM in 1983 for his public contribution to immigration research and policy. He was elected as a fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia in 1967.

Beyond his professional life, Charles Price was a doyen of the Anglican Church. His childhood association through his father with university colleges led to his advocacy for a college also run under the auspices of the Anglican Church to be built at The Australian National University.

Additional Resources

Citation details

Peter McDonald, 'Price, Charles Archibald (1920–2009)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 22 June 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Charles Price, by Barry York, 1989

Charles Price, by Barry York, 1989

National Library of Australia, 21212036

Life Summary [details]


20 July, 1920


2 August, 2009 (aged 89)

Religious Influence

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