The first Maltese to arrive in Australia were convicts, transported in the 1810s for deserting their British regiments. Malta was then a British colony.
The first free settler, Antonio Azzopardi, arrived in Melbourne in 1837 and became a successful businessman, but few Maltese followed in his footsteps. By 1881, the Malta-born population of Victoria was only 73. This was in spite of the fact that emigration was vital to Malta, a small, resource-poor country, and Britain encouraged emigration as part of a strategy of populating the Empire with white British subjects.
Britain’s intentions conflicted with Australia’s 1901 Immigration Restriction Act
, which kept the number of Maltese arrivals low in the early 20th century. During World War I Maltese immigration was severely restricted, and a quota system for Maltese immigrants
was introduced in 1920. International pressure resulted in the quota being raised in 1923, and 395 Malta-born people lived in Victoria by 1933.
In 1948 an assisted passage agreement was signed with Malta, the first such agreement Australia had made with any country other than Britain. This resulted in large numbers of arrivals, peaking in the 1950s. By 1966, the Malta-born population of Victoria was 26,452.
Since the mid-1970s there have been far fewer immigrants
from Malta, and the number of Malta-born Victorians has declined slowly. In 2006, Victoria had the largest Malta-born population in Australia, with a total of 20,848 people. Maltese was spoken at home by 63% of community members, while most others spoke English.
Today, the community is concentrated in Sunshine and Keilor. They are evenly spread across the employment spectrum. Almost everyone in the community is Catholic, and the church has played a vital role since the early years of settlement. Many other organisations in Victoria also help to maintain the rich legacy of Maltese history, language, music and religion, coordinated by the Maltese Community Council of Victoria.