Geographic Origins

The Republic of Croatia is in south-eastern Europe. It is bordered by Slovenia, Hungary, the province of Vojvodina, the republics of Bosnia-Hercegovina and Montenegro, and the Adriatic Sea.

History of Immigration and Settlement

Probably the first Croatians to settle in South Australia were some sailors who arrived in 1854. Christopher Dabovic was one of them. He married an Irish woman and established a home in Port Lincoln. The couple eventually had eight children.

Christopher Dabovic was among the first people to undertake commercial fishing in South Australia. He was appointed Inspector of Oyster Fisheries by the South Australian colonial government.

In 1885 the government commissioned Dabovic to find a memorial left by Matthew Flinders at Cape Catastrophe. He was paid five shillings for locating the memorial.

In the 1890s a number of Croatians arrived in South Australia from the Dalmatian Islands. Many of them found work in Port Pirie and Broken Hill.

A group of Croatians came to South Australia as a result of economic depression in the Medjumurje and Dalmacija regions between 1910 and 1913, and following political unrest in Croatia during 1922. By 1930 there was a small community of Croatian South Australians at Berri on the River Murray. Most of them worked in the local fruit industry.

The most significant wave of Croatian immigrants arrived in South Australia after the Second World War. They emigrated to escape Yugoslavia’s communist government. As Displaced Persons (DPs) they came to Australia via camps in Austria and Italy. They were employed by the Australian government under two-year contracts, as labourers or domestics.

By 1950 there were 200 Croatian South Australians.

In 1954 the Catholic Archbishop of Adelaide, Dr Matthew Beovich, assisted 25 Croatian refugees to settle in South Australia. Dr Beovich was the son of a Croatian who had migrated to Australia in the 1880s.

A second substantial wave of Croatian settlers arrived in South Australia during the 1960s and 1970s. They emigrated for economic reasons and to escape ethnic and political conflict in Yugoslavia.

Croatian South Australians established themselves in a variety of occupations throughout the state. They became particularly prominent as shipbuilders in Adelaide, Whyalla and Port Lincoln. Boat and shipbuilding are well-established activities in Croatia. Among the Croatian South Australian companies that have made a significant contribution to the industry in this state are Samarzia-Samar Boats, which between 1960 and 1985 built over 250 small craft including cruising and racing yachts, high-speed pleasure craft and fishing boats; Franov-Kali Shipyard, which built over 90 small ships including tuna boats, prawn trawlers and deep-sea trawlers; and Glamocak Adelaide Ship Construction, which from the early 1980s built a variety of vessels including ferries, prawn and deep-sea trawlers, cray boats and tug boats.

Croatian South Australians have also been prominent in manufacturing and building industries in the metropolitan area, in steelworks in Whyalla, in the fishing and processing industries of Port Lincoln, in forestry in Mt Gambier, and in fruitgrowing in the Riverland. Croatian South Australians have also had considerable success as opal miners at Coober Pedy and Andamooka.

Community Activities

The first Croatian club in Australia in the post-war years was founded in Adelaide in 1950. It was established mainly to provide settlement assistance for new arrivals and organise social gatherings. Dr Beovich, the Catholic Archbishop of Adelaide, gave the community support and assistance. The club initially met at Sacred Heart Church Hall on Port Road, Hindmarsh. It later purchased a former Salvation Army building in Chief Street, Brompton. Today the Croatian Club of Adelaide is in Wood Street, Brompton. It has a cultural school, a folk dance group, art and craft association, senior citizens group, and eightball and bocce teams.

The Croatia Adelaide Soccer Club was founded in 1952. It played its first game against a team from a western suburbs Philips factory. Over the years Croatia Adelaide won every major tournament and trophy in South Australia. A number of its players went on to play in the national soccer team. Now known as the South Australian Raiders and playing in the South Australian Premier League, the team is still enjoying success. Its headquarters are at Gepps Cross.

