Geographic Origins

The Kingdom of Norway is the most north-western country in Europe. It is bordered by the North Atlantic Ocean and the Norwegian Sea to the west, the Barents Sea to the north, Russia, Finland and Sweden to the east, and the Skagerrak Channel and the North Sea to the south. Norway, along with Sweden and Denmark, is part of the region known as Scandinavia.

History of Immigration and Settlement

The first Norwegians arrived in South Australia during the first half of the nineteenth century. They were aboard merchant ships and whaling vessels which visited the colony. Some ‘jumped’ or deserted their ships while they were in South Australian ports. A number of Norwegian seamen joined the crews of paddle steamers on the River Murray. Little is known about these men; South Australian lists of deserting seamen did not record nationality until 1874.

Many of the Norwegian seamen who deserted or were discharged from their ships found work on Australian coastal vessels or on the wharves. They had no difficulty securing employment because their skills were in great demand. The Scandinavians in Australia mentions that a Swede who arrived in Adelaide in 1848 commented on the number of Scandinavians he met working at the port.

Significant numbers of Norwegians came to Australia during the 1850s and 1860s. They emigrated in search of land, employment opportunities and in the hope that they would find gold in the diggings of Victoria and New South Wales. Most immigrants came to Australia via Hamburg or English ports.

A number of Norwegians immigrated to Queensland and Tasmania between 1870 and 1900. Assisted passage schemes offered by these colonies attracted labourers, rural and industrial workers and fishermen who wished for economic independence. Some of these settlers later migrated from Queensland and Tasmania to other Australian colonies.

Scandinavians were first listed in Australian census data in 1881. Swedish and Norwegian Australians were included under the same category until after the turn of the century because Norway was part of Sweden until 1905. In 1881 there were 765 Swedish and Norwegian South Australians, most of whom lived in the area of Port Adelaide.

In 1891 there were 1,148 Swedish and Norwegian South Australians. They formed a quarter of the colony’s total seafaring population. At this time there was a higher proportion of Swedish and Norwegian women in South Australian ports than in interstate settlements. This suggests that settlements of Swedes and Norwegians in South Australia were more permanent than those in the other Australian colonies.

The Norwegian scientist Knut Dahl arrived in Port Adelaide in 1894. He spent some time in the Northern Territory, which was under South Australian jurisdiction between 1863 and 1911. Dahl’s findings and an account of his exploits were published in English as In Savage Australia in 1926.

In 1911 there were 453 Norwegian South Australians. The introduction of an assisted passage scheme for South Australian immigrants from Scandinavia in that year met with little success. In 1921 there were 338 Norwegian South Australians. By 1947 the number had dropped to 175.

In 1947 the Australian Immigration Department’s general assisted passage scheme was extended to Scandinavian immigrants. This scheme attracted numbers of Norwegian settlers to South Australia. In 1954 there were 232 Norwegian South Australians.

The number of Norwegian South Australians peaked by 1966, when there were 303.

Norwegian South Australians are employed in a range of occupations. They have settled throughout metropolitan Adelaide.

Community Activities

Many Norwegian South Australians belong to the Scandinavian Association of South Australia. 

Norwegian National Day, an annual Winter Ball, and the Scandinavian Festival are the main cultural days celebrated by the Norwegian South Australian members of the Scandinavian Association of South Australia.

Norwegian National Day is on 17 May. On this day in 1814 Norwegians signed a constitution that established an independent Norway. This constitution was a revolt against the 1814 Treaty of Kiel, which made Norway part of Sweden. 


The 1981 census recorded 200 Norwegian-born South Australians.

The 1986 census recorded 180. 908 South Australians stated they were of Norwegian descent.

The 1991 census recorded 170 Norwegian South Australians. 246 South Australians said that their mothers were Norwegian-born, and 548 that their fathers were.

There were 163 Norwegian-born South Australians in 1996, or 6.3 per cent of the national Norwegian-born population.

The 2001 census recorded 323 Norwegian-born South Australians, with 1,381 people of Norwegian descent.

The 2006 census recorded 234 Norwegian-born South Australians, while 1,593 people said that they were of Norwegian descent.

The 2011 census recorded 188 Norwegian-born South Australians, while 1,659 people said that they were of Norwegian descent.

The 2016 census recorded 202 Norwegian-born South Australians, while 1,888 people said that they were of Norwegian 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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