Greek immigration to Melbourne falls into three chronological phases. Between the 1840s and 1900 an estimated 200 Greeks settled in Victoria. Most came from the Ionian islands, particularly Ithaca (the dominant group before World War I) and Kythera. Lured by gold, most resettled in cities and towns where they became shopkeepers, fishmongers and café owners, and began sponsoring family and friends. Between 1900 and 1940, 2600 of the overall 12 000 Greek immigrants to Australia settled in Victoria. The heart of the community was the Greek Orthodox Community of Melbourne and Victoria (GOC), founded in 1897, and which now has its offices in the heart of the Greek precinct on the corner of Russell and Lonsdale streets.
Australia's postwar immigration program since 1947 brought 250 000 Greek-born immigrants to Australia. When, by 1987, the bulk of Greek immigration had ended, 96% of the 170 526 Greek immigrants, Greek-speaking Cypriots and Egyptians, and their Australian-born children, who were in Victoria lived in Melbourne. By 2004 Melbourne's Greek community was considered the largest outside Greece, and third only to Athens and Thessaloniki, with estimates numbering the first, second and third generations at approximately 300 000.
The bulk of Greek immigrants arrived between the late 1950s and the early 1970s. As Greek law restricted the migration of single women, the first immigrants were overwhelmingly young, single men. After the law changed in 1962 families predominated. Largely from mainland, rural Greece, particularly Peloponessus and Macedonia, they travelled by ocean liner, such as the Kyreneia, which began regular service between Greece and Australia in 1949, the Patris or the Ellenis.
Approximately 49% of Greek immigrants settled in Victoria (33% in New South Wales). Many immigrants passed through Bonegilla Migration Centre before moving to the inner suburbs of Melbourne, notably Northcote, Richmond, Prahran, Brunswick, Fitzroy. That they chose Melbourne can be explained by different factors, including the influence of chain migration, increasing provisions of religious and educational institutions within the Greek community, and government channelling of unskilled labour into manufacturing. In inner Melbourne they found low rental and house prices, employment, and Greek-speaking neighbours. Once settled, they sponsored relatives, friends and compatriots. They found work as semi-skilled and unskilled labourers in smaller inner-suburban manufacturing industries, at the huge vehicle and associated industries, and in public utilities. By the 1980s many had dispersed to outer suburbs, such as Oakleigh, Bulleen, Doncaster, Clayton, Lalor, St Albans, drawn by affordable housing and the establishment of cultural and religious institutions.
Greek identity has always been intricately tied to religious life, language and cultural tradition. In 1897 Melbourne's Greek immigrants felt sufficiently settled to found the Greek Orthodox Community. As well as GOC, there was a proliferation of regional Brotherhood clubs, such as the Ithacan Society (1916) and the Kastellorizan Society (1925), Panhellenic organisations and social clubs which provided companionship, social and cultural recreation and welfare for the Greek community. GOC has been fundamental to the social, cultural and political life of the community. In 1901 it built the first Greek Orthodox Church Evangelismos (Annunciation) in Victoria Parade, East Melbourne, thereby replacing the temporary occupation of Chalmers Presbyterian Church in Gipps Street (now St Andrew's Place); ran after-hours schools; organised national and religious anniversaries and festivals; supported Greek national causes; and provided welfare assistance.
The cathedral of Evangelismos remained the only Greek church in Melbourne until 1950. By 1972 the number of churches and parishes had grown to 25, and stood at 30 in 2004. This proliferation of churches, however, accompanied a bitter contest of power that had been simmering since the 1920s between the Orthodox Church and community leaders throughout Australia. At issue were control of the new parishes and churches; the provision of welfare and the running of charity organisations; and the right to represent Hellenism in Australia.
Another key issue was control of the teaching of Greek language. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the first Greek afternoon school was opened in 1899 in the Chalmers school hall next to the Greek Church. The postwar migration saw the number of inner-suburban parish or community schools rise to 300. Students attended between 5 and 7 p.m., learning the rudiments of elementary grammar and language, Greek Orthodoxy and Greek culture. In 1979 St John's Greek Orthodox College, North Carlton, was inaugurated as the first bilingual Greek Orthodox Day School offering primary and secondary schooling. In 1977 the Greek community raised $120 000 to fund a modern Greek lectureship at the University of Melbourne.
It is a cliché that the cultural and public face of Greek immigration has been its influence on the nation's eating habits. Stereotypically, suburban milk bars and fish and chips shops up to the 1980s were owned by Greeks, and restaurants serving Greek fare can be found throughout Melbourne. Greek immigrants, however, have contributed to all facets of Melbourne's cultural and social life, politics at federal, State and local government levels, and sport, particularly soccer. Most famous are the 'Greek' clubs: South Melbourne Hellas and Heidelberg Alexander.
Greek literary efforts, reflecting a variety of voices, trends, styles, have appeared in Greek and English newspapers and periodicals throughout the 20th century. The first Greek newspaper published in Australia was the Melbourne-based weekly Afstralia (1913-20). Markedly conservative, the long-running Phos (The Light, 1936-73) covered historical, cultural and political affairs in Greece, and was active in local community affairs, particularly the Church. Its first editor is also credited with founding a Greek branch of the RSL (Returned Servicemen's League) in East Melbourne. Currently, the longest-standing newspaper is the biweekly Neos Kosmos (New World), a newspaper of consistent liberal political stance that prints an English supplement. The first Greek-language broadcast was in 1951 in Wangaratta, and since then Greek programs have featured on various Melbourne-based stations. Today important voices belong to second- and third-generation Melbourne Greek-Australians who are working in English for a wide audience. Collectively they deal with themes that explore otherness, adjustment and identity within an Australian context, and what it means to be Greek-Australian.
While the federal policy of multiculturalism has been the backbone of migrant acceptance in Australia, it has also been exploited as a tool of division, and fuelled debate about the propriety of bringing overseas political issues into Australian life. One such example is the turmoil engulfing Balkan politics, particularly Macedonian independence, and claims of ownership of the name Macedonia by Greece and the Macedonian state of former Yugoslavia. In May 1988 Melbourne's Greek community gave voice to its sentiments with a massive demonstration of support for 'Greek Macedonia'. More recently, such patriotism has also found voice in the strong assertions of Greek identity by second-and third-generation Greeks. This has been most evident in the euphoric response to the Greek soccer team's success in the 2004 European Cup and the Olympic Games held in Athens.