One of the earliest Latvian-born immigrants
thought to have arrived in Australia was Aaron Wolf, a convict from England who landed in 1829. By 1891, about 160 Latvians had settled in Australia.
In the early twentieth century, Latvian sailors aboard European trading ships jumped ship and settled in Australia. More arrived after an aborted revolution in Latvia in 1905, most settling in Sydney. Modest levels of immigration to Australia continued after Latvia became independent from Russia in 1918. By 1933, 76 Latvia-born people lived in Victoria.
With the annexation of Latvia by the Soviet Union after World War II, large numbers of Latvians came to Australia as displaced persons
under the International Refugee
Organization’s re-settlement program.
Between 1947 and 1952, 19,700 Latvian refugees
arrived in Australia. In Victoria, the Latvia-born population increased from 108 people in 1947 to 5,693 in 1954. At that time many were required to work in unskilled and semi-skilled jobs to fulfil their two-year contracts with the Australian Government under the terms of their migration.
Emigration from Latvia subsequently slowed under the tight control of Soviet authorities. It has been declining ever since, even after the 1991 declaration of Latvian independence from the Soviet Union.
In 2011 Victoria had the largest Latvia-born population in Australia, with a total of 1,523 individuals. The Latvian community in Victoria also includes Latvians born in Russia during WW I and those born in Germany after WW II. Over 83% are aged over 60, reflecting the decline of Latvia-born arrivals after the 1950s. Half are employed as professionals, managers and administrators, reflecting the community’s higher-than-average level of university education. Almost 45% speak Latvian at home.
This cohesive community has successfully maintained its cultural traditions and language through a wide range of Latvian organisations such as the Melbourne Latvian Society and the Melbourne Latvian Society Ethnic School.