German in Australia
Focus on Culture - German in Australia
The Australian people have always been characterised by linguistic and cultural diversity, beginning with the extraordinary range of languages and cultures existing within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
European settlement decimated these communities and many of the languages spoken have been lost through the domination of English. English has always been and remains one of many languages used in Australia.
Waves of Migration
Ongoing waves of migration continues to bring new languages and cultures to these shores to contribute to the current and future wealth of our community.
This section traces a part of the story of the migration of German-speaking people to Victoria and Australia from European settlement to the present. It references how a German-speaking heritage was viewed with suspicion during two world wars, as well as the significant contribution German-speaking people have made and continue to make to the Australian community.
All Australians share the challenge and the responsibility for promoting reconciliation and intercultural understanding across communities and generations.
Arrival of the German Language in Australia
Speakers of German have been visiting and migrating to Australia since the first days of European exploration and settlement of Australia.
- Chronology - research by Dave Nutting
- Reinhold and Georg Foster sailed with Captain Cook - SBS report (German)
Captain Arthur Phillip, who arrived with the First Fleet in 1788, was the son of a school teacher born in Frankfurt. Adelaide was named after Queen Adelaide, the Saxony-born consort of King William IV of the United Kingdom and Hanover.
Most of the early German-speaking migrants were from European principalities or empires (e.g. Austro-Hungarian Empire). The political map of Europe has changed many times over the centuries, most recently in in in 1990, when East and West Germany reunited as one country. This peaceful revolution was in stark contrast to the events earlier in the century.
Natural scientist Ludwig Leichhardt arrived in Australia in 1842 to explore the flora, fauna and geology of Australia. Find out more on dual websites constructed between 2013 and 2014 to commemorate the 170th anniversary of his epic journey across Queensland and Northern Australia.
Free settler families from German-speaking countries had been arriving to make a new life in Australia since 1838. Many of those early pioneers arrived with only a few possessions, ingenuity and strong religious beliefs to find a place to call home.
- Lobethal - Founded 1842 by Prussian Lutherans
- Herbig Family Tree - Home for a family in South Australia
- Kumnick Cricket Bat Factory - 1895-1958
- German-speakers in South Australia
First Wave of German-Speakers to Victoria and Beyond
The Gold Rush of the 1850s brought many adventurers to Victoria to try their luck and German-speakers were amongst these and witnessed the Eureka Stockade. 'Germans' were the third-largest ethnic group on the Victorian goldfields after the British and the Chinese.
Men from the Moravian Church arrived between 1851 and 1919 to found seven mission stations in Australia. The Ebenezer mission station was established near Antwerp in the Wimmera to ‘civilise and Christianise’ the Aborigines of the area.
Early Contributions to the Current and Future Wealth of Victoria
Less than 2% of the population in Victoria between 1855 and 1865 were born in German-speaking Europe. Many migrated to escape religious persecution, others saw opportunity or followed their families.
Some made their way from South Australia or from Melbourne to more rural or remote areas to establish farming communities throughout Victoria. They built homes, churches and schools in their new homeland. All of the early pioneers shared the challenge of adapting to the landscape and climate.
- Grovedale - near Geelong was formerly known as German Town
- Pella - in the Southern Mallee in Victoria.
A large number of the early settlers were Wends (Sorbs). They arrived with their own language, but as they spoke German, they were considered to be 'German', whatever that meant, as 'Germany' only became united under the name 'Deutschland' for the first time in 1871
- Wendish Heritage Society - descendants and friends of those early pioneers
Traces of Bendigo architects William C. Vahland and Robert Getzschmann can be found throughout Victoria through to New South Wales.
German-speakers were living in 'Marvelous Melbourne'. Significant men such as Ferdinand Mueller, Georg Neumayer, Eugen von Guérard, Ludwig Becker, Karl Damm, William Brahe, conductor and composer Carl Elsässer were making significant contributions to the Australian community.
