Italians in Australia


This blog provides a small insight into Italian migration to Australia. It follows the previous post on Italians in Griffith, New South Australia. Photos of books about Italians in Australia are features. (Click  to enlarge them)

Italian people first migrated to Australia in the mid 1800s. They were usually from poor rural areas and the difficult economic conditions in Italy motivated people to migrate to other European countries, United States, South America and Australia. It is estimated that between the 1870s and 1900, about 300,000 Italians left their homes each year to migrate to other countries.

Some early census statistics
– there were were fewer than 2,000 people who were born in Italy living in Australia. In South Australia, there were 141 Italians – 133 men and and 8 women. Towards the end of the century, small groups settled in Port Pirie and Port Adelaide from Molfetta in the region of Puglia and worked as fishers.

1921 – just over 8,000 Italians were living in Australia and 344 were in South Australia.

Between 1926 and 1928, the Veneto market gardeners arrived at a time when the numbers of Italian migrants in Australia increased greatly because the United States of America had imposed a strict quota and although Australia was much further away, it was an option for people who were seeking a life with more opportunities for work and a more hopeful future.

Italian migrants waiting to disembark from the ‘Osterley’, Adelaide, 1927. Photo from “Per l’Australia: The Story of Italian Migration” 2005 by Julia Church.

1933 – the number of Italians had grown to more than 26,500. In South Australia, there were nearly 1,500. Men outnumbered women 3:1.

Italians who lived in South Australia in these years came mainly from five regions: Calabria, Campania, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Puglia and the Veneto. At first, the majority of the migrants lived in the west-end of the City of Adelaide.

Des O’Connor’s book  is the most significant history of the migration and settlement of Italians in South Australia up to World War II.

Post-war migration of Italian people
The Australian Government developed immigration policies after World War II with programs like the ‘Populate or Perish’ initiative and the Displaced Persons Scheme. This opened the way for large numbers of Italian people to migrate to Australia.

Between 1945 and 1972, it is estimated that about 374,00 Italians migrated to Australia. Approximately 30,000 arrived in South Australia. Many arrived through the assisted passage program which required the migrant to undertake a two-year employment contract usually in unskilled areas. The 1950s were the peak period for the arrival of Italian migrants.

Changes in the numbers of Italian-born people in Australia
In 1981 the total population of Australia was nearly 15 million. In that year just over 285,000 people were born in Italy. The numbers of Italian-born people in Australia has decreased from the 1980s. In the five years 1981 to 1986, there was a decline of over 5.1%. The median age (the age at which half is older and half is younger) of Italians has also decreased.

In 2000, when the population of Australia was a little over 19 million there were 242, 000 Italian-born people.

In 2012, Italian-born people were the ninth largest group of overseas-born people in Australia and made up 0.9 of the total population. The total population was 22.7 million.

Australian states and capital cities and main cities.

Italians in South Australia
In the 2021 census
, 16,653 people recorded Italy as their country of birth. The largest group (78.2%) were over 65 years.

Most of the Italian-born people or 92% live in the Adelaide metropolitan area. The largest groups live in the north-eastern side of the city in Payneham, Campbelltown, Hectorville and Newton. There are also groups who live in the western suburbs concentrated mainly in the Fulham Gardens and Lockleys areas.

Some communities have written and published their histories.  These histories tell the stories of migration of individual families and the development of the communities in South Australia over time from last century.

Antonio Mercurio and Angela Scarino published this book in 2004 about people who migrated to South Australia from San Giorgio la Molara in the province of Benevento in the region of Campania from 1927.
Don Longo edited this book about the community who migrated from Molinara to South Australia 1927-2007. Molinara is int he province of Benevento, region of Campania.










Italian people have strong connections to their villages, provinces and regions of origin. Clubs and associations were established in the 1970s when Australia had adopted multicultural policies although the first one, the Fogolar Furlan Adelaide commenced operating in 1958.


The clubs were established around Australia created atmospheres that were familiar and provided opportunities to meet paesani, speak dialect and enjoy typical food and cultural activities. Today, the clubs do not attract the numbers of people because the second and third generation Italian Australians do not have the same needs as their parents and grandparents who wanted the familiarity of a close community in Australia.







In the 2021 census the population of Australia was approximately 25.5 million. Over 1 million people claimed Italian ancestry or about 4.4% of the population. The impact of Italian culture is very evident – you only have to look at the number of Italian restaurants and gelati shops!


Madeleine Regan
3 December 2023

Photos by Madeleine.


Australian Bureau of Statistics


Collins World Atlas

O’Connor, Desmond, No Need to be Afraid: Italian Settlers in South Australia between 1839 and the Second World War, Wakefield Press, 1996.

4 thoughts on “Italians in Australia”

  1. Interesting article. I love the information and insights into what life would have been like for my Nonno arriving in 1927. Thank you Madeleine.

    1. Thank you, Daniella for your comments. I’m pleased that you were able to make a connection to the story of your nonno who arrived in 1927 the year that many of the Veneto market gardeners began their lives in Adelaide.

  2. Thank you Madeleine, for these interesting numbers that show how well Italians settled in Australia. It was for very many poor migrants the “Promised Land”. As you know, I was born in Adelaide and I lived there to the age of 18. Since then Riese Pio X in the Treviso province has become my home. However, Australia will always be in my heart as I experienced how well our family settled there and what a wonderful time it was just living there.

    1. It was great to read your comment, Remo. Australia became ‘the promised land’ for so many migrants and I think this was the case for the Veneto market gardeners who, like your father and uncle, migrated to Adelaide between 1926 and 1928.

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