European Australians

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European Australians
White Australians
Total population
76% of Australia's population (2016)[1]
Regions with significant populations
All states and territories of Australia[2]
Predominantly English
Italian • German • Greek • Dutch • Other European[2][3]
Predominantly Christianity (Anglicanism/Protestantism and Roman Catholicism)
Related ethnic groups
Anglo-Celtic Australians, European New Zealanders, European Americans, European Canadians, British (English, Scottish, Welsh, Northern Irish), English, Scottish, Welsh, Ulster-Scots, Irish, European diaspora

European Australians or White Australians are citizens or residents of Australia whose ancestry originates from the peoples of Europe. They form the largest panethnic group in the country.[citation needed]

Since the early 19th century, people of European descent have formed the vast majority of the population in Australia. Historically, European immigrants had great influence over Australian culture and society, which resulted in the perception of Australia as a European-derived country.[4][5]

The majority of European Australians are of British IslesEnglish, Irish, Scottish, Welsh or Cornish (Anglo-Celtic) – ancestral origin. It is estimated that around 58% of the Australian population were Anglo-Celtic Australians with 18% being of other European origins.[6] Other significant ancestries include Italian, German, Greek, Dutch, New Zealanders (European New Zealanders), Polish, Maltese, and Scandinavian.[7][8] The panethnic group can be also be divided into broad regional subgroups, such as Eastern European Australians, Northwestern European Australians and Southern European Australians.[citation needed]



In the Australian Census, people may choose to denote their ancestry within Europe via a specific national heritage. For example, European options for self-identified ancestry in the 2016 Australian census were listed as English, Irish, Italian, German and Scottish.[9]

In the 2016 census 33 percent of respondents nominated "Australian" as their ancestry. The Australian Bureau of Statistics has stated that most who nominate "Australian" as their ancestry are part of the Anglo-Celtic group.[10]


There are multiple subgroups of European Australians.[11] These subgroups may be loosely defined due to varied ethnocultural regionalization and definitions for the regions of Europe.[12] They are, however, used widely in ethnic and cultural identification.[13] They can be especially overlapping or imprecise when used in diasporic terms, as is the case for the European descended population in Australia.[14] In alphabetical order, some of these subgroups are:[15]


Early sightings by Europeans[edit]

The first records of European mariners sailing into 'Australian' waters occurs around 1606, and includes their observations of the land known as Terra Australis Incognita (unknown southern land). The first ship and crew to chart the Australian coast and meet with Aboriginal people was the Duyfken captained by Dutchman, Willem Janszoon.[citation needed]

Between 1606 and 1770, an estimated 54 European ships from a range of nations made contact. Many of these were merchant ships from the Dutch East Indies Company and included the ships of Abel Tasman. Tasman charted parts of the north, west and south coasts of Australia which was then known as New Holland.[citation needed]

In 1770, Englishman Lieutenant James Cook charted the Australian east coast in his ship HM Barque Endeavour. Cook wrote that he claimed the east coast for King George III of Great Britain on 22 August 1770 when standing on Possession Island off the west coast of Cape York Peninsula, naming eastern Australia "New South Wales'. The coast of Australia, featuring Tasmania as a separate island, was mapped in detail by the English mariners and navigators Bass and Flinders, and the French mariner, Baudin. A nearly completed map of the coastline was published by Flinders in 1814.[citation needed]

This period of European exploration is reflected in the names of landmarks such as the Torres Strait, Arnhem Land, Dampier Sound, Tasmania, the Furneaux Islands, Cape Frecinyet and La Perouse. French expeditions between 1790 and the 1830s, led by D'Entrecasteaux, Baudin, and Furneaux, were recorded by the naturalists Labillardière and Péron.[citation needed]

First settlement by Europeans[edit]

A pioneering settler family, circa 1900.

