Immigration to Victoria

Men Posing With Gold Trophy Outside the Long Tunnel Mine, Walhalla, Victoria, circa 1875.

Key moments in Victoria's immigration history

This timeline provides a brief overview of key moments in Victoria's immigration history by highlighting significant policy and social developments, shifts in population and demographics, and the impact of immigration upon Indigenous Australians.

As a decade by decade summary, it is a useful starting point for exploring a variety of themes relating to immigration such as policy, immigration schemes, immigration debate, and national identity. Also included are links to relevant collections online, historical images from each period and statistics, illustrating population growth in Australia and Victoria since 1830.

Each decade has been illustrated by contemporary cartoonist, Oslo Davis, exploring and commenting upon a key issue or figure from that period. Based in Melbourne, Oslo’s work can be found in The Age, The New York Times, The Big Issue, The Wheeler Centre and Meanjin. He has also done work for the Melbourne Writer’s Festival and did a Creative Fellowship residency with the State Library of Victoria.

Many of the themes can be investigated in more detail at the Immigration Museum, through the Immigrant Stories and Timeline exhibition and most particularly through the exhibition Getting In.

Pre-1830

Early contact and colonisation

Cartoon 'Pre-1830: early contact and colonisation'
Cartoon by Oslo Davis

Port Phillip Bay is formed about 10,000 years ago.

Convict transportation from Britain to New South Wales starts in 1788.

From 1803 to 1835, Wathaurong people shelter William Buckley, an escapee from a failed convict settlement at Sorrento.

By the late 1820s, British people are trekking overland from New South Wales.

Whaling and sealing activity is thriving along the coast in the 1820s.


Aus Pop (1830): 70,039
Vic Pop: No census

Figures taken from Colonial and Commonwealth censuses and exclude Aborigines until 1971.

1830s

Melbourne named and settled

Cartoon '1830s: Melbourne named and settled' depicting John Batman with Aboriginal people
Cartoon by Oslo Davis

The Henty family establish a settlement in south-western Victoria in 1834.

In 1835, John Batman and John Pascoe Fawkner travel across Bass Strait to claim land beside the Yarra River.

Batman signs 'treaties' with Aboriginal leaders from the Port Phillip area and takes almost 250,000 hectares of land.

Convicts are sent from Sydney to work on government projects.

In 1837, Melbourne is named and laid out.

The first immigrants to sail direct to Port Phillip from Britain arrive in 1839.

Land sale revenue is used to finance the Bounty Scheme which pays shipowners to bring labourers from Britain. Terrible conditions and overcrowding on the ships leads to the eventual abandonment of the scheme.


Aus Pop (1835): 113,354
Vic Pop: No census

Figures taken from Colonial and Commonwealth censuses and exclude Aborigines until 1971.

1840s

One ship per week arriving

Cartoon '1840s: one ship per week arriving' depicting Caroline Chisholm giving money to a woman holding a child
Cartoon by Oslo Davis

By the mid-1840s, wool exports from Victoria are worth almost 5 million pounds.

Aborigines are massacred in isolated incidents around Victoria.

In 1841, one British immigrant ship per week arrives in Port Phillip.

The first non-British immigrant ship arrives from Germany in 1848.

Poor Law commissioners in Great Britain approve an immigration scheme to send female orphans from English workhouses to Australia.

281 'time expired' convicts are sent from Hobart.

Caroline Chisholm assists immigrant women and families by establishing the Family Colonisation Loan Society, for which she was later commemorated on the Australian five-dollar note.


Aus Pop (1835): 279,148
Vic Pop (1846): 32,879

Figures taken from Colonial and Commonwealth censuses and exclude Aborigines until 1971.

1850s

Half a million come for gold

Cartoon '1850s: half a million come for gold' depicting crowded goldmines
Cartoon by Oslo Davis

In 1851, Victoria is proclaimed a separate colony.

Gold is discovered, attracting almost half a million immigrants in a decade.

Accommodation shortages force people to live in tents at 'Canvastown', on the south bank of the Yarra River.

