The history of Australia is one of multiculturalism, with immigrants drawn from all backgrounds and cultures. Polish migrants in particular, have played a key role in the country’s history, and the key periods of Polish migration likewise indicated the history of Poland and Europe at the time.

Today, many Australians are the descendents of Polish soldiers, settlers, and refugees. Some came as displaced persons, unable to leave, whilst others came to find work and fortune. In any case, the influence of these Polish arrivals can be found across Australia, and the country continues to have a Poland born population, alongside a growing community of Polish-Australians.

To better understand this history, it’s worth understanding the key periods of migration, as well as how the proportion of Polish descendents in Australia is doing today.

The key periods of Polish migration

While Polish citizens had arrived in Australia as early as 1696, these were typically sailors that only passed through. Active migration to the land didn’t occur until the 1800s and, like other countries, was influenced by Australia’s original founding.

This was supported by large waves of Polish arrivals in later centuries, most notably after World War II and again after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Early 1800s

Up until 1868, Australia was still a penal colony. Many of the first migrants were in fact convicts from the United Kingdom, which included not only British individuals, but also Poles. In fact, the first known Polish immigrant was Joseph Potaski, sent as a convict in 1803.

In 1839, a more prominent Polish citizen, geologist Sir Pawel (Paul) Strzelecki, arrived in Sydney. Requested by the governor for New South Wales, Pawel went on to explore Australia’s mountainous regions. He also discovered many sources of gold near what is now known as Victoria, and his geological surveys were a big influence on the subsequent Australian gold rush of the 1850s.

His efforts can still be seen today. Not only did he name Mount Kosciuszko, the name “Strzelecki” features prominently in Australian locations. The Strzelecki Ranges in Victoria, Mount Strzelecki in the Northern Territory and the other Mount Strzelecki in Strzelecki National Pack all indicate the influence of Polish heritage in the development of the Australian nation.

The first true settlers from Poland, however, arrived in 1856. These represented Polish nobles and army officers, rather than convicts, looking to make a new life.

Polish Immigration Post World War II

Polish immigration to Australia post WW2 was one of the biggest periods of Polish immigration to Australia to ever occur. The Poland born population increased from 6,573 people in 1947 to 56,594 in 1954.

This wave of Polish immigrants represented displaced individuals, such as Polish soldiers, political figures and other refugees that, due to the post war period and the political situation in Poland, could not return to home.

Polish Immigration in the 1980s and 1990s

Polish migration to Australia rose again in the early 1980s. This was due to the political situation in Poland, which had declared martial law. Between 1980 and 1991, the Australian government recognized Polish refugees and granted them the right to live permanently in Australia.

In 1989, the collapse of communism in Central Europe, also incentivized the Australian government to support the Polish community and help inform Australian citizens of the situation in Poland and Europe. The Australian Institute of Polish Affairs and the Australian Society of Polish Jews and Their Descendants, both founded in the early 1990s in Melbourne, continue to be active to this day. They support not only the Polish society and community in Australia, but highlight the warm relations between between Poland and Australia.

Comparing Australia’s Poland born population vs Polish descent

Finally, when it comes to the current state of Polish migrants in Australia, it’s been noted that Polish immigration has been on the decline since the 1990s. However, due to the Polish community that has been established already, the descendents of previous first generation migrants have continued to grow and prosper.

According to a 2021 census, the Poland born community in Australia consists of around 45,884 Polish immigrants, alongside some 209,284 individuals that have Polish ancestry. A similar survey in 2016 found that around 51,399 Poland born immigrants spoke the Polish language natively.

Today, the largest collections of Polish-Australian citizens can be found in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland, although Polish descendents can be found throughout the country. Poland’s influence on the history of Australia can be witnessed everywhere, from the aforementioned Mount Kosciuszko to towns such as Polish Hill River.

Can you claim Polish citizenship?

Over 200,000 individuals identify as Polish-Australians, but it’s likely that there are also more Polish descendents. This means that there are many Australian citizens that can also apply for Polish citizenship.

The Polish government recognizes Polish citizens through the right of blood. In other words, if you are descended from a Polish citizen, you can also apply. The exact criteria is more complex, depending on your specific Polish ancestry but if you may qualify if you have a relative that:

  • Was a recognized Polish citizen.
  • Live in Poland at some point after 1918.
  • Did not lose or renounce their Polish citizenship.

If eligible, Polish citizenship doesn’t just recognize your Polish heritage. It also gives you the rights to a Polish passport, alongside the ability to live, work and travel in both Poland and the wider European Union as an EU Citizen. It’s also one of the few forms of Polish citizenship that does not require you to speak Polish or have lived in Poland as an official resident.

What about Dual Citizenship?

Both the Australian and Polish governments allow for dual citizenship. In fact, many Polish-Australians already hold dual citizenship, allowing them a greater freedom in life choices, work opportunities and the ability to travel visa-free.

To find out if you’re eligible for Polish citizenship, you can take our free quiz. This will ask you a few simple questions, to best determine if you meet the necessary criteria.

Are you by any chance of Polish origin? Find out if you are eligible for EU citizenship by taking the test below:

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