Geographic Origins

The Republic of the Philippines is an archipelago of more than 7,000 islands, of which only about 1,000 are inhabited. The islands of the Philippines are located in the southwest Pacific Ocean.

The Philippines consists of three island groups. In the north lies the biggest island group, Luzon; the second, Mindanao, is in the south; the third, the Visayas, are in the centre.

The South China and Sulu Seas lie to the west of the Philippines, the Celebes Sea to the south, and the Philippine Sea to the east.

History of Immigration and Settlement

Small numbers of Filipinos began arriving in South Australia after the Second World War. In most instances they came under the Colombo Plan as university students or trainee nurses, and returned to the Philippines once they gained their qualifications. Some remained in South Australia and entered the workforce, usually in professional occupations.

Between the 1940s and 1970s South Australia’s Filipino community remained very small. In 1975 South Australia’s Filipino population numbered around 50 people.

During the 1970s the number of Filipino arrivals increased substantially. This was due to two factors.  Firstly, Australian immigration policies were relaxed in 1973. Secondly, there were political and economic uncertainties in the Philippines after President Marcos declared martial law in 1972. Marcos suspended the Philippine constitution and imprisoned his opponents. He claimed that these measures were necessary to combat the threat of a communist take-over. In the following year the world oil crisis had a disastrous effect upon the economy of the Philippines and inflation surged. As a result the cost of living escalated. Heavy concentrations of population, high rates of unemployment, widespread poverty, low agricultural productivity and frequent natural disasters also prompted many Filipinos to emigrate.

The vast majority of Filipino’s who first arrived in South Australia were young women, many of whom arrived as brides of South Australian men. This peaked between 1979 and 1982, when 93 per cent of Filipino immigrants were women. 

Initially the Australian commonwealth government gave preference to immigrants who had family ties with Australian residents. As a result a vast number of Filipinos came to Australia under the Family Reunion Scheme which was expanded in 1981. South Australian Filipinos sponsored relatives to join them in South Australia in response to the economic and political problems in their home country.

The Marcos regime, which was deposed by a popular uprising in 1986, left the Philippines owing billions of dollars to foreign banks. This caused high inflation, a lack of employment opportunities and lowered the standard of living. On the other hand, some affluent Filipinos left their homeland because they feared guerrilla groups, such as the communist New People’s Army, that targeted the wealthy for financial support. Refusing to make donations to such organisations was dangerous. 

Australian skill and literary requirements means that most Filipino migrants are well-educated and speak English fluently. Unfortunately, Filipino qualifications are not always recognised in Australia and although retraining is available the majority of Filipino-trained professionals have families to support and many cannot afford to return to study. Instead they take lower-paid jobs in hospitals, factories and domestic areas.

In recent times the Philippines has emerged as an important economic hub in the South-East Asia region. However, although the Philippine economy has recovered from the global financial crisis of 2007 - 2008 incongruities and challenges still exist: poverty levels remain high, infrastructure is poor and life expectancy low compared to other countries in the region. These factors have contributed to Filipinos becoming one of the fastest growing migrant communities in Australia. In particular, skilled migrants from the Philippines are in high demand in order to fill labour shortages in Australian. 

Filipino South Australians have settled all over the metropolitan area and the state.

Community Activities

The Spaniards who colonised the Philippines from 1565 also converted Filipinos to Roman Catholicism. Today, approximately 90 per cent of Filipinos are Roman Catholic. 

For Filipino South Australians, the church is a continuing thread linking their old life to the new. Since 1976 the Filipino community has celebrated a Block Rosary on the first Saturday of every month. After the Rosary has been said, a Mass is celebrated, followed by a social gathering.

Filipino South Australians, particularly those from the Visayas, have a strong attachment to Senor Santo Nino de Cebu, the Holy Infant Jesus of Cebu. Cebu was the first permanent Spanish settlement, established in 1565. Catholics believe that a soldier in the last Spanish Expedition found a figure of the Holy Child in a deserted Cebuano home. Filipino Catholics believe the carving of the Christ-child has the power to perform miracles. Today it is housed in a magnificent church in Cebu. Thousands of people pay homage to the Church of Senor Santo Nino de Cebu each year.

Since 1985 Filipino South Australians have celebrated the festival of Senior Santo Nino de Cebu on the third Sunday in January. 

The other major festival for Filipino Catholics in South Australia is Pasko Pilipino, Philippine Christmas Day. This is held on the first Sunday in December. Traditionally, a Mass is held at 4 am. In South Australia, however, the service is later than this. After the Mass, the congregation eats breakfast together. The celebrations, complete with Filipino food, music and dance, are day-long. The highlight of Pasko Pilipino is the moment when children offer corsages to their grandparents as a symbol of their love and respect for them.

Sports such as basketball and volleyball are popular among young Filipino South Australians. They also enjoy traditional dance and choral activities.

