Geographic Origins

The Republic of Portugal is the western-most country of continental Europe. It is on the Iberian Peninsula and is bordered to the north and east by Spain and to the west and south by the North Atlantic Ocean.

History of Immigration and Settlement

There is a considerable body of evidence to support the claim that Portuguese explorers discovered and charted Australia before Dutch and English expeditions of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It is believed that Cristovao de Mendonca led an expedition of Portuguese caravels from the Spice Islands down the east coast of Australia in 1520. Between 1534 and 1544 cartographers in Europe drew a series of maps allegedly based on these expeditions. They are known as the Dieppe Maps. One of these, the Dauphin Map, is believed to record the Australian coast from Cape York to Warrnambool in detail.

The continent of Australia was given its first official title by a Portuguese navigator. On May 14, 1606, Captain Pedro Fernandez de Quiros landed in the New Hebrides and named all the southern lands as far as the South Pole Austrialia del Espirito Santo, the Southland of the Holy Spirit. De Quiros was in command of a Spanish fleet; see Spanish entry for more details.

According to the 1947 census there were four Portuguese South Australians. Pepe Marques was the first documented Portuguese settler in South Australia. He was probably in his early twenties when he arrived in Adelaide from Lisbon in 1954. Pepe had graduated as a matador from an academy in Lisbon in 1950. He was a qualified cooper. For a short time after his arrival he made barrels for R. Babidge and Sons in Railway Terrace, Mile End. Pepe then worked as a waiter at the South Australian Hotel on North Terrace. He opened La Cantina cafe in Hindley Street in the late 1950s. In 1957 his mother, Adelaide, and younger brother arrived in South Australia from Lisbon. Adelaide Marques worked as the chef in her son’s business. She cooked traditional Portuguese dishes such as tico-tico, which is made with rice, veal and spices. Over the years ‘Mrs Adelaide’ helped Portuguese arrivals resettle in South Australia.

Before 1965 there were only four Portuguese families in Adelaide. The numbers of arrivals from Portugal and its colonies, including Macao, Timor, Brazil, Angola, Madeiras and Cape Verde, increased after that year. Many people left Portuguese territories because of repressive governments. After the last of Portugal’s dictators was overthrown in 1974 and its colonies, except Timor, became independent, Portuguese people came to South Australia in search of employment opportunities and an improved quality of life. Some Portuguese people came to South Australia via European countries such as France and Germany.

Portuguese South Australians have settled mainly in the metropolitan area of Adelaide.  

Community Activities

The first organisation to foster and promote Portuguese culture in South Australia was established in the late 1970s. It proved a precursor to a range of Portuguese organisations in South Australia.

In August 1978 Vitor de Sa, Daniel Lopez, Jose Pires, Jose Cameirao snr, Jose Cameirao jr, Jose Cabrita and John Concy (Joad Conceigao) founded Radio Lusitania, a Portuguese language and cultural program on 5EBI-FM.

In 1981 Alvaro Oliveira registered the Adelaide Portuguese Soccer and Social Club as the Portuguese Association of Culture and Recreation. In 1990 the club moved to premises at Alberton where a scout group was formed and various social, sporting, educational and cultural activities were conducted.

Three months later, Portuguese South Australians began to lay plans for a Portuguese school. Parents wanted to ensure that their children did not lose touch with their cultural heritage. Members of the community wrote to obtain advice from the Portuguese ambassador, consul and the Australian government. The Portuguese government donated text books. Within a year approximately 20 students were attending weekly classes given by Paula Veiga and Pedro Guterres at Gilles Street Primary School. In 1996 classes were held at Findon Primary School on Friday evenings. Two teachers instructed 40 students on subjects including Portuguese language, history, geography and literature. Luis de Camoes’s epic poem Os Lusiadas (1572) is a popular study topic. Os Lusiadas celebrates the founders of the Portuguese nation, its people and discoveries. In present times the Portuguese Ethnic School operates from premises at the Plympton Primary School. 

