The first Papua New Guinean visitors to Australia were most likely mission-sponsored villagers and boat crews who arrived before 1870. They were followed by significant numbers of labourers recruited to work in the Queensland sugar industry, some of them kidnapped and forced to work. Whilst most of this group eventually returned home, some stayed and became part of the Pacific Islander community in Queensland.
From the early 20th century, the White Australia Policy
restricted Papua New Guinean immigration to Australia. Exemptions were made for those who came to work in the Queensland pearl fisheries. In Victoria, the community remained small for several more decades, with just 39 people from Papua and New Guinea – which were then administered separately by Australia – recorded in 1921.
The number of Papuans and New Guineans settling in Victoria increased with the relaxation of the White Australia Policy
in the 1960s, and by 1971 the population was 1,093. In the same year Papua and New Guinea were united under the one system of governance, and in 1975 it achieved independence. The Papua New Guinea-born population of Victoria increased gradually to 2,430 in 1991. In 2011, the number had remained steady at 2,536.
Few recent arrivals are indigenous Papua New Guineans. The greater proportion of the community is of European descent, and many are the children of Australians who went to Papua New Guinea for work during the years that it was administered by Australia.
In Victoria today, the community of those from Papua New Guinea is relatively young, with 50% under the age of 40. The majority are Christian, and most speak English at home. About half of those employed work in professional roles, while many others work in trades, service or clerical roles. Organisations such as the Pacific Island Council of Victoria support the rich and diverse culture of the community.