Germans were among the first European settlers to arrive in Australia followingas founding pioneers. Around 10,000 migrated during the gold rush in the 1850s. However, in the first half of the 20th century, Germans living in Australia became the subject of social isolation, suspicion and persecution surrounding the World Wars. In turn, their population shrank by tens of thousands of people. During this time, many German cultural establishments closed and families often had to Anglicise their names in order to hide their German heritage. As a result of this persecution, much of the early German impact on the Australian social landscape has been completely erased.
The second and biggest influx of German migration occurred in the postwar period. Many people who migrated wereGermans that had been displaced by the war, arriving under assisted migration programs. During this time, German schools, churches and cultural institutions were able to re-emerge. German migration continued steadily for the rest of the century, but the community is now shrinking due to the aging population, return migration and lack of new arrivals. Today, much German migration is temporary and does not lead to permanent residency. For example, it is a popular choice among German youth to live and work in Australia on a working holiday visa for a year. The current German preference for permanent relocation is elsewhere in Europe rather than Australia.
The German population in Australia is generally very well educated; 95.7% of the German-born population speaks English fluently and almost 70% have some form of higher education qualification, compared to 55% of the total Australian population. The majority of first-generation German migrants in Australia are well established and have been permanent residents for decades. Over 50% of the Germany-born population arrived prior to 1971 and more than 80% arrived before 2001. As such, it is an elderly migrant population, with the median age being 62. Almost 40% of the German-born population is 65 years or older, whilst only 6.4% is under 25 years of age.
It is important to note that those Germans who have been settled and acculturated to Australia for decades may have a different understanding of Germany’s cultural climate than those born and living in Germany today. For example, some Germans living in Australia may not have had much exposure to the new social climate of Germany since the Cold War ended and East and West Germany reunited. While Germans are no longer routinely persecuted in Australia, some report being socially isolated on the basis of their national reputation.
According to Australia’s 2011 census, 28.2% of German-born residents in Australia identified as Catholic, 24.3% identified as Lutheran and 23.2% did not identify with any religion. A further 18.8% identified with some other faith including other variations of Christianity. The German-Australian population has played a central role in establishing a strong Lutheran community in Australia.