Dutch sailors were amongst the first Europeans to reach Australia. In 1606 the Duyfken became the first ship to chart part of Australia’s coastline, and other Dutch explorers soon followed.
In the early 19th century a few Netherlands-born convicts were transported to Australia. A small number of free settlers also immigrated, and the gold rushes drew increasing numbers to Victoria from the 1850s. By 1911, 186 Netherlands-born people lived in Victoria.
After World War II the Netherlands government actively encouraged emigration to relieve housing shortages and economic distress. Hundreds of thousands of Dutch emigrated; almost a third chose to settle in Australia.
The growth of the Dutch community in Victoria in the post-war period was dramatic. In 1947, 625 Netherlands-born people were recorded; by 1954, the number had increased to 15,996. Within five years the community had more than doubled to 36,284. These numbers included people from the former Dutch East Indies who emigrated after Indonesian independence in 1949.
The economic situation in the Netherlands improved in the 1960s, and the number of emigrants
began to decrease. Others chose to return to the Netherlands, and by 1981 the Netherlands-born population in Victoria had fallen to 30,707.
In 2006, the Victorian population was 22,831, the largest number of Netherlands-born people of any state in Australia. 65% of the community was Christian; 66% spoke English at home, and 32% spoke Dutch. Nearly half of those employed worked in professional roles, while many others were employed in clerical, sales, service, production and transport-related roles.
Today, the Dutch community is focussed in the outer metropolitan areas of Melbourne, including the Dandenongs, Frankston and Berwick. Dutch culture and community life is maintained through organisations including the Associated Netherlands Societies in Victoria. Springvale hosts the annual Holland Festival in February, the largest Dutch Festival in the southern hemisphere.