History of immigration from Indonesia

     Select a language:
Map of Indonesia
Map date: 2013
Before white settlement of Australia, Indonesian fishermen from Makasar established trading contact with Indigenous communities in northern Australia. They constructed outdoor factories to process trepang (sea slug) for the Chinese market, but established no permanent settlements.

From the 1870s Indonesians were recruited to work in the pearling and sugar cane industries in northern Australia. Around 1,000 Indonesians were living in Australia by Federation, almost all in Queensland and Western Australia. With the introduction of the White Australia Policy in 1901, most sugar workers returned to Indonesia, although some pearl divers remained. Few settled in Victoria, and those who did were probably Dutch Indonesians – the Netherlands had controlled the Indonesian archipelago since the 19th century.

During World War II, many Indonesian nationalists were based in Melbourne, and in 1949 Indonesian’s struggle for independence succeeded. From the early 1950s Indonesian students became temporary residents under the Colombo Plan, and by 1961 the Indonesia-born community of Victoria numbered 1,279. A large number were Dutch Indonesians who had been forced out of Indonesia after World War II.

The end of the White Australia Policy in the early 1970s saw increasing numbers of Indonesians arrive. Between 1986 and 1996, the community increased four-fold, to 12,128. Many of the new arrivals were students on temporary visas; others came under family reunion or skilled migration programs. By 2011 the Indonesia-born population of Victoria was 15,405.

The religious diversity within the Indonesia-born community in Victoria is reflective of its multi-racial makeup: 57% is Christian, 17% Muslim, 12% Buddhist and 2% Hindu. Almost three-quarters still speak Indonesian at home. Those employed work in a variety of areas, with over one-third in professional roles. The community lives largely around inner Melbourne, and is enriched by several community and cultural groups. Major community events include celebrations for Indonesian Independence Day on 17 August and the end of Ramadan, enjoyed by Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

© Museum Victoria Australia