Austrian Culture

Austrians in Australia

Close links between Austria and Australia have been present since the earliest days of the period. In the 18th and early 19th centuries, Austrians visited Australia as members of scientific and diplomatic communities as well as on religious missionary trips. A small number of Austrians came during the gold rush era during the mid-19th century. Among them was the talented landscape painter Johann Joseph Eugen von Guerard, who became the first master of the School of Painting at the National Gallery of Victoria.

After the outbreak of World War I, non-naturalised Austro-Hungarians in Australia were imprisoned and considered to be ‘enemy allies’. The 1920 Immigration Act restricted the arrival of Austrians, thus diminishing the Austrian community in Australia. After the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany in the late 1930s, many Austrian Jews fled their home country to avoid persecution. By 1942, over 2,000 Austrian refugees arrived in Australia. Those with Austrian passports and persons formerly from Austria faced restrictions and, at times, internment. After World War II, more Austrians migrated to Australia under the assisted passage scheme. Many settled in the state of Victoria and found work in the building industry, fruit picking or as domestic workers. There were also a number of highly qualified intellectuals who made contributions to the arts sector of Australian society.

The bulk of Austrian migration to Australia occurred between World War II and 1960. The Austria-born population peaked in the early 1970s, with 23,940 Austria-born residing in Australia. However, following an economic boom in Austria during the 1960s, fewer Austrians chose to move abroad, and some who had settled in Australia decided to return to their homeland. As such, the Austria-born population has been on the decline since the 1970s.

The majority of first-generation Austrian migrants in Australia are well established and have been permanent residents for decades. Indeed, nearly 70% of the Austria-born population in Australia arrived before 1971. The median age of the Austria-born population is 64 years (compared with 37 years for the total Australian population). Most of the Austrian community speak English (55.8%) or German (36.5%) at home and over half identify as Catholic (57.2%). Although the Austrian community is ageing, various organisations such as the Austrian Cultural Society and the Austrian Choir play an important role in maintaining cultural traditions.

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