German immigrants establish villages outside Melbourne.

In 1852, the British government announces the abolition of convict transportation to the eastern colonies.

In 1854, the Eureka Stockade uprising in Ballarat results in the abolition of the detested miners’ licences.

A ten pound poll tax on Chinese immigrants is introduced in 1855 — the first anti-Chinese legislation.

The largest numbers of immigrants come from England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, America, China and Germany.

Most arrivals are unassisted immigrants from Britain, selected and despatched by the colonial land and emigration commissioners.


Aus Pop (1855): 793,260
Vic Pop (1855): 347,305

Figures taken from Colonial and Commonwealth censuses and exclude Aborigines until 1971.

1860s

Cultural diversity increases

Cartoon '1860s: cultural diversity increases' depicting Aboriginal people confined in a cage with a guard standing by
Cartoon by Oslo Davis

New legislation in Victoria gives the Agent-General in Britain full control of immigrant selection. Agents in Britain are paid fees to recruit immigrants, especially unmarried women, to Victoria.

British immigrants are enticed by offers of assisted passage and land.

Most of Victoria's anti-Chinese legislation is repealed, and Chinese people become the fourth largest immigrant group after the British, Irish and Germans.

In 1861, legislation confines Aboriginal people to missions and reserves.

General policy towards Aborigines changes from 'civilise and christianise' to 'pacification'.

In 1869, Victorian parliament passes legislation for the protection of Aborigines.


Aus Pop (1865): 1,390,043
Vic Pop (1865): 617,791

Figures taken from Colonial and Commonwealth censuses and exclude Aborigines until 1971.

1870s

Immigration a local concern

Cartoon, '1870s: immigration a local concern' depicting a Chinese man and woman on a horse-drawn cart:
Cartoon by Oslo Davis

Melbourne celebrates the growth of its trade and industry with an Intercolonial Exhibition.

In 1873, riots occur in Clunes in Victoria due to the use of Chinese miners to break a miners' strike; the violence forced the Chinese people to return to Ballarat.

Most government-assisted immigration ceases, following an economic downturn.

The Colonial Land and Emigration Commission in England closes, and the colonies take over the selection and administration of immigrants.

The Australian Natives Association is formed to represent the interests of the expanding Australian-born population.

In 1875, the last convict hulk anchored off Port Phillip Bay is retired and sold off.

A further four Aboriginal missions are established around Victoria.


Aus Pop (1875): 1,898,223
Vic Pop (1875): 794,934

Figures taken from Colonial and Commonwealth censuses and exclude Aborigines until 1971.

1880s

Melbourne and Victoria booming

Cartoon, '1880s: Melbourne and Victoria booming' depicting two people on a pier addressing many people on a boat
Cartoon by Oslo Davis

Gold, agriculture and manufacturing make Melbourne the economic centre of the Australian colonies.

Property development and speculation flourishes in Melbourne.

International exhibitions are held in 1880 and 1888 at the new Exhibition Building.

In 1881, the first simultaneous census in Australia showed a non-Aboriginal population of 2.25 million.

Private organisations such as the British Women's Emigration Association promote unassisted immigration to Victoria.

Laws restricting Chinese immigration are reintroduced. By 1888, Chinese immigration is virtually banned.

Chinese passengers are prevented from disembarking from the Afghan and Tsinan in Melbourne and Sydney.

In 1888, the phrase 'White Australia Policy' appears in William Lane's Boomerang

Aus Pop (1885): 2,694,518
Vic Pop (1885): 959,838

Figures taken from Colonial and Commonwealth censuses and exclude Aborigines until 1971.

1890s

Non-Europeans not allowed

Cartoon, '1890s: non-Europeans not allowed' depicting world map with Europe and Australia highlighted
Cartoon by Oslo Davis

Economic depression hits hard and Melbourne crashes into debt.

With few prospects for intending settlers, immigration comes to a virtual standstill.