In December 1978 four Portuguese South Australian families organised a ball to raise funds to establish a Portuguese club. In March 1979 30 Portuguese South Australians attended a meeting at the Botanic Hotel and founded the Adelaide Portuguese Soccer and Social Club.  Antonio Condessa donated funds for the soccer team’s uniforms and sporting equipment. In later years the team became known as the Lusitano Soccer Team.

In May 1981 one of the Soccer and Social Club’s founders, Jose Azevedo, established the Stars of Portugal, a youth folk group. Although this group no longer exists, in its heyday it enjoyed much success. Originally the Stars of Portugal had four pairs of dancers. In 1996 there were 36 dancers involved in the junior and senior dance groups. Eleven individuals played in the folk group’s band. They practised weekly and performed in national costume every fortnight, and at occasions such as Portuguese National Day and Amnesty International fairs. 

In present times the Adelaide Portuguese Soccer and Social Club has become the Portuguese Community of SA Inc with premises at Woodville Gardens. Although the scout and youth group no longer exist, the club has an active membership with social activities held each weekend.

The Portuguese Community Council was founded on October 6, 1991. The Community Council is a federal body that aims to ‘develop a spirit of unity amongst Portuguese associations ... [in a] culturally pluralistic Australia’.

The Portuguese Community Council co-ordinates Portuguese National Day on June 10. In South Australia this is celebrated on the Queen’s Birthday long weekend in June. On the Saturday the council organises an exhibition of Portuguese arts and crafts, and holds a dinner-dance that night. Traditional foods eaten at the dinner often include cozido a portuguesa, a mixture of salami, chicken, beef, pork and vegetables; rissois de camarao, prawn pastry; bacahau, codfish; and vinhotinto, red wine. The meal is usually finished with aguardente, a Portuguese spirit drunk with coffee. Local musicians play marchas, lively traditional dance music.

The rest of the long weekend is devoted to sports. Traditional games include jogo da malha chinquil’ho, which is similar to skittles, and gincana, BMX bike racing on tracks. On the Monday there are two soccer games: one between married and single, the other between male and female.

Other traditional recreations popular among Portuguese South Australians include sueca, a card game; dominoes; snooker; billiards; fishing; and table tennis.

Every year in February Portuguese Australians gather in Warrnambool, Victoria, to celebrate the 1522 discovery voyage of Cristovao de Mendonca along the east coast of Australia. The publication of Kenneth McIntyre’s The Secret Discovery of Australia: Portuguese Ventures 250 Years Before Captain Cook in 1976 fuelled interest in the voyage of Cristovao de Mendonca and the Dieppe Maps. McIntyre quotes accounts of witnesses who sighted a tall ‘mahogany’ ship in sand dunes near the entrance of the Merri River near Warrnambool between 1834 and 1890. The mahogany ship is believed to be one of de Mendonca’s ships that came to grief on the infamous shipwreck coast. The description of the wreck corresponds with Portuguese caravels, which stood 9 metres above water, weighed 100 tonnes and were built of a distinctive red hardwood.

In the 1980s efforts to find out more about the mahogany ship led to contact between Australia’s Portuguese communities, Portugal and India. In 1989 the Government of Portugal shipped a padrao to Warrnambool to mark the final point charted by de Mendonca. Padraos are stone markers, and were carried by Portuguese explorers as ballast on voyages of discovery between 1450 and 1580. Padraos were set down at the final point of each voyage on a high piece of land.

On 25 February, 1990, the Warrnambool Portuguese Padrao was officially unveiled in the presence of the Governor of Victoria, the Portuguese Ambassador, Portuguese Consuls and Portuguese Australians from around the country. The padrao was erected on Cannon Hill overlooking the Southern Ocean. The 2.5-metre marble pillar and cross bear an inscription from Luis de Camoes: Assim fomos abrindo aqueles mares, que geracao alguma nao abrui. This translates as: Thus we opened the way to new oceans where no generation had ever sailed before. The annual Portuguese celebrations in Warrnambool run for an entire weekend and include Portuguese musicians, singers, folk dancers and Portuguese communities from all over Australia.

