Australia: Where Greek Migrants Got a Second Chance at a New Life

The story of how Greeks migrated from their native land to Australia is an interesting one. In 1829 the first known Greeks arrived in Australia and they were a group of seven sailors who were transported to New South Wales to serve a sentence for piracy that was given to them by a British naval court. The sailors were eventually pardoned, but two decided to stay and settle in Australia. Although they could have never known it at the time, they would soon be joined by many sailors from their homeland.

From Sailors to Miners
During the mid 1800s the first Greek communities in Victoria were established, as many Greek sailors abandoned their ships in Australian waters when they arrived to the country after hearing that gold had been struck. It was at this time when the sailors decided to give up the sea to become miners.

However, there was a catch — with the gold rush of the 1850s many of the Greek sailors who had turned miners were in Australia alone — with no women. Since they had originally planned to return to Greece when they were still sailing the seas, few women came to join them. Just a few decades after the surge of Greek men there were only 19 women living in Victoria who were born in Greece, in contrast to the 127 men!

This changed drastically by the turn of the century as a remarkable community of Greeks in Australia began to take form with mostly relatives of the Greeks already established, who had heard of the opportunities for work and a better life from their family members. The first Greek Orthodox Communities of Melbourne and Victoria were founded in 1897 and in 1901, respectively, following the creation of the Greek Orthodox Church in Melbourne.

During the mid 1900s, at the beginning of World War I, Greece remained neutral until it eventually joined the side of the Allies. In response to this gesture, in 1916 the Australian government placed a special prohibition on the entry of Greeks to Australia, which remained active until 1920.

The real surge of Greeks came some years later following World War II as well as the civil war in Greece where it is estimated that more than 160,000 Greeks came to Australia, mainly to Victoria.

A Boat of Brides
The famous event known as “the brides of 1957″ occurred in Australia  which brought more Greek women to the country. “The brides of 1957” were a group of 900 single Greek women who boarded a ship called the “Begoña” in Greece to travel to Australia in order to marry men whom they carried only a photograph and name with which to identify them!

Over the years the Greek-Australian community has become one of the largest in population outside of Greece with government statistics estimating over 600,000 people of Greek heritage living throughout the country.