In 1892, the French language newspaper Le Courrier Australien first appears. It becomes the oldest continuously published foreign language newspaper in Australia.

A conference of colonial governments extends the restrictions on Chinese immigration to all non-Europeans.

In 1896, the Victorian Factories and Shops Act makes all workplaces employing Chinese workers subject to inspection, and requires that all furniture made by Chinese labour must be stamped as such.

The colonies debate the benefits of forming a nation of federated states.

Aus Pop (1895): 3,491,621
Vic Pop (1895): 1,185,676

Figures taken from Colonial and Commonwealth censuses and exclude Aborigines until 1971.

1900s

Federation and the dictation test

Cartoon, '1900s: Federation and the dictation test' depicting a man reviewing results from another man's dictation test
Cartoon by Oslo Davis

Federation is celebrated in 1901, with the six colonies becoming the Commonwealth of Australia.

The new Constitution gives the Commonwealth government power to legislate on matters relating to migration, naturalisation and aliens, but not Aborigines.

The Commonwealth Immigration Restriction Act introduces the Dictation Test, making it easy to exclude non-British immigrants.

In 1905 immigration recovers. State funds are allocated for advertising campaigns to attract British immigrants and schemes such as the Closer Settlement Scheme assist British immigration.

In 1903, the Commonwealth Naturalisation Act excludes all non-Europeans from the right to apply for naturalisation, or from bringing spouses and children into the country.

Canadian immigration restrictions encourage more people to choose Australia.

Aus Pop (1901): 3,773,248
Vic Pop (1901): 1,201,070

Figures taken from Colonial and Commonwealth censuses and exclude Aborigines until 1971.

1910s

Effects of the First World War

Cartoon, '1910s: effects of the First World War' depicting a space ship and an alien walking towards a detention centre
Cartoon by Oslo Davis

In 1910, the Victorian Aborigines Act extends the powers of the Board for the Protection of Aborigines to cover 'half-caste' as well as 'full-blood' Aborigines.

Government schemes entice immigrants with the offer of rural land, but few make a successful living.

The British Government queries the accuracy of Australian immigration information.

Trade unions oppose assisted immigration schemes, arguing that they add to unemployment.

In 1914, the outbreak of the First World War brings immigration to a halt.

German immigration is banned and all assisted immigration schemes are terminated.

In 1914, the Commonwealth War Precautions Act causes several thousand Australian residents of German and Austrian origin to be interned as 'enemy aliens'.

Aus Pop (1911): 4,455,005
Vic Pop (1911): 1,315,551

Figures taken from Colonial and Commonwealth censuses and exclude Aborigines until 1971.

1920s

Schemes to attract the British

Cartoon, '1920s: schemes to attract the British' depicting attractions of migration to Australia: 'Beaches!', 'Babes!' and 'Backbreaking manual labour!'
Cartoon by Oslo Davis

In 1920, the Commonwealth government assumes responsibility from the states for immigrant selection.

In 1922, the Empire Land Settlement Scheme sees the British government assist migrants to come to Australia and settle on the land.

Restrictive immigration laws in the USA contribute to an increase in non-British immigration to Victoria.

Government policies control non-British immigration through strict quotas for each European country and heavy landing taxes.

In 1924, a local businessman establishes the Big Brother Movement, one of numerous enterprises which organises for English schoolboys to live and work on Victorian farms.

In 1925, the Australian Aboriginal Progressive Association is formed, requesting full citizenship rights for Aborigines and land as compensation for dispossession.

In 1929, the Depression brings a halt to immigration assistance schemes.

Aus Pop (1921): 5,435,734
Vic Pop (1921): 1,531,280

Figures taken from Colonial and Commonwealth censuses and exclude Aborigines until 1971.

1930s

Migration curtailed by depression and war

Cartoon' '1930s: migration curtailed by depression and war' depicting two people in Pisa, Italy looking at a poster advertising migration to Australia
Cartoon by Oslo Davis

The Depression years result in little immigration.

The Australian Government responds to local pressure and reduces the landing tax for non-British Europeans with relatives in Australia.