Most Portuguese South Australians belong to the Roman Catholic Church. For further information see Appendix 1, Religious Belief and Practice: Christianity. There is no Portuguese-speaking chaplain resident in South Australia. Portuguese-speaking Catholics are visited five times a year by a priest from Melbourne, who conducts Masses, baptisms and weddings in Portuguese. For the rest of the year Portuguese Catholics celebrate Mass and are given the Eucharist by a priest from the Catholic Multicultural Office. They also meet for informal religious gatherings.

The religious patron of Portugal is Our Lady of Fatima. Portuguese Roman Catholics in particular believe that on 13 May, 1917, a mysterious lady in a white gown and veil appeared to three children at Fatima, a town in west central Portugal, while they were tending sheep. She told them that she would appear to them on the thirteenth day of each month until October, when she would reveal who she was and why she had come. At the July visitation she gave the children a secret message. It was sealed in a letter until 1960, when it was read by Pope John XXIII, who did not reveal its contents. On 13 October, 1917, the Lady said she was Our Lady of the Rosary, also called Our Lady of Fatima, in other words, the Virgin Mary. She requested that people devote themselves to prayer and penance and that a chapel be built in her honour.

In 1930 the Roman Catholic Church authorised the reverence of Our Lady of Fatima. Every year, thousands of Catholics make a pilgrimage to the site of the miracle and say special Masses on the anniversary of the visitation. Portuguese Catholic South Australians commemorate this day with a special Mass.

Portuguese South Australians also maintain the tradition of the feasts of Santos Populares, the Popular Saints. These are the Feasts of Santos Antonio, Joao, and Pedro, Saints Anthony, John and Peter. Each Saint’s Day is a public holiday of at least three days in its particular region of Portugal.

The feast of Santo Antonio falls on June 13. Saint Antonio is the patron saint of Lisbon, where people take to the streets for a riotous carnival. Santo Joao is the Patron Saint of Porto. His feast day falls on June 24. In Porto people playfully hit each other with cloves of garlic; light street bonfires; eat sardinha, barbecued sardines; and parade on the streets making a din with martelo plastico, plastic rattles. Santo Pedro is the patron of the rest of Portugal. His feast day falls on 29 June and is celebrated with merrymaking throughout the country.

In South Australia the feasts of the Santos Populares are celebrated over a weekend in June, and include barbecues, folk group performances, music and a ball. Children dress in finery and parade under arches decorated with crepe paper, flowers and balloons in a mini-carnival that recalls the street dances in Portugal.

Organisations and Media

  • Portuguese Community Council of SA Inc.
  • Portuguese Community of SA Inc.
  • Portuguese Language School 
  • Portuguese Catholic Action
  • Portugues Na Australia - national newspaper
  • Radio Lusitania - Broadcasts on 5EBI-FM


The 1981 census recorded 193 Portuguese-born South Australians.

The 1986 census recorded 471, and 803 people stated they were of Portuguese descent.

According to the 1991 census there were 624 Portuguese-born South Australians. 718 people said that their mothers were born in Portugal, and 752 that their fathers were.

According to the 1996 census there were 532 Portuguese-born South Australians, and a small second generation of 196.

The 2001 census recorded 498 Portuguese-born South Australians, while 1,059 people said that they were of Portuguese descent.

The 2006 census recorded 467 Portuguese-born South Australians, while 1,288 people said that they were of Portuguese descent.

The 2011 census recorded 523 Portuguese-born South Australians, while 1,494 people said that they were of Portuguese descent.

The 2016 census recorded 529 Portuguese-born South Australians, while 2,028 people said that they were of Portuguese 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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