In 1901 only 311 Portuguese lived in Australia and for several decades very few migrated to this faraway country.
Only with the arrival in the 50´s of a group of immigrants from Madeira in Freemantle, on the west coast, the Portuguese community began to form as a small fishing community.
The first immigrants were predominantly rural workers or from the construction and manufacturing industries and few had professional or academic qualifications.
Sixty years later, in 1961, the census conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) counted 958 Portuguese born in Portugal, residing in Australia. Since then, the Portuguese continued to arrive in Australia in ever growing numbers up to the 90´s when many began to return to Portugal.
It was in those decades that were founded the first clubs and cultural and recreational associations, Fraser Park, at the time called the 'Portuguese Club of Sydney' in 1961, the West Australian English club in 1978 in Freemantle, and the Folk Club Sol de Portugal, in 1984 in Melbourne. All still in operation.
Economic, political and social instability dominated in Portugal in this period, with most of the Portuguese soldiers away fighting in the colonies (1961-1974), a war doomed to failure which tried to secure the colonies of Angola, Guinea and Mozambique. The resulting loss of the war and the return of hundreds of soldiers from 1974, the year of the revolution that marked the end of the dictatorship, contributed in that time to the migration of many.
In the late 80´s with the improvement of the financial, economic and social circumstances, Portugal's entry into the European Union, in 1986, and the consequent influx of EU funds brought hope of a new future. In the 90´s many migrants began to return to Portugal.
Despite this decline in immigration, the Portuguese population residing in Australia was already considerable - 26,000 Portuguese (1996). Of these 26,000, a considerable number 17,000 were born in Portugal and nine thousand were of Portuguese descent, according to the ABS 1996 census.
In the 90´s the Portuguese had already spread beyond Freemantle and concentrated in greater numbers in the states of New South Wales (Sydney), Victoria (Melbourne) and the state of Western Australia (Fremantle).
Portuguese Clubs and Associations existed in nearly every state. In Sydney the Portuguese community was concentrated in Petersham, now called the Portuguese neighbourhood. It was common to send children to study Portuguese in the local Petersham school, founded in 1972.
In 1996 Fremantle and Funchal became sister cities, recognizing the importance and role of the Madeiran population, which represented 1 percent of the population in the small port city of Freemantle (2006 census).
In 1997 the Portuguese Ethnographic Museum opened in Sydney and in 2002 began the first edition of the largest Portuguese festival of Australia, Petersham Food and Wine Fair organized annually by the Marrickville Council.
During this period the Portuguese population continued to grow and more than doubled from 26,000 in 1996 to 56,426 in 2006. Of 56,426 inhabitants, who responded to the 2006 census, more than half were of Portuguese descent, 41,226 the remainder had been born in Portugal.
Profile of immigrants born in Portugal (census 2011)
The profile of Portuguese born in 2011, conducted by the Department of Immigration and Australian Citizenship (DIAC), points to low levels of schooling, with only 39.6 per cent holding some sort of academic or professional qualifications at the time of the census in 2011.
Most of the Portugal-born in Australia have been here for less than 30 years with 88.6 having arrived in Australia prior to 2001. It is important to note that despite low qualifications they have integrated well responding to high demand for unskilled labour in Australia.
The unemployment rate in this group was only 4.3 percent, lower than the Australian average of 5.6 percent, and among those who were employed earned wages similar to those of the Australian born.
For these English has long ceased to be an obstacle with 73.3 percent claiming to speak also English at home and of having a good level of English.
In 2011 the state with more Portuguese born in Portugal was New South Wales (8,244) followed by Victoria (2,650) Western Australia (2,451) and Queensland with 1050 people.
Portuguese community nowadays
Currently the Portuguese community is estimated at 61,487 inhabitants, of those 15,328 were born in Portugal and 46,519 are descendants according to the 2011 census.
The group of Luso-descendents, the one which has been growing the most included Portuguese descendants born in Australia and in other countries such as Brazil and South Africa, as well as Portuguese with dual and even triple nationalities.