The Islamic Republic of Iran is in the Middle East region of south-western Asia. The Iranian plateau is a triangle set between the Caspian Sea to the north and the Persian Gulf to the south. Iran is bounded on the north by Azerbaijan, Armenia, Turkemenistan, Tajikistan and the Caspian Sea, on the east by Afghanistan and Pakistan, on the south by the Persian Gulf and the Sea of Oman, and on the west by Iraq and Turkey.
History of Immigration and Settlement
According to oral history sources Kamran Eshraghian was the first known Iranian to settle in South Australia. He arrived in Adelaide in 1959 at the age of 13. The rest of the Eshraghian family arrived in Adelaide in 1967.
An Armenian Iranian family arrived in South Australia in 1965. The Balayances had left Iran in search of an improved quality of life.
A number of Iranian tertiary and post-graduate students came to South Australia on scholarships in the early 1970s. Many of these students settled in South Australia after they completed their degrees.
Significant numbers of Iranians came to South Australia after the Islamic Revolution of 1979 altered social and political structures in Iran. More Iranians arrived following the Iran-Iraq War of 1980-1988.
Iranians who immigrated to South Australia came as skilled migrants. A number of these people were employed as engineers and scientists.
After the Islamic Revolution many Iranians of the Baha’i faith sought refuge in Pakistan, India or Turkey. Under the Australian government’s humanitarian and refugee programs a number of Iranian Baha’is were accepted for resettlement in South Australia. The mid-1980s were the peak years of Baha’i arrivals in South Australia.
There has been in recent years a significant influx of Iranian immigrants to South Australia, reflecting the political unrest and religious persecution in Iran. The Iranian-born population in South Australia grew 182 per cent in the years 1986 to 1996 and continues to grow. This is reflected by data gathered for the 2011 Australian Census where a 60 percent increase in Iranian-born South Australians since the Census of 2006 was recorded.
Common languages spoken by Iranian-born South Australians include Persian (majority), Arabic, Dari and Kurdish, with 4.6 percent reporting English as the main language spoken at home.
The main faiths followed are Islam and Baha’i.
Iranian-South Australians are most commonly employed in areas that include health care and social assistance, retail, professional, scientific and technical services, and education and training. They have mainly settled throughout metropolitan Adelaide.
The Iranian Association of South Australia was established in 1987 by Reza and Sonia Manzoori, Abdolali and Sussan Shakib, Ali and Mitra Rezaian, Mehdi and Shahin Eskandari, Morteza and Effat Abolfathi and the late Hassan Farshid. The main purpose of the association was to promote Iranian culture, assist newcomers and educate youngsters in Iranian culture and the Persian language. The association was open to all Iranian South Australians regardless of their religion, political ideology or ethnicity. The Association met at least once a month at suburban parks, Marion High School, rooms at Adelaide’s universities or in private homes for picnics, barbecues, afternoon teas, Persian poetry readings and parties.
In 1987 the association began conducting Persian language lessons. Classes started with 12 students at Gilles Plains and 28 at Hackham West Primary Schools on Sundays. The association provided curricula for the Persian language at primary and secondary levels for over 100 Iranian children. From 1990 to 1992, 37 Iranian students studied Persian for their South Australian Certificate of Education. Persian language classes have been conducted at a number of Adelaide primary schools, The School of Languages, at Adelaide High School and other adult educational institutions.
The main traditional celebrations of the year observed by members of the Iranian Association of South Australians are Now-Ruz and Mehregan, also called Mithrakana.
Now-Ruz is the Iranian New Year. It is celebrated on March 21, the first day of the northern hemisphere’s spring. The current Iranian calendar was reintroduced by the Persian mathematician and astronomer Khawrazmin in 762 AD. At this time of the year in Iran the fruit trees are in full bud and fresh green wheat covers the fields, and later, while the orchards are in full bloom, wild flowers carpet the stony hills. On 21 March, in an Australian autumn, Iranian South Australians imagine themselves in Iran in spring.
Fifteen days before Now-Ruz Iranian South Australians sow lentils or wheat in a shallow bowl kept in the home while the grains germinate and the shoots grow. This serves as a symbolic reminder of spring and new life. Homes are cleaned thoroughly to prepare them for the start of a new year, and family members buy new clothes for the celebration.
On Shabe Chahar Shanbeh Souri, the Tuesday before Now-Ruz, members of the Iranian Association of South Australia gather at one of Adelaide’s beaches. They obtain council permission to build a bonfire on the sand. Members of the association leap over the fire chanting a rhyme which means ‘O fire! Free me from the impurity of the old year and give me new life and warmth!’
On New Year’s Eve, a light must be on in every room in the house and a special table is prepared. The centre-piece consists of a mirror and candlesticks, and grouped around it are a copy of the Holy Book, a large loaf of bread, a bowl of water in which floats a green leaf, a glass of rose-water, nuts, fruit, candy, coloured eggs and fish. A large plate or tray contains the Haft-Seen articles whose names begin with the Persian letter ‘s’. Sepand, Sib, Seer, Serkeh, Samano, Sabzi and Sekkeh are the English wild rue, apples, garlic, vinegar, a paste of malt grain, greens and vegetables, and coins respectively. Families gather round the Haft-seen table and wait for the exact moment of the vernal equinox, the beginning of the new year.
