Geographic Origins

The Republic of Slovenia is in south-eastern Europe. It is bordered by Italy, Austria, Hungary and Croatia.

History of Immigration and Settlement

The first Slovenians arrived in South Australia in 1946. They emigrated as Displaced Persons (DPs) from camps in Italy, Austria and Germany after Marshal Tito established a communist government in Yugoslavia in 1945.

In exchange for their passage to Australia DPs were employed on two-year contracts with the Australian government in unskilled occupations. Of the Slovenians who arrived in South Australia approximately 20 families worked in the Riverland fruit industry. The men were employed as fruit pickers, while the women worked in canneries. Other Slovenians worked for the South Australian Railways in the South-East or in the vicinity of Port Augusta.

There has been no significant migration by Slovenians to South Australia for some time. Independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1991 and accession to the European Union in 2004 have presented Slovenians with opportunities closer to home.

Today Slovenians live in Adelaide, Berri, Renmark, Glossop, Monash, Winkie, Paringa, Port Lincoln, Whyalla, Port Augusta, Port Pirie, and the South-East. They are employed in a wide range of occupations. A number of Slovenian South Australians live in Coober Pedy and Andamooka, where they work as opal miners.

Community Activities

The Slovenians who came to South Australia as DPs gradually built up a community by strolling through Adelaide in their spare time and questioning the people they encountered. Hindley Street was a favourite stretch of the city for these walks. Its popularity with a variety of post-war migrants who had healthy communication networks of their own ensured that Slovenian South Australians were soon in touch with one another. The Slovenian Club of South Australia evolved gradually between 1951 and 1955. Slavko Kralj was the first president.

Slovenian South Australians organised occasional dances at the Thebarton Town Hall and a Greek hall in Hindley Street.

In 1967 the Slovenian Club had approximately 100 members. In that year Franc Steflic gave the community a house in Gawler. The Slovenian Club was incorporated as an official body on 22 September, 1967. Franc Zokalj was the first president.

Following the sale of the house in Gawler the community purchased a property in Young Avenue, West Hindmarsh, and built a hall that was opened in 1971. At the time the club had approximately 200 members.

In the mid-1980s the Slovenian Club sold its premises in Hindmarsh and bought a block of land in La Salle Street, Dudley Park. On 6 June, 1987, the community opened a spacious centre on the site. The premises included a recording studio where members of the 5EBI radio committee pre-recorded Slovenian programs. One of the members of the club, Tomo Les, painted a large mural of Lake Bled in Slovenia in the main hall. The walls of the bar area adjacent to the hall are adorned with paintings given to the club by visiting interstate Slovenian communities.

In April 1992 the Slovenian Club opened a covered balinanje alley. Balinanje is a sport better known by its Italian name, bocce. It is similar to lawn bowls and is immensely popular among members of the Slovenian community. Slovenian teams often compete against teams from other local or interstate cultural groups. The bocce alley is also used by members of the Italian Veneto Club on a weekly basis. Other popular games include traditional card games such as briscule and treseto, eight-ball and table tennis. The Club also has a large hall which is available for hire to other community organisations or individuals for functions and events. Regular hirers are Legends (Rock and Roll) and Adelaide Country Music Club. Yoga classes are held at the club on Thursday evenings.

The main events of the year for members of the Slovenian Club are the pre-Lenten Carnival, Independence Day, Slovenian Youth Festival and the Feast of Saint Nicholas. The Carnival before Lent is held approximately six weeks before Easter. 

Slovenia declared its independence from Yugoslavia on 25 June, 1991. Most United Nations countries recognised its independence in early 1992. Slovenian South Australians held their first official Independence Day celebrations on 25 June, 1992. A big community party marked the event.

The Slovenian Youth Festival (although not primarily a youth festival any more) has been held annually since the early 1980s. It usually coincides with the Labour Day long weekend in October. The festival rotates between Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra and Adelaide although it has not been held in Adelaide for quite some time. Slovenians enjoy a camp and participate in folk dancing, solo and choral singing, poetry reading, traditional crafts, and sports.

The Feast of Saint Nicholas is celebrated on 6 December. For further information see Appendix 1, Religious Belief and Practice: Christianity.

Slovenian South Australians commemorate the Feast of Saint Nicholas on the nearest weekend. Saint Nicholas visits the club, attended by angels and devils. The entourage carries candy canes, to give to children who have been good, or to smack those who have misbehaved during the year.