The Croatian Ethnic School was founded in 1961 at the old Croatian Club in Brompton.  However, due to poor numbers the school closed. The school reopened in 1966 under Andjelko Tomasovic and is still going today. The Croatian Ethnic School teaches young Croatians their culture and language and provides religious education. The Croatian Catholic Sisters joined the school in 1975. The school holds functions several times a year including Mother’s Day and Father’s Day luncheons where the children put together a stage production. This has been a long-held tradition beginning in 1966. The Croatian Ethnic School is the oldest Croatian school in Australia.

In 1978 the Croatian folkloric dance ensemble ‘LENEK’ was formed at Chief Street, Brompton. Initially the group had less than 20 dancers. ‘LENEK’S’ first performance was before her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II at the Adelaide Festival Theatre. The group performed in costumes they had made themselves out of bed sheets. By the late 1980s the group had 150 dancers. Currently ‘LENEK’ has five groups of dancers whose ages range from five years to 28 years plus. The ‘LENEK’ dance group continues to preserve Croatian culture and traditions and to showcase these to the wider community.

The Croatian Women’s Auxiliary was originally formed to assist the main organisation in their development, both culturally and socially. As members increased it became more involved in community life. This included the sponsorship of orphans in Bosnia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, the maintaining of the library (which opened in 1981) together with the acquisition of books.  Luncheons and functions were also held to raise money to build and maintain the new Croatian Club that opened in 1980. The Croatian Women’s Auxiliary offers free excursions at least twice a year for its members.  On the first Sunday of the month a ‘Ĉajanka’ (Afternoon Tea) is held. These are major fundraising events and a chance for the members of the auxiliary to get-together. 

In 1986 Croatian South Australians contributed to the Migration Museum’s first major changing exhibition, ‘Textile Traditions’, which was on display from April until August 1986. It was a joint project between the museum and the Jubilee 150 Families, Religion and Cultural Communities Executive Committee, and consisted of costumes and textiles loaned by Croatian, Bulgarian, Serbian and Macedonian South Australians. Croatian articles in the exhibition included lace, embroidery and exquisite bead work.

From 23 March to 31 August 2018, the exhibition ‘Croatians in South Australia: Community and Identity since 1945’ was on display in the Migration Museum’s Forum Community gallery. The exhibition highlighted how Croatian South Australians created networks of friendship and solidarity, expressed their culture and language, explored volunteering and civic action in their new home and their contribution to multiculturalism. The exhibition also showed the importance of sport in Croatian lives and how Croatian soccer teams contributed to the new sporting culture that South Australia experienced in the 1950s. 

On 4 August 2018, award-winning journalist, political commentator, speech writer and author of Croatian background gave a talk entitled ‘Growing Up Croatian in Australia: Why Memoirs Matter.

The vast majority of Croatian South Australians belong to the Roman Catholic faith. Croatian Catholic South Australians were first served by Father Ivan Mihalic who arrived in Sydney in 1953. He began celebrating Mass in Croatian in Adelaide in 1955 at Saint Patrick’s Church, Grote Street. In 1970 Father Nikica Dusevic replaced Father Mihalic.

In 1973 an order of Croatian nuns, The Adorers of the Blood of Christ, established a convent in Adelaide. They came at the request of the Catholic Archbishop of Adelaide, Archbishop Gleeson, to help Father Dusevic with pastoral, liturgical and social work. In 1996, three Sisters resided at their convent in Stanley Street, North Adelaide.

The year 1979 was an important jubilee for Croatian South Australians. It marked 13 centuries of Christianity in Croatia and the 1,100th anniversary of Pope John VIII’s recognition of Croatia as an independent state under the rule of Prince Branimir. In South Australia, combined Masses and festivities were held to mark these two occasions.