The first 12 days of Now-Ruz are spent visiting and exchanging gifts with relations and friends. During the first two or three days, the oldest members of the family remain at home to receive calls from relatives and friends, and large sums are spent on the entertainment of the guests. Return calls are paid, countless greeting cards mailed, and the atmosphere is one of contentment and rejoicing.
On the thirteenth day of the new year, which is called Sizdeh Bedar and considered to be an unlucky day, the bowl of green shoots grown in the house is thrown out, if possible into running water. On the thirteenth day everyone troops out into the open country or city parks for a promenade in the fresh fields. Each family takes along as elaborate a supply of food as its means permit, and spends the entire day in the open country. The people believe that in this way they carry bad luck associated with the thirteenth day away from their homes and abandon it in the country where it can do no harm. Their return home in the late afternoon of the thirteenth day marks the end of the Now-Ruz ceremony. On the fourteenth day normal life starts again. Iranian South Australians observe Now-Ruz and all its customs.
Mehregan is celebrated on 8 October. It heralds the beginning of the northern hemisphere’s winter. Mehregan has been celebrated in Iran for thousands of years. It is more of a community festival than Now-Ruz, which is strongly family-oriented. Iranian South Australians celebrate Mehregan with a communal meal and indoor and outdoor games
The Persian Cultural Group was founded by Sima and Heshmat Eshraghian in the 1980s. It promotes Persian culture from the Baha’i point of view through performances such as ‘A Thousand and One Nights’ and ‘Scheherezade and Rubaiyat’, by staging exhibitions, supplying speakers to schools and universities and demonstrating traditional Persian cookery to the general community. Window pane bread and baklava are two of the most popular delicacies prepared before audiences. Window pane bread is made from a fine batter squeezed through a mould, fried and dusted with icing sugar. Baklava is a slice made from pastry, nut meal and rose water.
In February 2017 the Iranian Women’s Association conducted a food and culture exhibition ‘Persian Soul Food’ at the Migration Museum in Adelaide.
Iranian South Australians come from a number of religious backgrounds including Muslim, Christian, Baha’i and Zoroastrian.
Practising Muslims attend the Little Gilbert Street mosque in the west end of Adelaide and other mosques in the metropolitan and rural areas. There are also prayer rooms at Adelaide universities available for worship.
Iranian Christians are predominantly of Armenian cultural background.
Iranian Baha’i South Australians attend a number of Spiritual Assemblies throughout South Australia. The Baha’i religion originated in Persia in 1844. The Baha’i solar calendar is divided into 19 months. Each month lasts for 19 days. Every month Local Spiritual Assemblies hold a feast to pray, socialise and settle administrative affairs. There are nine main holy days during the Baha’i year.
A few Iranian South Australian families belong to the Zoroastrian faith which was founded by the prophet Zoroaster in Persia in the late seventh century BC.
Organisations and Media
- Iranian Women’s Association
- The Persian Cultural Association of South Australia
- Persian Cultural Group (Baha’i)
- Local Spiritual Assemblies of the Baha’is of South Australia
- The Iranian Women’s Organisation SA Inc.
The 1981 census recorded that there were 131 Iranian-born South Australians.
The 1986 census recorded 495, and 518 South Australians said that they were of Iranian descent.
The 1991 census recorded that there were 966 Iranian-born South Australians. 975 people said that their mothers were born in Iran, and 1,014 that their fathers were.
The 1996 census recorded that there were 1,370 Iranian-born South Australians, and a second generation numbering just 217. This small second generation reflects the recency of arrival in South Australia.
The 2001 census recorded 1,652 Iranian-born South Australians, while 1,636 people said that they were of Iranian descent.
The 2006 census recorded 1,756 Iranian-born South Australians, while 1,924 people said that they were of Iranian descent.
The 2011 census recorded 2,825 Iranian-born South Australians, while 2,741 people said that they were of Iranian descent.
The 2016 census recorded 4,526 Iranian-born South Australians, while 4,422 people said that they were of Iranian descent.
Adibi, H, ‘Iranian New Year: (Now-Ruz)’, paper prepared for the University of South Australia, 1989
Adibi, H, ‘Iranian Celebration of Mehregan or Mithrakana’, University of South Australia Whyalla Campus. Paper presented to the TASA Conference, Adelaide, 1992
Brown, E, A Literary History of Persia, vol. 1, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1956)
Baha’i Publishing Trust, One World One Faith, B.P.T., India, 1979
Columbia Encyclopedia, Columbia University Press, 1979
Encyclopedia Britannica, vol. 21
Hassall, G, ‘“Outpost of a World Religion”: The Baha’i Faith in Australia 1920–47’, The Journal of Religious History 16:3, June 1991.
Jupp, J (ed.), The Australian People: An Encyclopedia of the Nation, Its People and Their Origins, Second Edition (Cambridge University Press, 2001)
Hilmann, M, Iranian Culture (University Press of America, 1990)
Willber, D, Iran: Past and Present (Princeton University Press, 1968)