The British Crown Colony of New South Wales started with the establishment of a settlement at Sydney Cove by Captain Arthur Phillip on 26 January 1788.[16] This date later became Australia's national day, Australia Day. These land masses included the current islands of New Zealand, which was administered as part of New South Wales until it became a separate colony in 1841.[17] Van Diemen's Land, now known as Tasmania, was first settled in 1803.

British and Irish settlers[edit]

The first European Australians came from United Kingdom and Ireland.[18][19]

Other British settlements followed, at various points around the continent, most of them unsuccessful. In 1824, a penal colony was established near the mouth of the Brisbane River (the basis of the later colony of Queensland). In 1826, a British military camp was established in Western Australia at King George Sound, to discourage French colonisation. (The camp formed the basis of the later town of Albany.) In 1829, the Swan River Colony and its capital of Perth were founded on the west coast proper and also assumed control of King George Sound. Initially a free colony, Western Australia later accepted British convicts, because of an acute labour shortage.[citation needed]

Europe-born population in Australia 1861-2016
Year Europe-born population
% of overseas-born
United Kingdom / Ireland
% of overseas-born
1861 671,049 92.8% [20]
1891 901,618 90.3% [21]
1901 753,832 88.5% 79.2% [20][22]
1911 664,671 88.3% 78.0% [20][21][23]
1921 744,429 89.1% 80.2% [20][21][23]
1933 807,358 89.7% 78.9% [20][23]
1947 651,606 87.8% 72.7% [20][23][22]
1954 1,155,064 90.3% 51.6% [20][23][22]
1961 1,596,212 90.2% 42.6% [20][24]
1966 1,893,511 88.9% 42.6% [22][25]
1971 2,196,478 85.7% 42.2% [20][22][25]
1976 2,210,817 81.3% [20][22]
1981 2,232,718 75.0% 41.1% [20][22]
1986 2,221,802 68.4% 34.7% [20][22]
1991 2,300,773 62.4% 31.17% [20][22]
1996 2,217,009 56.7% 28.7% [20][26][27]
2001 2,136,052 52.0% [20]
2006 2,077,907 47.1% [28]
2011 2,131,053 40.3% 20.8% [9][29]
2016 2,088,867 33.9% [9]

Notes: From 1954 onwards people from "Ulster" were recorded separately from the people of "Ireland".[30]

The British Colonial Office in 1835 issued the Proclamation of Governor Bourke, implementing the legal doctrine of terra nullius upon which British settlement was based, reinforcing the notion that the land belonged to no one prior to the British Crown taking possession of it and quashing earlier treaties with Aboriginal peoples, such as that signed by John Batman. Its publication meant that from then, all people found occupying land without the authority of the government would be considered illegal trespassers.[31]

Separate colonies were created from parts of New South Wales: South Australia in 1836, New Zealand in 1840, Victoria in 1851, and Queensland in 1859. The Northern Territory was founded in 1863 as part of South Australia. The transportation of convicts to Australia was phased out between 1840 and 1868.[citation needed]

The European population grew from 0.3 percent of the population of the continent at 1800 to 58.6 percent at 1850.[32] In 1868, the population of European Australians was 1,539,552.[33]

Massive areas of land were cleared for agriculture and various other purposes, in addition to the obvious impacts this early clearing of land had on the ecology of particular regions, it severely affected indigenous Australians, by reducing the resources they relied on for food, shelter and other essentials. This progressively forced them into smaller areas and reduced their numbers as the majority died of newly introduced diseases and lack of resources. Indigenous resistance against the settlers was widespread, and prolonged fighting between 1788 and the 1930s led to the deaths of at least 20,000 Indigenous people and between 2,000 and 2,500 Europeans.[34]

Irish formed about 25 per cent of the European Australian population in the nineteenth century.[19] Germans formed the largest non-British community for most of the 19th century.[35]

In 1971 nine out of the top ten birthplace groups were from European countries and accounted for 77.2% of all people born overseas. People from the United Kingdom still form the largest group. However, their number as a proportion of the total overseas-born population has declined, falling from 40.6% (1,046,356) in 1971 to 17.7% (1,078,064) in 2016.[36]