In 1934, the Dictation Test is used in an attempt to prevent left-wing Czech-Jewish writer Egon Kisch from landing in Australia.

Aborigines' Progressive Association holds a 'day of mourning' on the sesquicentenary of the landing of the First Fleet.

In 1938, the government decides to accept 15,000 Jewish refugees from Nazism over three years; only 7,500 reach Australia before war breaks out.

Immigration ceases in September 1939 with the outbreak of World War Two.

Aus Pop (1933): 6,629,839
Vic Pop (1933): 1,820,261

Figures taken from Colonial and Commonwealth censuses and exclude Aborigines until 1971.

1940s

After the war: populate or perish

Cartoon, '1940s: after the war: populate or perish', depicting a man coming on to a woman in a bar
Cartoon by Oslo Davis

Australia's sense of vulnerability during World War Two leads to calls for Australia to 'populate or perish.'

Nationals of 'enemy' countries such as Italy and Germany are sent to internment camps.

In 1945, the first Commonwealth Immigration Department is established, with Arthur Calwell as its first minister.

'White Australia' remains the cornerstone of immigration policy.

Schemes are re-established to attract immigrants from post-war Britain.

Thousands of displaced persons from war-torn Europe start arriving in 1947.

Bonegilla Reception and Training Centre opens in northern Victoria in 1947.

In 1949 the Commonwealth Nationality and Citizenship Act comes into effect, so that Australians are no longer British subjects.

Work begins on the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Scheme, using large numbers of migrant labour.

Aus Pop (1947): 7,579,358
Vic Pop (1947): 2,054,701

Figures taken from Colonial and Commonwealth censuses and exclude Aborigines until 1971.

1950s

A million post-war immigrants

Cartoon, '1950s: a million post-war immigrants', depicting a couple in a car discussing dinner
Cartoon by Oslo Davis

Australia signs immigration agreements with more than 20 European countries, establishing immigration assistance and reunion schemes.

British immigration is still favoured, being promoted through community schemes such as 'Bring Out a Briton.'

In 1950, the National Good Neighbour Council is founded.

In 1955, the number of post-war immigrants to Australia reaches one million.

Asian refugees and longstanding Asian residents can apply for permanent residency.

Non-European spouses of Australian citizens can apply for naturalisation.

In 1958, the Migration Act abolishes the Dictation Test and introduces an immigration entry permit system.

Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines is established.

In 1959, the Immigration Reform Group is founded in Melbourne, advocating the end of the White Australia Policy.

Aus Pop (1954): 8,986,530
Vic Pop (1954): 2,452,341

Figures taken from Colonial and Commonwealth censuses and exclude Aborigines until 1971.

1960s

The end of White Australia looms

Cartoon, '1960s: the end of White Australia looms', depicting two people contemplating a huge pile of paper labelled 'White Australia Policy'
Cartoon by Oslo Davis

About half of all immigrants come from countries other than Britain.

Restrictions on non-European immigration are eased by a Liberal government, permitting family and reunion, and the entry of skilled professionals.

In 1962, the Commonwealth franchise is extended to all Aborigines.

In 1965, the Labor Party's longstanding commitment to a 'White Australia Policy' is removed from its party platform.

By the late 1960s, around 6,000 immigrants from Asia are arriving each year.

A 1967 referendum overwhelmingly votes for Aboriginal people to be governed by Federal legislation and included in the Australian Census.

Aus Pop (1966): 11,550,462
Vic Pop (1966): 3,219,526

Figures taken from Colonial and Commonwealth censuses and exclude Aborigines until 1971.

1970s

Refugees from our region

Cartoon, '1970s: refugees from our region', depicting two women looking at a children's ride, in the shape of a boat, overcrowded with children
Cartoon by Oslo Davis

In 1971, Bonegilla Reception and Training Centre closes.

The largest number of immigrant groups are from Britain, Italy and Greece.

Lake Tyers Mission becomes the first successful Aboriginal land rights claim in Victoria.

