The German-speaking community of Victoria between 1850 and 1930: origin, progress and decline
AffiliationSchool of Historical and Philosophical Studies
Document TypePhD thesis
Access StatusOpen Access
© 2017 Dr. Volkhard Wehner
The immigration of Germans to Victoria commenced in 1849-50 and resulted in the formation of a number of settlements in and around Melbourne, Geelong and the Western District of Victoria. This thesis investigates the factors which helped or hindered the emergence of a cohesive German community, with particular reference to its East-Elbian origins; the role played by the Lutheran church and the various associations formed by the community; the character of its leadership; and the attitude of the Anglo host community towards their German fellow settlers.1 The different development paths of rural and urban settlements receive special attention. Using a chronological approach, the thesis examines a number of major events that impacted significantly on both communities and changed their relationship with one another. In the 1850s these included the discovery of gold, while in the 1870s German unification, and in the 1880s and ‘90s the emergence of colonial rivalries between Great Britain and the German Reich, became dominant themes. In the 1850s and ‘60s the impact of these events was confined to German settlement and community formation that resulted in establishing wide acceptance by the Anglo majority. From the 1870s onwards external developments began to increase the complexity of the relations between German-Australians and their Anglo-Australian hosts, gradually eroding mutual acceptance. A detailed analysis of German-language papers and the English-language mainstream press provides clear evidence of the tentative status of the German community. Its temporary unity, resulting from the unification of Germany after the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, rapidly dissipated. Subsequently the community failed to re-group and to accept a new generation of leaders to carry it forward, give it direction, foster its assertiveness, and secure its entitlements as a distinct group. Its passive attitude was in stark contrast to the emerging nationalist fervour informing the Anglo-Australian majority. The community’s weakness ultimately climaxed in World War I when war-induced tensions led to its virtual destruction. The outcome of this investigation, contrasting the urban and rural sections of the community, provides clear evidence that small rural communities were more successful in overcoming serious challenges, based on religious faith and internal cohesion, while their urban counterparts, lacking these characteristics, succumbed under the pressure of war-time suppression.
KeywordsGerman community; ethnic communities; rural and urban communities; Lutheran Church—Australia; World War I—Australia; assimilation; Australian-German relations; imperialism; minorities—Australia; Australian nationalism; ethnic survival; Victoria—History
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