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

Greeks Australia
Greeks arriving in Australia in the 1920s. Credit: Public Domain

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. However, they did not arrive voluntarily.

They were a group of seven sailors who were transported to New South Wales to serve a sentence for piracy that was handed down to them by a British naval court.

The sailors were eventually pardoned, but two of them decided to stay and settle in Australia. Although they could have never known it at the time, they would soon be joined by many other 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 at the country after hearing that gold had been found there. The sailors quickly decided to give up life at sea to become miners.

However, there was a catch, as 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 immigration, there were only nineteen Greek-born women living in Victoria in contrast to 127 Greek men!

This situation changed drastically by the turn of the century as a remarkable community of Greeks in Australia began to take form, comprised mostly of relatives of the Greeks already established there, 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.

Greeks arriving in Australia
Greeks arriving in Australia in the 1920s. Credit: Public Domain

During the mid 1900s, at the beginning of World War I, Greece remained neutral until it eventually joined the side of the Allies. Because of their initial neutrality, 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 to Australia 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 Greek citizens emigrated to Australia, mainly to the state of Victoria.

A boat of brides to Australia

The famous event known as “The brides of 1957″ brought more Greek women to the country. The “brides” were a group of nine hundred single Greek women who boarded a ship called the “Begoña” in Greece to travel to Australia in order to marry. Incredibly, the men for whom they were destined were known to them only by a photograph and a name.

Greek brides on the Begona Australia
Greek brides on the Begona in 1957. Credit: Screenshot from video

Over the years, the Greek-Australian community has become one of the largest in population outside of Greece with government statistics estimating that over six hundred thousand people of Greek heritage live throughout the country.

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