In the early 19th century a small number of Indians arrived in Australia as convicts transported by the British colonial government in India. Others arrived as labourers with British subjects who had been living in India. They included 14 servants brought out to Victoria in 1843 by wealthy landowner Major Alexander Davidson. Attempts to recruit Indian labourers on a large scale were not supported by the general population.
In the late 19th century more Indians came seeking work, mostly as hawkers and agricultural labourers. They were made welcome because India was a British colony. By 1901 the India-born population of Victoria was almost 1,800. The White Australia Policy was introduced that year, restricting further Indian immigration, except for Anglo-Celtic colonials.
After India became independent from Britain in 1947, an increasing number of British citizens born in India immigrated to Australia along with Anglo-Indians. By 1954 over 3,000 Victorians were of Indian birth. Most were Christian and probably Anglo-Celtic. Following the relaxation of Australia’s restrictive immigration policies from 1966, a broader range of Indians began arriving. They included professionals such as doctors, teachers and engineers who initially accepted work in regional Victoria.
The India-born community in Victoria increased significantly after the end of the White Australia Policy in 1973. By the late 1970s around 12,000 were India-born. In the early 1980s employment opportunities in Victoria saw increasing numbers of immigrants with technical and computer skills arriving. By the turn of the millennium, over 30,000 Victorians were India-born.
Today, the India-born community is culturally diverse. Half of the community is Christian; almost one third is Hindu, while around 15% are Sikhs. A few are Muslim, Buddhist and Jewish. Half speak English at home, while smaller numbers speak Hindi, Tamil, Urdu and Bengali. Over one-third work in professional roles; many others work in clerical, sales, production and transport-related roles. The vibrant cultures of India are maintained through a range of organisations and events, including the Australia India Society of Victoria and the Academy of Indian Music.