There have been strong links between South Africa and Australia since colonisation. The gold rushes of the 1850s attracted South African prospectors to Victoria, and the discovery of gold in the Transvaal in 1886 reversed the trend, with prospectors leaving Victoria for South Africa. Some Victorian soldiers also remained in South Africa after the Boer War of 1899-1902. By 1911, when the Australian census
first recorded South Africans, 754 were living in Victoria.
The community increased in size until 1921, when 1,672 people were recorded. The number remained stable for the next forty years, when the policy of racial segregation – known as apartheid – caused increasing social unrest in South Africa. Many people, particularly white South Africans, sought new lives elsewhere and were attracted by Australia’s similar climate and language.
By 1971, 3,075 South Africa-born people were living in Victoria, most of them of European descent. After the 1976 Soweto riots the community more than doubled in size within five years. The increase continued even after the dismantling of apartheid from 1990 and the election of Nelson Mandela in 1994 in the first multi-racial elections in South Africa.
In 2011, 24,447 people of South African birth lived in Victoria – giving Victoria the fourth-largest population of South Africa-born people after Western Australia. One in six were Jewish; 60% were Christian.
Of the South Africa-born immigrants
in Victoria today, most are English-speaking. Many in the community are well-educated, and some are academics. Most live in urban areas, focusing on the local government areas of Glen Eira and Manningham. Community life is enriched by organisations such as the South African Australian Association, which holds several community functions each year and runs a youth group.