The first intake of over 600 Portuguese and Timorese arrived in Australia after evacuation from Portuguese Timor during World War II. Almost all (562) were repatriated to Portuguese Timor from Newcastle in late 1945.
In 1975, civil and political unrest during the struggle for independence from Portugal, and concern about invasion by Indonesia, caused thousands to flee. Of the many who were evacuated to Darwin, 1,647 became permanent residents in Australia.
Over the next decade the East Timor-born community in Victoria increased from 367 in 1976 to 2,784 in 1986. Most were refugees
, many of whom had been living in Portugal before being sponsored by family members in Victoria, under the Special Humanitarian Program.
Between 1990 and 1997, a further 1,004 East Timorese immigrants
arrived in Australia under the Special Assistance Category. These immigrants
, some of whom came from Portugal, were also sponsored by family members in Australia. Another 1,360 who arrived on tourist visas then applied for permanent residency, motivated by family reunion and the desire to escape from the occupying Indonesian forces. Many settled in Victoria, but were not counted in censuses
during the 1990s.
In 1999, a referendum saw 78% of East Timorese vote for their full independence from Indonesia. This sparked violence in East Timor, and resulted in many seeking refuge in Australia. Over 4,000 East Timor-born immigrants
were granted extended residency in Australia in late 1999.
In 2006 Victoria recorded the highest population of East Timor-born immigrants
in Australia, with 5,014 in total. In 2011 the number was 4,963. The community comprises two distinct groups: Timorese, who comprise both mestizo and indigenous Timorese, and ethnic Chinese. Each group has a distinct ancestry, language and culture, but both are active members of East Timorese community life.
The majority of East Timor-born migrants can be found in the municipalities of Brimbank, Casey and Greater Dandenong..