The 1901 census
records 77 Finland-born residents in Victoria, but it was not until 1921 that a significant number were recorded, with 242 residents. Their arrival in Australia in the 1920s followed political turmoil leading to a civil war. Finnish immigration to Australia was also stimulated by the United States imposing an immigration quota and the Australian Government’s offer of assisted passage. By 1933, there were 290 Finland-born people living in Victoria.
A second wave of migration followed World War II. During the war Finland fought against its eastern neighbour, the Soviet Union, and also Germany. As part of its peace settlement with the Soviet Union, Finland agreed to cede several provinces to the Soviet Union, causing thousands of people to leave these areas.
The 1947 census
recorded 223 Finland-born residents of Victoria; 276 were recorded in 1954. By 1961, the population had grown to 1380. Finland’s obligation to pay war reparations to the Soviet Union sparked a rapid transition from an agricultural to an industrial economy. By the time post-war baby boomers were of working age there were job shortages in Finland, prompting large-scale migration peaking around 1970. Victoria’s Finland-born population reached its highest number, 1604, in the 1971 census
As economic conditions improved over subsequent decades, many Finnish migrants returned home. By 1976, the number of Finland-born people living in Victoria dropped by 22% to 1318. Since then it has followed a gradually decreasing trend. The population was 1205 in 1996 and 1156 in 2001.
In 2006, 1183 Finland-born people were living in Victoria. Well over half of the population today are female and 65% are aged over 50. The most common language spoken at home is Finnish, followed by English. The most common religion is Lutheranism, which is practiced by 62% of the population; 17% stated they had ‘no religion’.
The community is supported by the Finnish Society of Melbourne and the Finnish language program on SBS radio.