A change in Federal Government sees the removal of the last discriminatory references in the immigration policy. However, strict migrant intake controls are enforced and immigration promotion ceases.

In 1975, the Racial Discrimination Act prohibits discrimination on the grounds of race, religion, colour, descent or ethnicity.

A mid-decade economic recession results in a dramatic fall in immigration.

The first refugees arrive from Vietnam, Lebanon, Cyprus and Chile, fleeing civil war and political conflict.

In 1977, the last migrant–carrying ocean liner docks in Melbourne.

The 1978 Galbally Report formalises the use of the term 'multiculturalism'.

The Numerical Multifactor Assessment System (NUMAS), a new immigrant selection system, is introduced, with points tallied against preferred criteria.

Aus Pop (1976): 13,548,448
Vic Pop (1976): 3,646,974

Figures taken from Colonial and Commonwealth censuses and exclude Aborigines until 1971.

1980s

Multiculturalism takes effect

Cartoon, '1980s: multiculturalism takes effect', depicting a bonsai tree amongst other trees in a park
Cartoon by Oslo Davis

Amendments to the Migration Act replace the term 'alien' with 'non citizen' and end the favoured treatment of British nationals.

In 1980, Channel O/28 begins broadcasting multicultural television in Melbourne and Sydney.

Family reunion is the most common criteria for migrating to Australia.

In 1981 the Commonwealth government ends assisted passage for all except refugees.

First significant numbers of African refugees arrive, mostly from Ethiopia.

In 1985, the Commonwealth government transfers title of Uluru (Ayers Rock) National Park to traditional Aboriginal owners.

Professor Geoffrey Blainey's proposal to limit immigration from Asia sparks public debate on immigration policy.

In 1988, the Bicentenary of British settlement is marked by official celebrations and Aboriginal mourning.

Aus Pop (1986): 15,602,279
Vic Pop (1986): 4,019,568

Figures taken from Colonial and Commonwealth censuses and exclude Aborigines until 1971.

1990s

One in four born overseas

Cartoon, '1990s: one in four born overseas', depicting three people celebrating outside the High Court, and captioned 'We Exist!'
Cartoon by Oslo Davis

In 1992, the High Court recognises the prior ownership of land by Aboriginal people, rejecting the concept of terra nullius. In 1993, the Native Title Act is passed.

In 1997, the One Nation Party is founded on a platform opposed to multiculturalism, Asian immigration and Aboriginal land claims.

The Australian Government reduces overall immigration targets, seeking more business and skilled immigrants and reducing the family reunion program.

In 1997, the Bringing Them Home Report acknowledges decades of government-approved removal of Aboriginal children from their families.

Nearly one in four Australians are born overseas, representing about 100 countries.

A constitutional referendum on the republic ratifies the retention of the monarchy in 1999.

Aus Pop (1996): 17,892,423
Vic Pop (1996): 4,373,520

Figures taken from Colonial and Commonwealth censuses and exclude Aborigines until 1971.

2000s

Seeking asylum and saying sorry

Cartoon, '2000s: seeking asylum and saying sorry', showing a woman holding a child in a detention centre
Cartoon by Oslo Davis

In May 2000, 250,000 people march across the Sydney Harbour Bridge to say 'sorry' to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people for past injustices.

In 2001, the Norwegian freighter Tampa carrying over 430 rescued asylum seekers is refused permission to enter Australia.

The Australian Government excludes selected islands from Australia's 'migration zone'.

Australia celebrates the Centenary of Federation, including a commemoration of the opening of the first federal parliament in Melbourne’s Royal Exhibition Building in 1901.

Nationwide rallies are held protesting against the treatment of asylum seekers being held in Australian and off-shore detention centres. Some internees set fires and hold hunger strikes.

Immigration policy favours skilled migration and emphasises English language proficiency.

Aus Pop (2000): 18,972,350
Vic Pop (2000): 4,644,950

Figures taken from Colonial and Commonwealth censuses and exclude Aborigines until 1971.

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