Volkhard Wehner researched the 2000 strong community in Melbourne between the years 1855 and 1865 for his book 'Heimat Melbourne', published in 2010
- Review of Heimat Melbourne - Michael Clyne launched the book in 2010
- Photo taken as Launch in May 2010 - Monash University Rare Books Library
Melbourne - early arrivals of German-speakers
Ferdinand von Mueller arrived in 1847 and worked as a chemist in Adelaide. He was appointed Government Botanist for Victoria by Governor La Trobe in 1853 to 1896. From 1857 to 1873 von Mueller was the Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne. He was involved in establishing many gardens in Victoria, including the Ballarat Botanical Gardens, Beechworth Town Hall Gardens, and he laid out Geelong's Botanic Gardens.
- Correspondence of Ferdinand von Mueller Project - Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne.
In 1870, Austrian-born Eugene von Guérard was appointed the first Master of the School of Painting at the National Gallery of Victoria. Amongst his pupils were Frederick McGubbin and Tom Roberts. He had arrived in 1852 lured, as were many, by the gold rush.
Other German-speaking migrants established rural settlements in nearby Doncaster / Waldau, Westgarthtown (Thomastown) and Harkaway / Berwick.
Westgarthtown was a dairy farming settlement established in 1850 by German and Wendish immigrants, the origin of the PURA milk brand. The area is now a historical precinct in Thomastown in the City of Whittlesea supported by a community group called the 'Friends of Westgarthtown'.
- Westgarthtown - Open to the public
Schramm's Cottage in Doncaster (originally Waldau) was built in 1874 and is classified by the National Trust.
- Schramm's Cottage - open most Sundays
War and Peace
Descendants of those pioneering families enlisted in the Australian army to fight for their new homeland in both world wars, some killed overseas.
- Names on WWI Honor Roll - at the Wimmera Mallee Pioneer Museum in Jeparit, birthplace of Sir Robert Menzies
- Digger Schneider - digital history project on the Museum Victoria website
The 'Germans' swore allegiance to the British King and raised funds for the war effort. However, they were still subjected to unwarranted prejudice based on their language and ethnic heritage.
- Westgarthtown and World War I - film launched in 2016 about the war experience of descendants of German-speakers in Thomastown
Original names of towns were changed as a result of the anti-German sentiment resulting from the conflict in Europe during WWI. An example of this is Tarrington near Hamilton. This community was established by German-speaking pioneers in 1853. Originally called Hochkirch, the name was changed in 1918.
- German-speaking Settlers of the Hamilton District
- Original German Names - Covering up connections with Germany
- Australian Place Names changed from German names
- Kitchener Bun - a name more to the Australian wartime palette
The two world wars made life difficult for the German-speaking community to use their language, despite their demonstrated commitment to their new homeland in Australia. The rich and significant contribution by German-speakers was covered up during and after WWI. Bilingual schools were closed. Speakers of the German language was regarded with great suspicion. German-speakers were interned. German-speaking Jewish refugees arriving in Australia were also interned.
- Prominent Australians - interned during wars (Dictionary of Australian Biography)
- German-speakers - the effects of WWI on citizens of German-speaking origin
- The Enemy at Home - German Internees in WWI Virtual Excursion
- 100 Years after WWI - various resources and videos on the Goethe-Institut Australien website incl. the film Enemy Aliens
- Hans Heysen - German-born Australian artist regarded with suspicion during the war, later knighted in 1959
- Internment of German-Speakers in WWII - Museum Victoria
- Internees in Australia - questions posted on the Immigration Museum website - plus more links in right-hand sidebar
- Karl Muffler - a German pastry in chef in Malvern was interned in WWII and remained in Australia
- Story of the Dunera Boys - Migration Heritage Centre, NSW
Ludwig Hirschfeld-Mack - member of the Weimar Bauhaus interned in WWII, fled Germany, deported to Australia, interned, remained and became an art teacher at Geelong Grammar
- Hirschfeld-Mack - Australian Dictionary of Biography
Many migrants from German-speaking countries in early days of settlement and particularly in post-WWII had a Jewish heritage. The relationship between Germany and the people of Jewish heritage in Australia is complex and varied. In Germany, much has been done to restore trusting relationships and outlaw racial prejudice. It is now a criminal offence in Germany to use symbols and greetings of the Nazi era, a fact of which Australian exchange students and tourists should be aware. The same symbols and greetings are offensive to the Australian Jewish community.
