According to the census taken in 2006 there are 118,051 citizens in Australia who declare themselves of the Croatian descent, and who represent 0.56% of the total population of Australia. The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs believes that that there are about 150,000 Croats in Australia, whereas Croatian communities claim that there are 250,000 Croats. Croats began to settle in Australia in the mid -19th century. During that period their arrival was mostly on an individual basis.
The first substantial group of Croat immigrants came to Australia between 1890s and 1918. These were mostly immigrants from Dalmatian islands and the Makarska Riviera, but many also came from Istria and settled in the areas of Western Australia, Queensland and Northern New South Wales. During that period there were between 4 000 and 5 000 Croats living in Australia. Most of them worked in the mines or in the sugar cane fields.
After World War II there was a significant number of Croat immigrants, and the figures show that between the 1922 and 1940s 10,000 Croats arrived in Australia. Those Croats mainly came from the Croatian coastal areas and some from the Medjimurje area.
After World War II until 1948 many Croats began to settle in Australia. First came a small number of Croat refugees from Austria and Egypt. After 1950 more than 20,000 Croatian refugees moved to Australia, after previously living with the refugee status in the refugee camps in Italy, Austria and Germany. Over the period stretching from the 1960s to 1973 most Croatian immigrants settled in Australia. This time period also marked the largest increase in Croatian immigration to Australia, whose total population, as of 1970 and onwards, exceeded over 150,000 Croat inhabitants. Croats are still coming to Australia, primarily for economic reasons. Today, however, immigration of Croats in Australia has slowed down, and one can hardly talk about massive Croat immigration to Australia.
Most Croats in Australian live in large cities: Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Adelaide, Canberra, Brisbane and Hobart. Today’s Croats in Australia originate from all parts of Croatia in contrast to first Croatia settlers who were mostly Dalmatians.
The Australian Golden Rush
Victoria and Croatia, two incredibly different areas of the world, separated by a profound distance geographically but historically, the two share a very special bond that goes back over 160 years. The discovery of gold in Australia’s garden state in 1850 was kept a secret until a year later when the revelation of that the ground was golden was eventually disclosed. During the ensuing decade, the population of Australia tripled. This population boom was due to a huge surge in immigration and one nationality in particular stood out.
As the gold rushed out, the Croats rushed in. First as part of the Habsburg Monarchy of Austria-Hungary then much later, as part of Yugoslavia, Croatian nationals originally weren’t recorded as their separate demonym but rather as members of those said nations. In the present day, a Croatian population exists in every state of Australia; however, the majority remain in Victoria with the second largest group residing in neighbouring New South Wales. Since Croatia gained independence from Yugoslavia in the 1990s, embassies and consulates have been set up in major cities around Australia, from Perth in the west, to Sydney in the east.
Status of Croats in Australia
The overwhelming number of Croats in Australia are Australian citizens having the same rights and obligations as other Australians. Voting at national elections is compulsory. Australia permits dual citizenship; therefore, Croatian immigrants with Croatian citizenship in Australia are also entitled to vote in the Croatian parliamentary and presidential elections as well.
As of August 25, 2009 Australia changed the procedure for issuing visas to Croatian citizens, abolishing the questionnaire on the military service, which had been until then a mandatory part of the application process for issuing the Australian visas to Croatia’s residents.
Croatian Associations and Catholic Missions
Dozens of Croatian clubs and societies are active in Australia. Most of them are located amidst Croatian communities and are largely built by Croats. The best known Croat clubs are located in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and Canberra. There are also several retirement homes built by different Croatian communities. The Catholic Church also plays a strong and important role among Australian Croats, particularly in the preservation of their religious and national identity, as well as their Croatian language and cultural heritage.
Croatian Classes and Programs in the Croatian Language
Australia was the first country in the world to recognize the Croatian language as a separate language. In 1975, the state run TV, SBS began broadcasting programs in the Croatian language, and in 1989 the teaching of the Croatian language became an elective subject in secondary schools.
The Department of Croatian Studies was established in 1983 at the Macquarie University in Sydney. In 1998 it set up the Center for the Study of the Croatian Language. In February, 2008, the Macquarie University opened the Center for Croatian Studies as a joint project with the University of Split.
Publishing and Media
There are three weekly Croat newspapers in Australia: “Hrvatski vjesnik,” “Nova Hrvatska” and “Spremnost.” These are privately owned newspapers that, in addition to the most relevant Australian news, also cover activities of the Croatian community and also report on the events from Croatia.
Along with the Australian government sponsored public radio station, the SBS, which has been broadcasting in the Croatian language ever since 1975, there are also several local radio stations owned by the Australian Croats. One can mention “Hrvatski Radio Australija ” in Sydney and the “3ZZ” in Melbourne. The independent channel 31 airs once a week television programs for the Croatian community. All over the territory of Australia one can listen and watch satellite programs broadcast by the HRT, as well as international programs broadcast by the Croatian Radio.