Geographic Origins

The Republic of Chile is a narrow strip of land along the west coast of South America on the South Pacific Ocean. It is bordered by Peru, Bolivia, and Argentina.

History of Immigration and Settlement

From 1853 until 1857 Chilean muleteers were employed by the English and Australian Copper Company to transport copper ore and coal between Burra and Port Wakefield. Many of them brought their wives and children with them to South Australia. Groups of up to 50 Chileans made the five-day journey on the Gulf Road, camping at towns such as Mintaro on the way. Most of the muleteers and their families returned to Latin America when the Gawler Railway opened in October 1857. Only a few families remained in South Australia, where they were eventually absorbed into the general population.

Twentieth century migration to South Australia has coincided with upheavals in Chile. The first wave of Chilean immigration to Australia was between 1968 and 1970. Economic stagnation, high unemployment and political violence led many to emigrate. In 1970, following the election of Marxist Salvador Allende as president, further economic difficulties and political problems prompted a second wave of Chileans to leave their homeland. As inflation and unemployment soared, a third wave of emigrants began to leave Chile in the period leading up to the 1973 CIA-backed coup led by General Augusto Pinochet.

The military abolished Chile’s national congress and its legislature and set up a four-man junta council to rule the country. A period of civil war followed the coup. Thousands of Chileans died in the fighting or fled the country. The junta imprisoned many of its opponents and banned political parties. Social problems, such as widespread unemployment and reduced government spending on welfare programs, have also prompted Chileans to migrate.

Between 1972 and 1975 the Whitlam government established a Special Humanitarian Program for political refugees, which enabled many Chileans to come to Australia during the 1970s. Chileans who came to South Australia first resided at Pennington Hostel while they awaited permanent residency status.

Despite a new constitution approved by Chileans in 1980, the government, led by Pinochet, continued to violate its people’s civil rights. A group of Chileans came to South Australia in the mid-1980s after a mining strike in which the miners were sacked because industrial action was banned. A large number of these arrivals settled in Whyalla where they worked for BHP Billiton (formerly BHP), Arrium since 2014. 

In 1988 General Pinochet honoured Chile’s constitution of 1980 and in the following year a civilian president, Patricio Alywin, and a two-house legislature were appointed. They were installed in 1990. Pinochet, however, remained commander-in-chief of the army, a matter of concern to many, until 1998. Pinochet died in December 2006 without ever standing trial for the human rights abuses that occurred when he was in power. 

Despite democracy having been restored to Chile in 1990 the country continues to have serious social, economic and political problems. 


The 1981 census recorded 227 Chilean-born South Australians.

The 1986 census recorded 488 Chilean-born people. 357 people said that they were of Chilean descent. 

According to the 1991 census there were 748 Chilean-born South Australians. 842 people said that their mothers were born in Chile, while 839 said their fathers were.

1996 census returns showed that there was a population of 686 Chilean-born South Australians, and a second generation of 321. 

These disparities may be attributed to Chile’s diverse population. Seventy-five per cent of Chileans are Mestizos, of mixed Indian and Spanish descent, while 20 per cent are of Spanish or British extraction.

The 2001 census recorded 655 Chilean-born South Australians, while 686 people said that they were of Chilean descent.

The 2006 census recorded 687 Chilean-born South Australians, while 777 people said that they were of Chilean descent.

The 2011 census recorded 769 Chilean-born South Australians, while 1,007 people said that they were of Chilean descent.

The 2016 census recorded 745 Chilean-born South Australians, while 1,044 people said that they were of Chilean descent.

By Migration Museum

This article is part of the From Many Places project documenting the diverse cultural groups in South Australia. It is a project started by the Migration Museum in 1992 and continued in partnership today. 

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Courtesy of/Photographer:Bit Scribbly Design

Migration Museum

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