The Slovenian Club regularly hosts visiting Slovenian musicians and singers when they come to Adelaide. In recent times the club contributed to the touring expenses of Big Ben, a popular contemporary group, traditional folk groups such as the Slak Ensemble and the Ljubljanski Oktet, and Slovenian theatre groups. In 2017 the Club hosted two choirs and in December 2018 a trio is performing.

Although membership of the Slovenian Club has dwindled in recent years events such as ‘Catch Up Sundays’ when an evening meal is provided, and ‘Kransky Fridays’, has given the club a new lease of life.

The Bavarians and Franks who took over Carinthia Slovenia in the mid-eighth century converted its people to Christianity. Today the vast majority of Slovenians are Roman Catholics. 

The first Slovenian Mass in Adelaide was celebrated by 150 people in 1950. In that year Fathers Pivko, Okorn and Korbic from a Slovenian Catholic parish in Sydney began visiting Adelaide every two months to celebrate Mass at Sacred Heart Church in Hindmarsh. In 1954 Father Bazilij from a Slovenian Catholic parish in Melbourne took over these bi-monthly Masses. Father Stanko, also from the Slovenian Catholic parish in Melbourne, carried out the duties between 1971 and 1974.

Between 1972 and 1978 Slovenian Catholic services were held at the Slovenian community house in Young Avenue, West Hindmarsh.

The first permanent Slovenian priest, Father Philip Feryan, arrived in Adelaide from the USA in 1974. Four years later the parish began leasing the former All Saints Anglican Church at the corner of Hindmarsh Place and Holden Street, Hindmarsh.

In 1977 Father Philip founded Pevcki, a 30-voice youth choir. On 3 December, 1979, Pevcki performed at the first Slovenian Australian Youth Concert, which was hosted by Slovenian South Australians at All Saints church hall. In 1982 Pevcki was renamed in honour of Anton Martin Slomsek, a great Slovenian bishop and patriot. The Youth Choir no longer exists.

The Slovenian Club Choir is a male mixed voice choir and performs at most community functions held at the Slovenian Club (eg celebrations of Slovenian public holidays most notably Culture Day, 8 February and Statehood Day, 26 June). The choir also performs at Mothers’ Day and Fathers’ Day functions, Christmas Dinner functions and Club anniversary functions. In the past the choir has also participated in Australia Day and Christmas parades as well as other public events.

The Slovenian Church (Holy Family Slovenian Mission) at West Hindmarsh has a male and female mixed voice choir. The church choir performs at all church services (including funerals, if requested). Both choirs are made up of members of the older generation and have slowly reduced in size as the years have passed.

The language school founded in 1979 by Father Philip, Dr S. Frank, Laura Premtl and Helena Rant no longer exists. Initially, though, 60 students attended classes at Hindmarsh Primary School. By 1993 this number had dwindled to 16 with classes held at the Slovenian church.

In 1982 Slovenian Catholic South Australians began building a church in Young Avenue, West Hindmarsh. Members of the community gave donations. Most of the labour was voluntary. On 13 February, 1983, Archbishop Sustar of Ljubljana, Metropolitan of Slovenia, blessed the Slovenian Catholic Church of the Holy Family. Father Janez Tretjak provided pastoral care for the parishioners. Up until about four years ago church services were held on a weekly basis but are now held two or three Sundays a month in addition to Easter and Christmas.

The main highlights of the year for Slovenian Catholic South Australians are Easter, Christmas and the Marian Procession. 

On Palm Sunday Slovenians traditionally make butara to welcome the beginning of Holy Week. As palms are not native to south-east Europe, Slovenians there had to find an alternative plant. Butara are pussy-willow canes decorated with English box, juniper and cypress leaves. Often they are also decorated with coloured wood shavings and fruit. Although palm trees grow in abundance in South Australia, Slovenian Catholics still prefer butara. On Palm Sunday the parish of Holy Family Church walks in procession around the church carrying butara. Some are several metres high and decorated with oranges, apples and ribbons.

On Good Friday, a long painting of Christ in the tomb in creams and pale greens is placed near the altar in the Church of the Holy Family. It is surrounded with white tulle, candles and plants. A large wooden cross draped with white cloth is also placed in the church. These remain on display until Easter Sunday, the day of the Resurrection.

On Easter Saturday Slovenian Catholic South Australians take baskets of food to the church to be blessed. The baskets contain potica, a kind of Easter cake, decorated eggs, sausage, ham and horseradish.

