Victoria's Migrant Communities

09 January, 2009

Question: How many migrant communities are there living in Melbourne? How many people are in each community and how has this changed over time? Where can I find statistical information on these communities?

Answer: At the time of the 2006 Australian census, there were people from over 230 countries living in Victoria. The Immigration Museum website Origins: Immigrant Communities in Victoria contains information on 70 of these, and includes community statistics such as age, population, gender, religion, occupation and language. You will also find a brief history and photo gallery of each country.

English couple being processed by Customs on arrival in Australia, 1956.

English couple being processed by Customs on arrival in Australia, 1956.
Source: Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs

The statistical information on the Origins website is primarily sourced from population censuses conducted by the Victorian, and later Australian, governments. The first census in Victoria was conducted in 1854. The first national census was taken in 1911. Since 1961 an Australian census has been taken every five years.

The 1854 census revealed that the top three migrant communities in Victoria were the English, Irish and Scottish, occupying 41, 17 and 15 percent, respectively, of the Victorian population. This is not surprising given that Australia was, and still remains, a colony of the British Empire.

At the time of the 2001 Victorian census, there were 4,644,953 people living in Victoria at that time and 28% of the populartion. were born overseas. The largest migrant community in 2001 was still the English, followed by Italians, Greeks, Vitenamese and New Zealanders.

Vietnamese people disembarking from boats in Darwin, 1970s.

Vietnamese people disembarking from boats in Darwin, 1970s.
Photographer: Michael Jensen / Source: National Library of Australia, Pictorial Collection

According to the Public Records Office of Victoria (PROV), at the time of the 1854 census, the task was the responsibility of one or both of the Colonial Secretary’s Office and/or the Chief Secretary’s Department; the body responsible for the collection of statistics and census information between 1851 and 1854 was the Colonial Secretary’s Office, while from 1854 to 1869 it became the task of the Chief Secretary’s Department.

Currently, the censuses are conducted (and the information stored by) the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). Modern censuses are much more detailed and more reliable than the early censuses. Some of the original data has been lost, but all census data, both historic and modern, is held by the ABS.

Further information on immigration and migrant communities in Victoria is available from the Discovery Centre at the Immigration Museum.

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