The first known Swiss citizen to visit Australia was Johann Wäber, commissioned by Captain James Cook to illustrate his third voyage to the continent.
Early nineteenth century Swiss settlers in Victoria included Sophie La Trobe, wife of Victoria’s first Governor, Charles Joseph La Trobe. From the early 1840s, Swiss wine-makers began establishing vineyards in Yering, Lilydale, Rutherglen and near Geelong. The gold rush of the 1850s saw a dramatic increase in the number of Swiss in Victoria, including over 2,000 men from the Canton Ticino region. By 1871, 1,240 Swiss were living in Victoria, 88% of them men. Swiss benevolent societies were soon established, assisting new migrants with employment, and finance.
The number of Swiss in Victoria began to decline in the 1890s but by 1933 almost one in three was female. By 1947, the Swiss population in Victoria was 437 – less than half of that in 1871.
After World War II the Victorian population of Switzerland-born immigrants
began to increase, supported by the Assisted Passage Scheme. By 1961, the population was 1,547, and a further 400 had settled by 1971.
The community increased slowly over the 1980s and stabilized in the 1990s. By 2006 Victoria had the largest Switzerland-born population in Australia, with a total of 2,211 people. Today the community lives throughout Victoria, with a slightly higher proportion in Camberwell, Kew and Hawthorn. Half are employed as professionals; 14% are tradespeople. English is spoken at home by 50% of the community, whilst 29% speak Swiss-German. One-third are Catholics.
Several associations support the Switzerland-born community in Victoria today, including the Swiss Club of Victoria, which works to maintain and preserve Swiss linguistic and cultural heritage. The tourist district of Daylesford and Hepburn Springs is known for its Swiss heritage which is celebrated through an annual Swiss-Italian Festival. The town of Gruyere in the Dandenong Ranges has also retained its historical Swiss character.