On Easter Sunday the parish attends a special Mass to celebrate the Resurrection. The painting and the wooden cross have been removed from the church. In their place are arrangements of Easter baskets, flowers and alaba, traditional women’s caps often lavishly decorated with gold sequins and beading.

On Easter Monday the parish of the Church of the Holy Family gathers for a day of festivities. Members of the parish enter pirhovanje, hand-painted eggs, in competitions, and participate in egg and spoon races and fundraising games where people stand at a distance and try to hit eggs with coins.

For Christmas the Church of the Holy Family is decorated with a hillside nativity scene, complete with twinkling lights and ponds with live fish and ducklings. At the midnight Mass the only lights in the church are altar-candles and lanterns held by members of the congregation.

Another main highlight of the religious calendar for Slovenian Catholic South Australians is the Marian Procession in honour of the Virgin Mary. This is held on the first Sunday in May.

Marian Processions were first held in South Australia in the years after the Second World War. The emergence of communist governments in European countries after the war troubled many people who believed in freedom of worship. The Catholic Archdiocese of South Australia organised the Marian Procession as a special ceremony to pray for the revival of faith.

Many Catholic immigrants who came to South Australia in the post-war years brought traditions of pilgrimage and procession with them. Although many Catholic South Australians participate in the Marian Procession it has a particular significance for cultural groups whose homeland churches have suffered persecution under repressive governments. People walk in procession, some wearing national dress. A member of each parish carries a banner depicting the Virgin Mary. The Marian Procession has been held at several different venues over the years with Peace Park in the South Parklands hosting the event in 2018.

Slovenian Catholic South Australians carry a banner with a picture of Marija Pomagaj, Mary Our Helper. The original was painted by Leopold Layerja, who was imprisoned as a forger during Napoleon’s occupation of Slovenia. After his brother died in jail Layerja vowed to repent his sins. He made a pact with God and turned his artistic talents to a devotional painting, which was placed in a church in Brezje after his release from jail. In the 1960s miracles were reported in association with it. In 1987 the church was declared a Basilica. Thousands of pilgrims flock to it annually.

Other important days for Slovenian Catholic South Australians include the Feast of Saints Cyril and Methodius on 24 May, the Feast of the Assumption of Mary on 15 August, All Saints Day on 1 November, Mothers Day in May and Fathers Day in September.

Slovene South Australians have established a Slovene Catholic Mission at West Hindmarsh. A ladies’ auxiliary is affiliated with the mission.

Slovenian Radio broadcasts can be heard on Sundays and Wednesdays on 5EBI 103.1 FM.

Slovenia: Moja Dezela - My Homeland’ was staged in the Forum, The Migration Museum’s Community Access Gallery from 6 March 1994 - 29 May 1994.  This exhibition highlighted the history and culture of Slovenia and was presented by the Slovenian community of South Australia. The exhibition covered the history of the Slovene peoples in their homeland and in Australia as part of post-war immigration. Most Slovenes worked initially in factories, mines and on the railways. A plaque on the Museum’s Memorial Wall was also unveiled.

Organisations and Media

  • Slovenian Club Inc.
  • Holy Family Slovenian Mission
  • The Slovenian Catholic Church of the Holy Family.
  • 5EBI Radio programs


The 1986 census recorded that there were 8,774 Yugoslavian-born people in South Australia. 589 people said that they were of Slovenian descent. It is likely some Slovenian South Australians were among the 8,131 people who stated they were of Yugoslavian descent.

According to the 1991 census there were 9,044 Yugoslavian-born South Australians. 12,875 people said that their mothers were born in Yugoslavia, and 14,992 that their fathers were.

In 1993 there were an estimated 5,300 Slovenian South Australians.

The Slovenian-born group of South Australians were enumerated separately for the first time at the 1996 census and numbered 502 which was 7.6 per cent of the national total; the second generation numbered 460.

The 2001 census recorded 491 Slovenian-born South Australians, while 1,099 people said that they were of Slovenian descent.

The 2006 census recorded 470 Slovenian-born South Australians, while 1,259 people said that they were of Slovenian descent.

The 2011 census recorded 429 Slovenian-born South Australians, while 1,313 people said that they were of Slovenian descent.

The 2016 census recorded 376 Slovenian-born South Australians, while 1,337 people said that they were of Slovenian 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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