History of immigration from Belgium

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Map of Belgium
Map date: 2013
Long before Belgians were first recorded in the census of 1871 they had become part of the Victorian community. In 1847 Horatio Ellerman named the town of Antwerp, northwest of Melbourne, after his birthplace. Many Belgians were attracted to the gold fields and by 1851 Melbourne had its own Belgian consulate. By 1867 Jules Renard of Renard Bros & Co, Melbourne, had opened up the wool market and general trade between Australia and Belgium. Auguste de Bavay, who went on to become Fosters chief brewer, created 'Melbourne No.1' in 1889, the first truly Australian beer, which also established Melbourne at the forefront of brewing technology.

Between 1901 and 1911 the census records a 20% drop in the Belgian-born population, down to only 99 Belgium-born Victorians. This coincides with the formation of the Belgian Congo and reflects the opportunities there for Belgians.

In the 1920s a number of Australian soldiers, having served in Belgium during World War I, returned with Belgian wives. This accounts for the rise from 99 Belgium-born Victorians in the 1911 census to 157 in 1921 when female Belgians outnumbered men for the first time.

Belgian migration increased after World War II, and by 1954 there were 613 Belgium-born Victorians. Over the next twenty years the population steadily rose. A burst of activity preceding the exodus of Belgians out of the Congo following its independence in 1960 saw the population peak at 1167 in 1971. There has been little change in the population size since that time.

Today there are 1,292 Belgian-born Victorian’s. Approximately half are Catholic. Of those employed, 34% work in professional roles, whilst a further 17% are employed as managers and administrators. The majority of the population is under the age of 55, reflecting the recent wave of young professional arrivals. Approximately half speak English at home, whilst 37% still speak French and Dutch (or Flemish, as the local form of Dutch is known) at home. Much smaller numbers speak Italian, German, Yiddish and Polish.

Many Belgium-born Victorians have settled in the local government areas of Glen Eira, Yarra Ranges, Port Phillip, Bayside, and along the Mornington Peninsula. The community is serviced by the Belgian Club of Victoria Inc. and celebrates National Day in July, Kings Day on 15 November and St Nicholas Festival on the 1st Sunday of December.

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