The Italian presence in Australia predates the First Fleet. James Matra and Antonio Ponto, both of Italian descent, were aboard the ship ‘Endeavour’ with Captain James Cook on his voyage of discovery in 1770. Convict Giuseppe Tuzo arrived with the First Fleet, and eventually settled in Sydney.
Hundreds of Italians were lured to Victoria by the 1850s gold rushes, including Raffaello Carboni, who witnessed and documented the famous Eureka Stockade in 1854, calling the actions of the soldiers a “foul deed, worthy of devils”.
When the gold ran out, many Italians left Victoria to work in other parts of Australia. Those who stayed established small, mainly agricultural communities in country Victoria. The Italian cultural association – the Dante Alighieri Society – established a branch in the city in 1896, its first outside Italy. By then, around 1,500 Italians lived in Victoria. Many worked as labourers, artisans, artists, doctors, agriculturalists, retailers, manufacturers and scientists. Engineers such as Carlo Catani and Ettore Checchi transformed the city of Melbourne and oversaw irrigation and water catchment projects around the State.
Italians continued to settle in Victoria in the early years of the twentieth century, many to escape economic hardship in their homeland. However, the 1925 Immigration Act created a quota system limiting people from selected countries, and by 1928 the number of Italian immigrants
allowed into Australia was strictly limited.
After World War II Italian immigration increased dramatically, including large numbers of agricultural workers from southern Italian regions, including Sicily and Calabria. Because many who arrived were single men, proxy marriages
to women back in Italy were common practice.
The number of Italy-born Victorians peaked at 121,000 in 1971. Italian immigration then declined, but Italians are still the fifth-largest immigrant
community in Victoria after the English community, with 76,906 Italy-born people recorded in the 2011 census
. Victorians of Italian descent continue to contribute to the cultural and economic development of Victoria through their achievements across a range of industry and professional sectors.