The Jewish experience in Australia – Fact sheet 217

The Jewish people in Australia

The Jewish people have been part of Australian history since 1788. At least eight Jewish convicts came on the First Fleet. Over a thousand more people of Jewish descent were sent to Australia as convicts during the next 60 years. In addition, Jewish free settlers were arriving in Australia as early as the 1820s. By 1901 it is estimated there were over 15,000 Jews in Australia.

Before 1901, most Jewish emigrants to Australia were from Britain. But increasingly, prejudice and discrimination throughout mainland Europe in the early part of the 20th century led to many Polish, Russian, and German Jews migrating to Australia. The trend was heightened following the horrors of the Holocaust and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Jewish people during World War II. These events changed the Australian Jewish community. Most notably there emerged a stronger Zionist movement and a greater sense of cultural identity amongst Australian Jews.

Jewish people have made strong contributions to the Australian community. They have participated in numerous professions, including business, the law, and politics and many fields of the arts (especially theatre, music and literature).

Records held by the National Archives

The National Archives of Australia holds many records documenting the Jewish experience in Australia, particularly during the 20th century. These include:

  • Cabinet papers and departmental correspondence files relating to Jewish migration to and settlement in Australia
  • migration selection and registration documents
  • naturalisation records
  • records concerning prominent Australian Jews
  • records detailing Australian reactions to international events involving Jewish people.

Many key records have been identified in the research guide Safe Haven: Records of the Jewish Experience in Australia by Malcolm Turnbull, which is also available in all reading rooms.

You can also use the Archives RecordSearch database to locate additional records relating to the Jewish people and Judaism. Keyword searches for items using search terms such as the names of Jewish people or references to events that might have had Jewish involvement should identify relevant records.

Examples of the types of records held by the Archives are listed below.

Records relating to the Jewish experience in Australia

Migration and settlement

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
SeriesAdmission of refugee Russian and Polish Jews1916A1, 1916/10708
ItemAdmission of Jews to Australia1921–38A434, 1949/3/3196
ItemImmigration Restrictions – Jews1925A458, N156/2
ItemAlien migration – Jews from Central Europe – Central European migrants – stateless German refugee Jews1933–46A367, C30751
ItemAustralian Jewish Welfare Society scheme for admission of 300 refugee children, part 11939–46A434, 1949/3/3
ItemAustralian Jewish Welfare Society scheme for admission of 300 refugee children, part 21946–52A442, 1952/14/693
ItemProposed Jewish migrant settlement in WA – plan1950A4940, C169

Prominent Jewish personalities – Isaac Isaacs

John Monash

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
ItemFirst AIF service record – Monash, General Sir John1914–20B2455, Monash J
ItemPrime Minister’s Department – Sir John Monash1923A1606, E25/1
ItemMemorial – late Sir John Monash1932–33A458, X370/6

Rene (Harry Vander Sluice)

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
SeriesRoy Rene in makeup of Character 'Mo’– copyright registration and exhibit (photograph)1933A1861, 6443

Other issues

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
SeriesZionism1917–35A981, Zio 1
ItemJewish National Fund1917–18A3934, SC17/4
ItemTreatment of Jews in Germany1938–39A461, R420/1
ItemJewish Council to Combat Fascism1946–67A6980, S250256

Copyright National Archives of Australia 2019