Geographic Origins

The Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal is a landlocked sovereign state in South Asia located along the Himalaya Mountains. It is bordered by China to the north and India to the south, east and west. It is separated from Bangladesh by the narrow Indian Siliguri Corridor and from Bhutan by the Indian state of Sikkim.

History of Immigration and Settlement

Nepalese people began to settle in Australia in the 1960s. Some migrated directly from Nepal whilst others came to Australia via other countries. Historically, however, the Nepalese were not a migrating people.

In the early 1990s Nepal was struggling with its economy, and with the move from a monarchy to democratic government. In consequence, many Nepalese, skilled and unskilled, thought migration the best option in order to achieve a secure and more comfortable life. Many young Nepalese were lured to jobs in Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong and India. Australia had expanded its Asian migration program in the 1980s so it too became the country of choice for many. Since then, Nepalese migration to Australia has been from every sphere of life and also on humanitarian grounds.  

In more recent times Bhutanese refugees, who share a common language and culture with the Nepalese, have been resettled in Australia, the United States of America and across Europe under the auspices of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHRC) and other parties. These people were forced from Bhutan when the ‘One Nation One People’ policy came into effect in 1988 and resettled in refugee camps in Nepal. This policy - seen by some as a form of ‘ethnic cleansing’ - stipulated that only one language, Dzongkha, and one style of dress and social etiquette (driglam namza), that of the Buddhist Ngalong ruling class was allowed in Bhutan. In consequence, many people lost their citizenship and the Nepali language was outlawed in schools. Some people were sacked from their employment and hence lost their livelihood. 

In addition, political instability in Nepal has led many of its students to seek education opportunities elsewhere with the number of Nepalese students seeking admission to Australian universities rising dramatically in recent years.  

The earliest period of Nepalese migration to South Australia was in the 1970s with the vast majority of people migrating here since the year 2000. The 2011 Census shows 1,039 people born in Nepal living in South Australia, ten times more than the 2006 Census that recorded only 102 Nepalese-born South Australians living here.

The majority of Nepalese-born South Australians are Hindus, with the remainder mainly affiliated with Buddhism. 

Nepalese people have bought their cuisine with them to Australia. Their food is a variation on Asian cuisine with influences of Tibetan, Indian and Thai. Lentils and rice form the base of most Nepalese meals, with herbs, vegetables and meats adding a mix of fresh and smoky flavors. Meat is often marinated, grilled and served in skewer form. Daal-bhat-tarkari is a soup made of lentils and spices, served over boiled grain. Momo - a Tibetan style dumpling filled with buffalo meat, goat or chicken and served with Nepalese spices is a popular dish. Condiments such as chutney and pickles (fresh or fermented), sliced lemon and fresh green chilli are often used. 

Nepalese-born South Australians are employed in a range of industries including health care and social assistance, accommodation and food services, retail and administrative and support services. Most live in the metropolitan area of Adelaide, particularly in the central suburbs of St Peters, Marden and Prospect and the northern suburbs of Enfield, Blair Athol, and Salisbury.

Community Activities

There are many festivals celebrated in Nepal including the festivals of Dashain and Holi. These are celebrated in South Australia.

During the month of Kartik in the Bikram Sambat calendar (late September and early October in the Roman calendar), the Nepalese people indulge in the biggest festival of the year, Dashain. Dashain is the longest and the most auspicious festival in the Nepalese annual calendar, lasting 15 days, and commemorates a great victory of the Gods over wicked demons. There is much rejoicing and Durga (warrior Goddess) is worshipped throughout the kingdom as the divine Mother Goddess. 

In preparation for Dashain every home is cleaned and beautifully decorated, painted as an invitation to the Mother Goddess, so that she may visit and bless the house with good fortune. The first nine days of Dashain are called nawa ratri, and tantric rites are conducted during this time. The tenth day is the Dashami. On this day Nepalese people visit family and young people are blessed by those who are older. This celebration continues for four days. On the last day people stay at home and rest. The festival gives people a feeling of re-energy and motivates them to seek virtue, power and wealth.

The ancient Hindu festival of Holi celebrates colours. It is a boisterous affair that falls in late February or early March. Originally a festival to celebrate good harvests and fertility of the land it also commemorates some key figures in Hindu mythology. The festival lasts for one week but it is only on the last day that it is celebrated with colour. People smear themselves and others with coloured water and bright powders and it is considered acceptable for both colours and water balloons to be thrown at passer-bys. 

Every two years since 2006 the Non-Resident Nepali Association - Australia - along with the Nepal Embassy, Canberra, holds a festival to promote Nepal and its culture. In March 2017, and in conjunction with the Consulate General of South Australia and Nepalese community organisations, this event will be hosted in Adelaide. Entitled ‘Celebrate Culture, Experience Nature’ the festival attracts a great deal of interest and support from Nepalese people and the broader community. It attracts representatives from Australian governments, academics, the media, professionals, community and business leaders, community organisations and students from various countries. 

Organisations and Media

  • The Nepal-Australia Friendship Association
  • The Adelaide Nepalese Society
  • Non-Resident Nepali Association - Australia
  • SBS Radio Nepali


The 2006 census recorded 102 Nepalese-born South Australians, while 140 people said that they were of Nepalese descent. 

The 2011 census recorded 1,038 Nepalese-born South Australians, while 1,152 said that they were of Nepalese descent. 

The 2016 census recorded 2,853 Nepalese-born South Australians, while 3,477 people said that they were of Nepalese 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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