Wolfgang Sievers (1913-2007) - Came to Australia in 1938, a refugee from Germany. He became the pre-eminent industrial and architectural photographer in Australia. Sievers was active in Australia, Germany and Austria with research into the emigration of war criminals to Australia from 1990 to 1998. In 2007, he donated several hundred photographs from his archive, worth up to A$1 million, to raise money for justice and civil liberties causes. Source
- Digital Collection - Photos by Sievers held at the National Library of Victoria
George Dreyfus was born in Wuppertal in Germany in 1928 and escaped to Australia in 1939 and after completing schooling, enrolled as a bassoonist at the Conservatorium. In 1991, Dreyfus was awarded the Australia Council's Don Banks Fellowship and in 1992 was made a Member of the Order of Australia for his services to music. In 2002 he was awarded the Bundesverdienstkreuz 1. Klasse.
- George Dreyfus - in his own words
Citizens of German-speaking heritage or birth demonstrated sustained commitment to public life and served on many school boards, local councils and in parliaments.
Henry Bolte (Victorian Liberal Premier 1955-1972) was the son of German migrants and grew up in Skipton near Ballarat. During his leadership significant state infrastructure projects were funded including offshore oil and gas fields in Gippsland, the West Gate Bridge over the lower Yarra River, a new international airport for Melbourne at Tullamarine and two new universities: Monash Universtiy and La Trobe University. Source
John Brumby (Victorian Labor Premier 2007-2010 ) had a German grandmother. Whilst Premier, he held a reception in his offices to honour the German National Day in October and made a speech outlining the contribution of German-speaking communities to Victoria over time. The Ambassador of Germany commented in his speech, that this was the first government - state or federal - who had hosted such an occasion.
- Speech from John Brumby - Celebrating the German National Day in 2007
German Australia - Damals und Heute
German-speakers settled throughout Australia. Dave Nutting, a Victorian teacher of German, personally researched, designed and constructed a website. It as an excellent overview of German Australia and used as a reference on this site.
- German Australia - in German and English
Dave notes that on the first census in 1861, there were 26,872 'German-born' living in NSW, QLD, VIC and SA. This rose to 45,000 in 1891. The effect of two world wars reduced this number to '14,567' in 1947.
The next wave of migrants arrived under the Australian Government immigration program of the 1950s and 1960s. The numbers of German-born rose to '109,315 in 1961.
Descendants of all the German-born people live in Australia today. Dave noted that some estimates suggest more than 10% of Australia's population are of German descent. Source
In 1901, German-born were the the third largest group born overseas after the United Kingdom and Ireland, and followed by China and New Zealand.
In the 2006 Census, there were 106, 530 German-born citizens in Australia, the 9th largest group after United Kingdom, New Zealand, China, Italy, Vietnam, India, Philippines and Greece. South Africa was the 10th largest group.
- DFAT Diverse Australia - See table of ABS data, download as a PDF
Far Away - So Close
The Goethe-Institut in Australia initiated a project called 'Far Away - So Close' and the associated website has a fantastic collection of information about both Germans in Australia and Australians in Germany. You can also submit your story. Sections include: German life and history in Australia, My Berlin Experience, Looking Back (with photos and information about historical figures), Books and Links.
German-Speakers Living in Australia Today
The 2006 Census reported that there was a total of 137,025 people born in Germany (D), Austria (A) and Switzerland (CH) combined, with 90,184 of those living in capital cities and 45,531 living in regional areas of Australia.
In Victoria, 26,823 D-A-CH-born people were living in Melbourne, and 8425 living in regional Victoria. Source: ABS
Visit the Victorian Multicultural Commission website for further information about D-A-CH and multicultural Victoria.
German is a Language Spoken Widely in the Community
It is highly likely you will meet a speaker of German in the Victorian (and Australian) community, if you are not one yourself.
German-speakers live, work and speak German throughout Victoria and beyond, some as a first language, others as a new language.