After World War II[edit]

Following World War II, the Australian government instigated a massive program of European immigration.[37] After narrowly preventing a Japanese invasion[citation needed] and suffering attacks on Australian soil for the first time, it was seen that the country must "populate or perish". Prior to WWII, Australia had viewed itself as largely of British and Irish ancestry but after WWII the success of the United States and the reason for its success, that is largely the creation of a European diaspora, could not be ignored by Australia.[citation needed] Immigration brought traditional migrants from the United Kingdom along with, for the first time, large numbers of southern and central Europeans, as well as Eastern European Australians. A booming Australian economy stood in sharp contrast to war-ravaged Europe, and newly arrived migrants found employment in government-assisted programs such as the Snowy Mountains Scheme. Two million immigrants arrived between 1948 and 1975, many from Robert Menzies' newly founded Liberal Party of Australia dominated much of the immediate post-war era, defeating the Australian Labor Party government of Ben Chifley in 1949. Menzies oversaw the post-war expansion and became the country's longest-serving leader. Manufacturing industry, previously playing a minor part in an economy dominated by primary production, greatly expanded. Since the 1970s and the abolition of the White Australia policy from Asia and other parts of the world, Australia's demography, culture and image of itself has been radically transformed.

In 1987, the vast majority of European Australians were descendants either of Anglo-Irish-Scots who arrived after 1850, or of Greeks, Italians, Hungarians, Balts, Poles and Germans who emigrated after 1945.[38]

Number of European Australians[edit]

Year Population % of Australia Ref(s)
1891 94.0 [citation needed]
1911 4,402,662 98.8 [39]
1921 5,387,143 99.0 [40]
1933 6,579,993 99.2 [40]
1947 7,524,129 99.3 [41]
1954 8,921,691 99.0 [42]
1961 10,418,761 99.4 [42]
1966 11,453,375 98.3 [42]
1971 TBD TBD [43]
1976 12,037,152 96.22 [44]
1981 TBD TBD [45]
1986 TBD TBD [46]
2001 TBD TBD
2006 TBD TBD
2011 TBD TBD [47]
2016 17,800,000 76.0 [48][49]

The table shows the European-Australian population with a small increase in the late nineteenth century to a gradual decline since the mid 20th century to the most recent count. Australia enumerated its population by race between 1911 and 1966, by racial-origin in 1971 and 1976, and by self-declared ancestry since 1986.[50] From 1986 onwards, only estimates can be obtained from ancestry. The 1991 and 1996 census did not include a question on ancestry.[47]

By 1947, Australia was overwhelmingly of British origin with 7,524,129 or 99.3% of the population declaring their race as European.[41] As of 2016, the majority of Australians of European descent are of English 36.1%, Irish 11.0%, Scottish 9.3%, Italian 4.6%, German 4.5%, Greek 1.8% and Dutch 1.6%. A large proportion —33.5%— chose to identify as 'Australian', however the census Bureau has stated that most of these are of old Anglo-Celtic colonial stock.[51][52][53]

Since 1976, Australia's census does not ask for racial background, it is unclear how many Australians are of European descent.[50] Estimates vary from 85% to 92%.[54][55] In 2000, it was estimated that about 25% of European Australians were descendants of Irish.[56]

Political involvement[edit]

Colonial period[edit]

As the earliest colonists of Australia, settlers from England and their descendants often held positions of power and made or helped make laws often because many had been involved in government back in England. In the original six separate British self-governing colonies of Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia, and Western Australia agreed to unite and form the Commonwealth of Australia, establishing a system of federalism in Australia.[citation needed]

National founders[edit]

The lineage of most of the national founders was British (especially English) such as:

  • Sir Henry Parkes is often regarded as the "Father of Federation" in Australia. During the late 19th century, he was the strongest proponent for a federation of Australian territories. Unfortunately, he died before Australia federated, and was never able to see his plan come to fruition.[57]

Various other founders of Australia have also been unofficially recognised:


Children wave Australian flags during an Anzac Day parade in Palmerston, Australia.

European-Australian culture makes up part of the culture of Australia. The culture of Australia is essentially a Western culture influenced by the unique geography of the Australian continent, the diverse input of Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and other Oceanian people, the British colonisation of Australia that began in 1788, and the various waves of multi-ethnic migration that followed.[61] As the English were always the largest element among the settlers, their cultural influence was naturally greater than that of the Irish, Welsh or Scots. Evidence of a significant Anglo-Celtic heritage includes the predominance of the English language, the common law, the Westminster system of government, Christianity (Anglicanism) as the once dominant religion, and the popularity of sports such as cricket and rugby; all of which are part of the heritage that has shaped modern Australia.[62] Australian culture has diverged significantly since British settlement.

Several states and territories had their origins as penal colonies, with the first British convicts arriving at Sydney Cove in 1788. Stories of outlaws like the bushranger Ned Kelly have endured in Australian music, cinema and literature. The Australian gold rushes from the 1850s brought wealth as well as new social tensions to Australia, including the miners' Eureka Stockade rebellion. The colonies established elected parliaments and rights for workers and women before most other Western nations.[63]


Australian English is a major variety of the English language and is used throughout Australia. Although English has no official status in the Constitution, Australian English is the country's de facto official language and is the first language of the majority of the population.

Australian English began to diverge from British English after the founding of the colony of New South Wales in 1788 and was recognised as being different from British English by 1820. It arose from the intermingling of early settlers from a great variety of mutually intelligible dialectal regions of the British Isles and quickly developed into a distinct variety of English.[64] Australian English differs from other varieties of English in vocabulary, accent, pronunciation, register, grammar and spelling.

The earliest form of Australian English was first spoken by the children of the colonists born into the colony of New South Wales. This first generation of children created a new dialect that was to become the language of the nation. The Australian-born children in the new colony were exposed to a wide range of dialects from all over the British Isles, in particular from Ireland and South East England.[65]

The native-born children of the colony created the new dialect from the speech they heard around them, and with it expressed mateship. Even when new settlers arrived, this new dialect was strong enough to blunt other patterns of speech.

A quarter of the convicts were Irish. Many had been arrested in Ireland, and some in Great Britain. Many, if not most, of the Irish convicts spoke either no English at all, or spoke it poorly and rarely. There were other significant populations of convicts from non-English speaking part of Britain, such as the Scottish Highlands and Wales.

The most commonly spoken European languages other than English in Australia are Italian, Greek and German.[citation needed]


Another area of cultural influence are Australian Patriotic songs:


Australia's most recognisable building is the Sydney Opera House designed by Danish architect Jørn Utzon.

The Sydney Opera House was formally opened on 20 October 1973, by Queen Elizabeth II.[68] After a gestation beginning with Utzon's 1957 selection as winner of an international design competition. The government of New South Wales, led by the premier, Joseph Cahill, authorised work to begin in 1958 with Utzon directing construction. The government's decision to build Utzon's design is often overshadowed by circumstances that followed, including cost and scheduling overruns as well as the architect's ultimate resignation.[69]

Australia has three architectural listings on UNESCO's World Heritage list: Australian Convict Sites (comprising a collection of separate sites around Australia, including Hyde Park Barracks in Sydney, Port Arthur in Tasmania, and Fremantle Prison in Western Australia); the Sydney Opera House; and the Royal Exhibition Building in Melbourne. Contemporary Australian architecture includes a number of other iconic structures, including the Harbour Bridge in Sydney and Parliament House, Canberra. Significant architects who have worked in Australia include Governor Lachlan Macquarie's colonial architect, Francis Greenway; the ecclesiastical architect William Wardell; the designer of Canberra's layout, Walter Burley Griffin; the modernist Harry Seidler; and Jørn Utzon, designer of the Sydney Opera House. The National Trust of Australia is a non-governmental organisation charged with protecting Australia's built heritage.

Ancestral origins[edit]

Ancestry 1986 % of Pop. 2001 % of Pop. 2006 % of Pop. 2011 % of Pop. % Change 2006-2011
2016 % Change 2011-2016
Albania Albanian 11,313 13,142 0.1% 15,907
Armenia Armenian 15,789 16,723 0.1%
Australia Australian 3,402,407 21.8% 6,739,594 35.9% 7,371,823 37.1% 7,098,486 33.0% -3.7% 7,298,243 +2.81%
Austria Austrian 41,490 42,341 0.2% 44,411
Azerbaijan Azerbaijani 294 0.0% 450 0.0% 1,036
Basque Country (autonomous community) Basque 541 0.0% 612 0.0%
Belarus Belarusian 1,560 0.0% 1,664 0.0%
Belgium Belgian 8,896 0.0% 10,022 0.0% 11,968
Bosnia and Herzegovina Bosnian 18,463 0.1% 20,247 0.1% 23,630
United Kingdom British 5,681 0.0% 6,262 0.0% 9,385
Bulgaria Bulgarian 4,898 0.0% 5,436 0.0% 6,766
Catalonia Catalan 112 0.0% 171 0.0%
Channel Islander 1,160 0.0% 1,127 0.0%
Croatia Croatian 118,049 0.6% 126,270 0.6% 133,268
Cyprus Cypriot 10,722 0.0% 22,680 0.1%
Czech Republic Czech 21,194 0.1% 22,772 0.1% 24,475
Denmark Danish 50,414 0.3% 54,026 0.3% +7.16% 59,293 +9.75%
Netherlands Dutch 310,082 335,493 1.6% +8.2% 339,549 +1.21%
England English[70] 6,607,228 42.4% 6,358,880 33.9% 6,283,647 31.6% 7,238,533 33.7%[71]-36.1%[72] +15.2% 7,852,224 +8.48%
Estonia Estonian 8,234 0.0% 8,551 0.0% +3.85% 9,580 +12.03%
Finland Finnish 20,987 0.1% 22,420 0.1% +6.83% 24,144 +7.69%
France French 98,333 110,399 0.5% +12.3% 135,382 +22.63%
Canada French Canadian 1,686 0.0% 1,836 0.0%
Georgia (country) Georgian 383 0.0% 489 0.0%
Germany German 811,543 898,674 4.2% +10.74% 982,226 +9.3%
Flag of Gibraltar.svg Gibraltarian 184 0.0% 177 0.0%
Greece Greek 365,150 1.8% 378,270 1.8% +3.6% 397,431 +5.07%
Hungary Hungarian 67,623 0.3% 69,160 0.3% 73,614 +6.44%
Iceland Icelandic 759 0.0% 929 0.0% +22.4% 1,088 +17.12%
Republic of Ireland Irish 902,679 5.8% 1,919,727 10.2% 1,803,736 9.1% 2,087,758 9.7%[71]-10.4%[73] +15.7% 2,388,058 +14.38%
Italy Italian 852,421 916,121 4.3% +7.47% 1,000,006 +9.16%
Latvia Latvian 20,061 0.1% 20,124 0.1% +0.31% 20,509 +1.91%
Lithuania Lithuanian 13,275 0.1% 13,594 0.1% 16,295 +19.87%
Luxembourg Luxembourg 167 0.0% 212 0.0% +26.95% 236 +11.32%
North Macedonia North Macedonia 83,983 93,570 0.4% 98,441
Malta Maltese 153,802 163,990 0.8% +6.62% 175,555 +7.05%
Moldova Moldovan 231 0.0% 374 0.0%
Montenegro Montenegrin 1,168 0.0% 1,554 0.0%
Norway Norwegian 20,442 0.1% 23,037 0.1% +12.7% 26,258 +13.98%
Poland Polish 163,802 0.8% 170,354 0.8% +4% 183,974 +8%
Portugal Portuguese 41,226 0.2% 46,519 0.2% 61,885 +33.03%
Romania Romanian 18,325 0.1% 20,998 0.1% 24,558
Russia Russian 67,056 74,317 0.3% +10.83% 85,657 +15.26%
Scotland Scottish 740,522 4.7% 540,046 2.9% 1,501,200 7.6%[71][74] 1,792,622 8.3% +19.4% 2,023,470 +12.88%
Serbia Serbian 95,362 69,544 0.3% 73,901
Slovakia Slovak 8,504 0.0% 10,053 0.0% 46,186
Slovenia Slovene 16,085 0.1% 17,150 0.1%
Spain Spanish 84,327 92,952 0.4% 119,956
Sweden Swedish 30,378 34,029 0.2% +12% 40,214 +18.18%
Switzerland Swiss 26,512 0.1% 28,947 0.1% +9.18% 31,567 +9.05%
Ukraine Ukrainian 37,584 0.2% 38,791 0.2%
Wales Welsh no data no data 84,246 no data 113,244 0.6% 125,597 0.6% +10.9% 144,582 +15.12%
Europe European 9,037 12,504 0.1%
Source:1986,[75] 2016[76]

Prime Ministers[edit]

As of 2018, there have been 30 Prime Ministers of Australia. The ancestors of all these Prime Ministers have all been European and Anglo-Celtic (English, Scottish, Northern Irish, Welsh, or Irish). Some ancestors of three Prime Minister's did not emigrate from Britain or Ireland: some of the ancestors of Chris Watson were German (his father was German Chilean), some of the ancestors of Malcolm Fraser were European Jews, and some of Tony Abbott's ancestors were Dutch migrants (one of his grandparents).

See also[edit]


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  11. ^ Lois Foster; David Stockley (1988). "Immigration: Nature and consequences for Australian society". Australian Multiculturalism: A Documentary History and Critique (Multilingual Matters). Channel View Publications. p. 7. ISBN 978-1853590078. Pre-war migration policy, in all its aspects, resulted by 1945 in a total population of something greater than 7.5 million. The ethnic composition of this small population was overwhelmingly British, with the remainder divided among Northwestern Europeans (about 7%), Southern Europeans (about 1%), other whites (about 1%) and a further 1% of non-whites, mainly Aborigines.
  12. ^ Kathryn A. Manzo (1995). "Australia". Creating Boundaries: The Politics of Race and Nation. Lynne Rienner Publishers. p. 187. ISBN 978-1555875640. Official policy had long consisted of active assistance to potential British migrants; of a laissez-faire attitude toward northwestern Europeans; of limits of immigration from southern and eastern Europe; and of sharp restrictions on Asians.
  13. ^ Val Colic-Peisker (2008). "The Hostland". Migration, Class and Transnational Identities: Croatians in Australia and America. University of Illinois Press. p. 81. ISBN 978-0252033605. In Australia, two different groups of white ethnics take different places in the ethnic ranking. The first group is made up of northwestern Europeans who arrived in large numbers in the nineteenth century, most notably Irish and Germans who are nowadays fully included in the idea of the Australian nation. Immigrants from eastern and southern Europe - Italians, Greeks, Yugoslavs, Poles, Jews, and others - arrived later
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  17. ^ For example the UK New South Wales Judicature Act of 1823 made specific provision for administration of land in New Zealand, by the New South Wales Courts, stating: "And be it further enacted that the said supreme courts in New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land respectively shall and may inquire of hear and determine all treasons, piracies, felonies, robberies, murders, sexual conspiracies and other offences of what nature or kind soever committed or that shall be committed upon the sea or in any haven river creek or place where the admiral or admirals have power authority or jurisdiction or committed or that shall be committed in the islands of New Zealand".
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