In the late 1980s Croatian Catholic South Australians built a chapel on South Road, Ridleyton, dedicated to Gaspe Velikog Hrvatskog Zavjeta, Our Lady of the Great Croatian Covenant. The chapel is mainly used for family Masses for the dead. It was officially opened on 11 June, 1989. Today Croatian Catholic South Australians attend Sunday Mass at Saint Patrick’s Church, Grote Street.

The two main Croatian saints venerated are Saint Leopold Mandic and Saint Nikola Tavelic.

Saint Leopold Mandic lived during this century. He was a Capuchin priest and a renowned Confessor. Physically frail, he died in Padova, Italy, in 1943. His feast day is 12 May.

The feast of Saint Nikola Tavelic is celebrated on 14 November. He lived during the fourteenth century, a missionary who died for his faith in Jerusalem in 1391. He was recognised as a saint in 1975.

Other major religious festivals throughout the year include Christmas, Easter and the Feast of Our Lady.

Christmas is the holiest day of the year for Croatians. In Europe it falls just after autumn and the harvesting of crops. It combines rejoicing for the birth of the Saviour with an agricultural thanksgiving festival. During Advent, the season before Christmas, Father Dusevic visits and blesses every Croatian home in Adelaide. Croatian Catholics celebrate Midnight Mass on 24 December and exchange traditional gifts such as rakia, brandy, and dried figs. The Christmas meal usually includes roast pork and salads.

In Croatia Easter coincides with spring. The celebration of Christ’s Resurrection is linked to rejoicing for the return of warmth and light after a long cold winter. On the Saturday of Holy Week, Croatian South Australians take Easterbread, produce from their gardens, wine and fruit to Father Dusevic for his blessing. A stew made from vegetables and bacala, dried fish, is traditionally eaten on Good Friday. Croatian South Australians celebrate the Resurrection with a Mass on Easter Sunday and a family meal. They often roast a lamb on a spit.

The Feast of Our Lady falls on the first Sunday in May. Croatian Catholic South Australians take part in the Marian Procession in honour of the Virgin Mary. Marian Processions were first held in South Australia in the years after the Second World War. The emergence of atheistic 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 appeal to the Virgin Mary to prevent the world-wide triumph of godlessness.

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. At the Marian Procession people wear national dress and carry colourful banners depicting Our Lady. Those present receive Benediction from the Catholic Archbishop of Adelaide.

Organisations and Media

  • Croatian Community Club of Adelaide Inc.
  • Croatian Ethnic School
  • Croatian Catholic Centre
  • Croatia Adelaide Soccer Club
  • Croatian Australian Cultural and Sports Centre Dinamo S.A. Inc.
  • Croatian Women’s Auxiliary Katarina Zrinski
  • Croatian Ukrainian and Belarusian Aged Care Association of Adelaide Inc.
  • Australian Croatian Community Eugen Kuaternz Mount Gambier Inc.
  • Croatian School Coober Pedy
  • Croatian Cultural Centre Port Lincoln Inc.
  • Australian Croatian Medical and Dental Association Inc.
  • Hrvatski Vjesnik, Croatian Herald, a weekly national newspaper
  • 5EBI Radio Programs
  • 5UV Radio Program


In the 1986 census 3,016 South Australians said they were of Croatian descent.

The 1991 census did not list Croatian-born South Australians.

According to the 1996 census there were 2906 Croatian-born South Australians, and a second generation of 2,543.

The 2001 census recorded 3,577 Croatian-born South Australians, while 6,603 people said that they were of Croatian descent.

The 2006 census recorded 3,467 Croatian-born South Australians, while 7,557 people said that they were of Croatian descent.

The 2011 census recorded 3,132 Croatian-born South Australians, while 7,702 people said that they were of Croatian descent.

The 2016 census recorded 2,865 Croatian-born South Australians, while 8,176 people said that they were of Croatian descent.

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Jupp, J (ed.), The Australian People: An Encyclopedia of the Nation, Its People and Their Origins, Second Edition, (Cambridge University Press, 2001)