The first Spaniard to live in Australia was a male who arrived in 1821 and settled in New South Wales. More Spanish settlers migrated during the 19th century – many in search of fortune during the gold rush. However, their total numbers were very small throughout the 1800s (peaking at around 500) and the first half of the 20th century, remaining at less than 1,000.
Many early settlers were offered assisted passages to Australia as rural workers in Queensland’s cane cutting industry. Many others worked as tomato growers. Women and families often did not have the same opportunity to qualify under Australia’s migration policy as it restricted most migration from Southern Europe. Therefore, most of the Spaniards during this period were men (roughly 80%).
This changed later on with an influx of Spanish migration at the end of the Spanish Civil War (1939). Australia made a Spanish-Australian Migration Agreement in 1958 to give assisted migration. Indeed, much of today’s Spain-born population comprises those who migrated to Australia in the 1960s under this government-to-government assisted passage program, either as children at the time or as adults.
According to data collected by the 2016 census, 66.1% of the Spain-born population in Australia arrived prior to 2007. Therefore, it is one of the more mature migrant populations; the average Australian-Spaniard’s age is older than the total overseas-born population. However, migration of younger Spaniards continues on a regulated scale.
Generally, Spanish emigrants prefer to move to other countries in Europe as this allows them to remain closer to their family in Spain. However, many people have looked to Australia to escape the nation's economic crisis as the youth unemployment reached 60% in parts of Spain.1 The majority of these Spaniards migrate on skilled workers’ visas (457) in industries where there are skills shortages in Australia.2 Others may enrol in a course at a university and apply for a student visa, which lets them work 20 hours per week. In the year ended September 2017, Australia received 40,400 visitors from Spain while 88,500 Australian residents returned from Spain following a short-term visit overseas.3
The Spanish community in Australia is generally quite spread out. While people may gravitate towards other Spanish-speakers, Spaniards have tended not to build such closely-knit community groups as other migrant groups have. Many people arrive to Australia with their spouses and the majority continue to speak Spanish at home. The 2016 census revealed that 59.6% of the Spain-born population in Australia identifies as Catholic. A further 27.8% did not identify with a religion, whilst 6.8% identified with another religion or another variation of Christianity.
Spaniards living in Australia may miss the social aspect of their culture (see ‘Socialising and Public Spaces’ in Core Concepts). Many Australian towns and cities require car travel to meet friends, unlike Spain where bars and restaurants are often within walking distance. Furthermore, most shops and utilities close at an earlier hour in Australia. Therefore, people have to adjust to a different lifestyle. Some Spaniards have also reported feeling slightly isolated from their local community as Australians tend to socialise privately at one another’s homes more than people do in Spain.
1 Baker, 2013
2 Baker, 2013
3 Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, 2018