The Filipino Association of South Australia Inc. is the state’s largest Filipino organisation. It was founded in 1975 by Dr and Mrs Dante Juanta O.A.M., Mr and Mrs Fred Calabio, Mrs Amy Bartjes and Dr and Mrs Rene Penaloza. Initially, its membership and activities were modest. Since then the association has expanded its activities and membership. Today it promotes Filipino arts and culture, recreation for the aged, and religious and social activities and provides welfare assistance. The Association has published Barangay, a newsletter.

The Filipino Association holds festivities during March to mark its foundation on 9 March, 1975. The largest event is held at the premises of the association. Choristers and dancers perform and traditional Filipino foods are served. Often tables are set up and groups of people sell food from their particular islands. Traditional Filipino delicacies include puto, bibingka and biko, rice cakes; pancit canton and pancit palabok, noodle dishes; adobong baboy and adobong manok, pork or chicken casseroles; and daing and tinapa, pieces of dried fish or meat that have been marinated or smoked. People sell Filipino crafts, clothes, nicknacks and coconut-fibre brooms. The atmosphere is that of a carnival or street-market. The day usually ends with a dinner-dance.

The Filipino Community Council of South Australia co-ordinates state Filipino organisations. The council conducts forums on issues concerning the Filipino community, including immigration, the elderly, youth, the recognition of qualifications, cross cultural communication and social welfare.

The Filipino Community Council of South Australia also organises the annual celebration of Philippine Independence Day on 12 June. This day brings together all South Australian Filipino organisations. Cultural presentations of traditional dancing and choral groups are followed by a social event in the evening.

The first Filipino Ethnic School in Adelaide was officially established in February 1987. Filipino ethnic schools established in Adelaide, Port Adelaide, Holden Hill, Noarlunga and Kilburn have now closed, although the school at Salisbury is still operational.

The Filipino Elderly Support Group was formed in 1988. The group provides social and recreational opportunities and recognises the honoured place of the elderly.

Radyo Pilipino was the pioneering work of Dr Dante Juanta and Mr Ramon Cruz. Its first broadcast was on 18 June, 1978, on radio station 5UV. Since February 1980 Radyo Pilipino has been broadcast on 5EBI-FM.

In October 2016 Filipinos celebrated 120 years of Filipino settlement in Australia at their 14th national conference - ‘Let’s Talk’ - held in Toowoomba, Queensland.

Filipino South Australians have a continuing commitment to their homeland. Often Filipino organisations sponsor children in the Philippines under the Foster Parents Plan. They have also raised considerable sums of money to help the victims of natural disasters. 

Organisations and Media

  • The Filipino Community Council of SA Inc.
  • Filipino Association of SA Inc.: publishes Barangay, a regular newsletter
  • Filipino Australia Leadership Forum Inc.: publishes an occasional newsletter
  • Filipino Cultural Association Inc. (Whyalla)
  • Filipino Families and Friends Association Inc.: publishes a regular newsletter
  • Ceduna District Filipino Families and Friends Association
  • Filipino Folk Dance Company
  • Filipino International Club Inc.: publishes Sampaguita Magazine
  • Filipino Sports Association of SA Inc.
  • Northern Filipino–Australian Social Club (Bayanihan Group)
  • Pearl of the Orient Club (Port Pirie)
  • Tinig Filipino Inc.
  • Filipino Ethnic Schools of South Australia
  • Filipino Elderly Support Group
  • Ethnic Radyo Pilipino Inc.
  • 5 EBI-FM Radio Program


The 1981 census recorded 597 Filipino-born South Australians.

The 1986 census recorded 1,512 Filipino-born South Australians. However, only 1,450 people said that they were of Filipino descent. The remainder possibly considered themselves of mixed or Spanish descent.

According to the 1991 census there were 3,076 Filipino-born South Australians. 4,188 people said that their mothers were born in the Philippines, and 3,217 that their fathers were.

According to the 1996 census the second generation of the Filipino-born South Australians numbered 1,862, roughly half the size of the first generation, which numbered 3,996.

The 2001 census recorded 4,512 Filipino-born South Australians, while 5,778 people said that they were of Filipino descent.

The 2006 recorded 5,441 Filipino-born South Australians, while 7,446 people said that they were of Filipino descent.

The 2011 census recorded 8,858 Filipino-born South Australians, while 11,513 people said that they were of Filipino descent.

The 2016 census recoded 12,460 Filipino-born South Australians, while 15,884 people said that they were of Filipino descent.

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Channel, K, ‘Filipinos in Adelaide: Origins and Growth of a Migrant Community’, (B.A. (Hons), Flinders University, 1986)

Juanta, RDG, ‘Filipinos and Community Development: A South Australian Experience’, The Filipino Magazine (Sydney) 3:2, April/May 1989, pp11–13

Juanta, RDG, ‘As Filipinos Treasure Their Elderly’, Ethnic Communities Council of S.A. Inc. Newsletter 2, April/June 1990

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