History of immigration from Tonga

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Map of Tonga
Map date: 2013
Tonga as a birth-place is first recorded in the Victorian census under the name ‘The Friendly Islands’, bestowed by Captain James Cook due to the friendly reception he received on his first visit there in 1773. Almost 100 years after that meeting the Victorian census of 1871 records 12 of their ancestors living in Victoria.

This number crept slowly over the next 60 years to 31 Tonga-born Victorians in 1947. Unfortunately census records in Victoria for the next two decades omitted Tonga as a birthplace category. When the category re-appeared in 1971, it was clear the community had been growing, with 80 Tonga-born Victorians recorded.

From this time Tongan immigration increased significantly. By 1981 there were 300 Tongan-born Victorians. This figure again more than doubled over the following decade with 821 Tongan-born Victorians recorded in the 1991 census. Today most Tongan migration is due to the extended family system. This impetus was further strengthened by the establishment of an Australian visa office in Tonga in 1996.

In 2011 there were more than 1446 Victorians born in Tonga. Almost 82% percent of the community today still speak Tongan at home, and the vast majority are Christian, with over 30% belonging to the Uniting Church. Of those in the work force, 16% are engaged in managerial or professional roles, 9% work in the community and personal service sector, and 4% are employed as labourers. Many Tongans come from a strong farming background, and than 10% of the population employed as farm and crop workers.

Large numbers of Tongans have settled in the rural local government areas of Mildura and Swan Hill and in the urban centres of Brimbank, Wyndham and Maribyrnong. Most recently, Tongans have been coming to Victoria under the Pacific Island workers’ scheme, which brings seasonal workers to rural Victoria. The community is serviced by the SBS Tongan Language Program and supported by church organisations.

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