- Eva Schulz - German-speaking migrant arrived in Australia in 1972 - Select Continent - Europe, then Country - Germany
- Michael Hoffmann - Sponsored under the skilled-migration program to come to Victoria
- Ute Buettner - A story of post-war migration by an eleven year old girl
There is tangible evidence of the frequent use of the German today in educational, work, religious, social and community settings.
German in Schools
There are 120,000 students learning German in Australian schools. German continues to demonstrate strong retention rates until Year 12 in schools throughout Victoria.
- Retention rates for German in government schools - consistently good
German is taught in government, Independent and Catholic schools in Victoria.
Bilingual schools for German and English operated in Victoria in the early 1900s until they were closed or prevented from using German after the beginning of the First World War. Speakers of German were regarded with great suspicion during both wars. In 1982 a bilingual program was established at Bayswater South Primary School with the advocacy of Michael Clyne.
German is taught at Community Schools out of school hours and at the Victorian School of Languages.
The demand for German language programs by the current wave of German-speakers moving to Victoria led to the founding of a bilingual school in North Fitzroy - the Deutsche Schule Melbourne, an innovative German program at Toorak Primary School - Spatzenschule, and German-speaking playgroups e.g. in Williamstown. This wave is made up of young professionals either working here temporarily for branches of German companies, or new migrants looking to make a new life in Australia.
- Playgroup Victoria - Find 'Alle Munchkins Rasselleande Playgroup' in the municipality of Hobsons Bay
- See Why German: Where to learn German
Scholarships and Exchanges for School Students
A range of scholarships and awards are available for learners of German, as well as exchange programs.
The AGTV has coordinated the BayerischerJugendring (BJR) Exchange Program since 1988, involving around 50 Victorian students on a 10-week reciprocal exchange with Bavaria each year.
In Victoria, there are more than 60+ sister-school programs in addition to a number of commercial exchange programs.
German and Australian companies have sponsored scholarships for senior students to go to Germany through SAGSE since 1967. More than 2000 Australians have been awarded this unique opportunity to have all expenses paid to live with a German family for 10 weeks and a trip to Berlin for the scholarship group. Sixteen scholarships were awarded to Victorian students in 2010.
German at University
Around 2000 students are enrolled in German Studies in 12 Australian universities Australia wide; an additional 3 universities offer German language courses. German has excellent retention rates at this level.
Every Australian university has partner instituitions in either/or Austria, Germany, Liechtenstein and Switzerland. RMIT University has a successful industry experience program, where almost all of the companies are in German-speaking countries.
- See 'Where to learn German' undrer: Why German: German for Your Future
In addition to those here on formal study, there are many students from Germans completing voluntary internships to gain international experience for all manner of tertiary degrees, or life experience. Some are at the Goethe-Institut in Melbourne, to whom the AGTV offers their thanks for the work they do supporting the teaching and learning of German in Victoria.
Scholarships at University
There are tertiary exchange programs for both German and Australian students. Around German students from Germany are studying in Australia and 400 Australians studying full time in Germany. The German government fund Australian undergradutate and post-graduate students and post-doctorate academics from across disciplines to study or research in Germany through the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). There are 1500+ alumni of the DAAD program in Australia.
Scholarships are also available for Austria and Switzerland.
Australian recipients of a prestigious von Humboldt fellowship or award to work or research in Germany have an Alumni in Australia.
- SAGSE - annual scholarships for Year 11 and 12 students of German
- German-Australian Opera Grant - annual competition
- Tanja Liedtke Foundation - inspiring dance
- Melbourne Recital Centre Bach Competition - in June incl. Bach Society Encouragement Award
Engaging the Linguistic Wealth of Older Australians
A team from Monash University led by Professor Michael Clyne (not long before his death in 2010) and Professor Colette Browning (Faculty of Medicine) embarked on an ARC Linkage project to connect older speakers of German and Chinese with younger learners of these languages for the benefits intergenerational exchange can bring for both age-groups. The wealth of speakers of languages other than English living in our local communities are a resource for teachers and students.
