In 1837 two Chileans arrived in Sydney, the first on record in Australia. They were no ordinary people, one being former president General Ramon Freire, exiled from Chile after attempting to re-take power in a coup. He did not settle in Australia, however, but eventually returned to his homeland.
Few Chileans followed in the footsteps of their exiled President until the gold rushes of the 1850s which saw many more arrive in Victoria - some to escape racial persecution on the goldfields of California. The Chileans certainly made an impact, as goldminers throughout the state benefited from the technology of the “Chilean mill”, which crushed ore using large stone wheels that revolved around a circular axis. Ironically, this technology was probably imported to Australia by Americans and Europeans.
The number of Victorians born in Chile remained low for the rest of the nineteenth century, and by 1901 only 22 Chileans called Victoria home.
It was not until the economic and political upheavals of the late 1960s and early 1970s that Chileans began to arrive in larger numbers. These upheavals culminated in the 1973 military coup by General Pinochet, followed by a period of persecution and violence towards opponents of the new regime. The Whitlam government responded by allowing larger numbers of Chileans to migrate to Australia and provided assistance to Chilean immigrants
Today, it is for economic rather than political reasons that Chileans are seeking new lives in Victoria. They are the largest group from Latin America in the state, with over 6,600 Chileans recorded in the 2006 census
The Chilean community of Victoria has formed a number of groups, some concerned with their place of origin, such as those focused on human rights issues in Chile; others taking an active interest in politics in their adopted Australian state. Passionate involvement with social, sporting and political activities ensures the vibrant Chilean culture lives on in Victoria.