The Spain-born Community

Historical Background

Spain's first significant contribution to Australia predates the arrival of the first Spanish settlers with the introduction in 1797 of Spanish sheep to New South Wales. These sheep were the beginning of the Australian Merino breed.

The first recorded Spanish free settler to Australia was J.B.L. De Arrieta, who arrived in 1821. The NSW colonial government granted him 2000 acres of land at Morton Park. He died in 1838 and is remembered through the naming of Spaniard's Hill near Camden.

A few Spanish fortune-seekers were recorded in the Victorian goldfields in the 1850s. A group of Catalan and Basque Spaniards migrated to Victoria in 1880 and a number of Spanish families settled in White Hills in central Victoria in 1885 in search of gold.

Others settled near Echuca in northern Victoria on the Murray River working as tomato growers, while others settled in Queensland and worked in the sugar cane industry. By 1891, the Spain-born population numbered 503 persons. It slowly increased to 992 in 1947.

At the end of the Spanish Civil War, from 1939, over 600 000 Spaniards left Spain moving to countries such as Latin America and Australia. Spanish rural workers were considered to be suited to cane cutting and were offered assisted passages.

In 1961-62, 1808 Spain-born settlers arrived in Australia. In the following year, 4585 arrived. However, in March 1963, following unemployment problems in Australia, the Spanish Government suspended assisted migration. Later, after negotiations in Madrid, the movement of Spanish workers to Australia was resumed on a limited scale.


Geographic Distribution

The latest Census in 2011 recorded 13 057 Spain-born people in Australia, an increase of 6.4 per cent from the 2006 Census. The 2011 distribution by state and territory showed New South Wales had the largest number with 5296 followed by Victoria (3106), Queensland (2067) and Western Australia (1159).

Age and Sex

The median age of the Spain-born in 2011 was 55 years compared with 45 years for all overseas-born and 37 years for the total Australian population.

The age distribution showed 3.8 per cent were aged 0-14 years, 2.4 per cent were 15-24 years, 24.2 per cent were 25-44 years, 35.6 per cent were 45-64 years and 34 per cent were 65 years and over.

Of the Spain-born in Australia, there were 6521 males (50 per cent) and 6533 females (50 per cent). The sex ratio was 99.8 males per 100 females.


In the 2011 Census, the top ancestry responses* that Spain-born people reported were Spanish (11 764), English (393) and Australian (287).

In the 2011 Census, Australians reported around 300 different ancestries. Of the total ancestry responses*, 92 952 responses were towards Spanish 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 Spain-born people in Australia were Spanish (8743), English (3477), and Italian (267).

Of the 9577 Spain-born who spoke a language other than English at home, 77.4 per cent spoke English very well or well, and 20.9 per cent spoke English not well or not at all.


At the 2011 Census the major religious affiliation amongst Spain-born was Catholic (9245).

Of the Spain-born, 16.3 per cent stated 'No Religion' which was lower than that of the total Australian population (22.3 per cent), and 4 per cent did not state a religion.


Compared to 62 per cent of the total overseas-born population, 79.8 per cent of the Spain-born people in Australia arrived in Australia prior to 2001.

Among the total Spain-born in Australia at the 2011 Census, 4.7 per cent arrived between 2001 and 2006 and 10.8 per cent arrived between 2007 and 2011.

Median Income

At the time of the 2011 Census, the median individual weekly income for the Spain-born in Australia aged 15 years and over was $445, 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, 54.9 per cent of the Spain-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 Spain-born aged 15 years and over, 2.4 per cent were still attending an educational institution. The corresponding rate for the total Australian population was 8.6 per cent.


Among Spain-born people aged 15 years and over, the participation rate in the labour force was 51.1 per cent and the unemployment rate was 5.7 per cent. The corresponding rates in the total Australian population were 65 per cent and 5.6 per cent respectively.

Of the 5860 Spain-born who were employed, 53.1 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.
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