- Intergenerational Project - A description of the project submitted to SZENE in 2010
German in Business, Research and Development
There are over 300 German companies active in Australia providing up to 100,000 jobs down under (counting suppliers). Some 135 of these companies are based in Victoria.
There are only two Victorian government business offices in Europe: one in Germany and the other in the United Kingdom.
- German Chamber of Commerce in Australia
- Australian German Association
- Austrade in Germany
- Australian-German College of Climate and Energy Transitions
- Freundeskreis VDI Australien
- Australian Association of von Humboldt Fellows
- Die Woche in Australien - German language newspaper
- SBS Audio and Language: German Program - Radio in deutsche Sprache
- 3ZZZ Community Radio - German and Austrian shows
- Deutsche in Melbourne - Online German-speaking community, also in other cities
Lutheran congregations and churches are found throughout Australia, evidence of the presence and spread of German-speakers, most founded by early pioneers.
Services in German are still conducted today in a handful of churches.
- Lutheran Churches of Australia
- Dreifaltigkeitskirche - in East Melbourne, active since the first wave of migration in the 1850s
- St. John's Lutheran Parish - German-speaking congregation founded in 1960 by immigrants from German-speaking countries who settled in the South-East of Melbourne (Springvale, Oakleigh and Greater Dandenong) because they were employed by two large German factories in Clayton.
Other German-speaking Christian communities
- Temple Society Australia - an independent Christian community dating back to the 1860s in Germany
- St. Christophorus - a globally connected German-speaking Catholic church in Camberwell established post WWII
Community Groups, Societies and Clubs
The German-speaking community, like most migrant communities, support each other through formal and informal groups. The current wave of professional migrants are connected online (Deutsche in Melbourne) and through professional contacts. These lead to personal contacts, networks and informal Stammtische. German clubs and societies have existed since the beginning of European settlement and some continue today.
- Liedertafel Arion - German Male Choir founded in 1860
- RoRobert Stolz Society Melbourne- promoting performances of Viennese music
- Australian Bach Society - established in 2011
- Austrian Singers of Melbourne
- Australischer Sängerbund - the German Choral Association of Australia Inc
- German-Australian Opera Grant
- Richmond Soccer Club - founded in 1953
- German Welfare Society - founded in 1954
- Die Brücke - D-A-CH-L social clubs open to the public in Australia and NZ
Aged Care Services for the German-Speaking Community
Demand for carers with German-speaking skills will increase as the population ages.
Specialised care for the aged who speak German is available in Victoria.
- Martin Luther Homes - aged care facility at the foot of the Dandenongs
- Tabulam and Templer Homes for the Aged - aged care facility in Bayswater
German-Speaking Diplomacy in Australia
- Federal Republic of Germany Embassy in Canberra
- Austrian Embassy in Canberra
- Swiss Embassy in Canberra
German Government Promotion of German Language and Culture
The Goethe-Institut was opened in Melbourne in 1972. Goethe-Institut Australia offices Sydney and Melbourne coordinate programs throughout Australia.
This includes offering language courses and scholarships, media library, the provision of language advisers for education departments, resource centres for schools, organising and funding or sponsoring cultural events.
- Goethe-Institut Australia
- Audi Festival of German Films - Annual pubiic film festival throughout Australia
German Tourists in Australia
Germans are great travelers throughout the world. More than 160,00 tourists from Germany visited Australia in 2010. For information about German tourists in Australia.
Germany is a significant target market for Tourism Australia. Visit the 'Research' section and look at the 'Visitor Arrival Data' on the Tourism Australia website.
Contribution and Influence of German-speakers to Australia
Search for German, Austrian, Swiss references on these sites.
- Australian Dictionary of Biography
- Australian Biography
- Museum Victoria - German Migration to Australia
- Immigration Museum - in Victoria
- 19th Century Migration in Victoria - Information
Department of Foreign Affairs Country Briefs and Fact Sheets
Find out how the Australian government describes Australia's relationship with German-speaking Europe.
Countries where Standard German is as an official language
A list of countries where German is recognised as a minority language is found on the right-hand side toolbar of this link: