Historical Background

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The Finland-born Community

Historical Background

The first Finn to visit Australia was naturalist and draughtsman Herman Dietrich Spöring, who arrived in 1770 with James Cook’s first voyage on the HMS Endeavour in Joseph Banks' scientific team.

Early Finnish settlers to Australia were sailors working on foreign vessels who deserted their ships in search of a better life. Many found their way to the goldfields of Victoria and New South Wales in the 1850s and 1860s.

The first significant wave of Finnish migration to Australia occurred in the 1920s when the United States slowed its immigration intake by imposing quotas. This, combined with high unemployment in Finland, and the Australian Government's assisted passage made Australia an attractive migration destination, especially for single men.

Post-World War II migration saw the next wave which included chain and family migration. During the war, Finland fought against the Soviet Union and Germany. As part of its peace settlement with the Soviet Union, Finland agreed to cede several provinces to the Soviet Union, causing thousands of people to leave these areas. This resulted in over 22,000 Finland-born settling in Australia in the decades following the war. Of these, about half returned to Finland or migrated on to the United States of America.

The mid 1950s economic downturn in Finland, combined with Australia's reinvigorated assisted passage scheme saw another migration wave.

The Finland-born in Australia reached a peak of 10,359 in 1971. With rising prosperity in Finland and reduced emigration, the numbers of Finland-born in Australia are expected to continue to decline as the community ages.


Geographic Distribution

The latest Census in 2011 recorded 7,939 Finland-born people in Australia, a fall of 0.1 per cent from the 2006 Census. The 2011 distribution by state and territory showed Queensland had the largest number with 2,650 followed by New South Wales (2,275), Victoria (1,229) and the Australian Capital Territory (573).

Age and Sex

The median age of the Finland-born in 2011 was 58 years compared with 45 years for all overseas-born and 37 years for the total Australian population. The age distribution showed 2.4 per cent were aged 0-14 years, 3.1 per cent were 15-24 years, 16.6 per cent were 25-44 years, 45.8 per cent were 45-64 years and 32.1 per cent were 65 years and over.

Of the Finland-born in Australia, there were 3,389 males (42.7 per cent) and 4,550 females (57.3 per cent). The sex ratio was 74.5 males per 100 females.


In the 2011 Census, the top ancestry responses* that Finland-born people reported were Finnish (7,427), Swedish (162) and Australian (103). In the 2011 Census, Australians reported around 300 different ancestries. Of the total ancestry responses*, 22,420 responses were towards Finnish ancestry.

*At the 2011 Census up to two responses per person were allowed for the Ancestry question; therefore providing the total responses and not persons count.


The main languages spoken at home by Finland-born people in Australia were Finnish (4,411), English (3,150) and Swedish (177).

Of the 4,787 Finland-born who spoke a language other than English at home, 84 per cent spoke English very well or well, and 14.2 per cent spoke English not well or not at all.


At the 2011 Census the major religious affiliations amongst Finland-born were Lutheran (4,762) and Pentecostal (430).

Of the Finland-born, 17.4 per cent stated 'No Religion' which was lower than that of the total Australian population (22.3 per cent), and 4.3 per cent did not state a religion.


Compared to 62 per cent of the total overseas-born population, 82.8 per cent of the Finland-born people in Australia arrived in Australia prior to 2001. Among the total Finland-born in Australia at the 2011 Census, 5.4 per cent arrived between 2001 and 2006 and 8.4 per cent arrived between 2007 and 2011.

Median Income

At the time of the 2011 Census, the median individual weekly income for the Finland-born in Australia aged 15 years and over was $458, compared with $538 for all overseas-born and $597 for all Australia-born. The total Australian population had a median individual weekly income of $577.


At the 2011 Census, 59.3 per cent of the Finland-born aged 15 years and over had some form of higher non-school qualifications compared to 55.9 per cent of the Australian population. Of the Finland-born aged 15 years and over, 2.3 per cent were still attending an educational institution. The corresponding rate for the total Australian population was 8.6 per cent.


Among Finland-born people aged 15 years and over, the participation rate in the labour force was 50.5 per cent and the unemployment rate was 6 per cent. The corresponding rates in the total Australian population were 65 per cent and 5.6 per cent respectively.

Of the 3,591 Finland-born who were employed, 52.7 per cent were employed in either a skilled managerial, professional or trade occupation. The corresponding rate in the total Australian population was 48.4 per cent.

Produced by the Community Relations Section of DIAC All data used in this summary is sourced from the Australian Bureau of Statistics Census of Population and Housing. Sources for the Historical Background are available on our website.
© Commonwealth of Australia.

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