Geographic Origins

Serbia is in southern Europe. It is bordered by Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia and Croatia.

History of Immigration and Settlement

A small number of Serbians arrived in South Australia in the late nineteenth century. They emigrated to Australia for economic reasons, and travelled from Adelaide to Broken Hill where they found work as miners. A few other Serbians arrived in South Australia in the early twentieth century. Virtually nothing is known about them.

The first significant influx of Serbians arrived in South Australia following the Second World War. The peak years of Serbian immigration were from 1949 until 1954. The Serbians who emigrated to Australia in these years came as Displaced Persons. They had either fled the Nazi occupation of Yugoslavia after 1941, or had left the country in the wake of the triumph of Marshall Tito’s communist forces in 1945. They came to Australia via DP camps in Germany, Austria and Italy under an agreement between the Australian government and the International Refugee Organisation.

In exchange for their passage to Australia, Serbian Displaced Persons were employed under two-year contracts with the Australian government in unskilled occupations. Most of the Serbian arrivals at this time were men. In South Australia they were mainly employed in factories, though a number worked for the Engineering and Water Supply Department laying gas and water pipes to Woomera and in the ship yards of Whyalla.

The exact number of Serbs who came to South Australia in these years is not known because official records referred to Serbians, Croatians, Slovenians and Macedonians as Yugoslavian.

Two further groups of Serbian immigrants arrived in South Australia in the 1960s. Between 1960 and 1965 Serbian South Australians sponsored the migration of relatives still in Europe. From 1965 the Serbians who arrived in the state came under an agreement between the Australian and Yugoslav governments.

A considerable number of Serbians immigrated to South Australia in the early 1990s to escape conflict between cultural groups in Yugoslavia.

Serbian South Australians have settled throughout the metropolitan area and the state. They are employed in a wide range of occupations.

Community Activities

Two Serbian cultural organisations were founded in Adelaide in 1949, the Beograd Soccer Club and Saint Sava Serbian Orthodox Parish of Adelaide. For further information see Appendix 1, Religious Belief and Practice: Christianity.

The Beograd Soccer Club was established on 22 October, 1949. Ilija Ilic was the club’s first president. In its early years Beograd played in the second division of the South Australian Soccer Federation. The club is now called White City Football Club and plays in the first division. White City continues to be based at its original ground, Frank Mitchell Park in Woodville West. The club has women and junior teams in the South Australian Amateur Soccer League. Currently White City is undergoing major renovations at its Woodville West club rooms and will expand to grounds at the Seaton Primary School in the near future where its women and junior teams will play.

Saint Sava’s Serbian Orthodox Parish was the second Serbian Orthodox parish to be established in Australia. It fulfilled both religious and cultural needs. Serbia became a Christian state on 27 January, 1235, largely due to Saint Sava, brother of the ruler of Serbia, Stefan Nemanja. Saint Sava’s promotion of education led him to be regarded as both a spiritual and national leader.

The Adelaide Parish of Saint Sava initially met to celebrate Divine Liturgy at Christ Church in Jeffcott Street, North Adelaide. The first priest was Father G. Djonlic. The parish later moved to a church on Port Road in Kilkenny.

In the 1950s the Parish of Saint Sava bought a block of land in Mary Street, Hindmarsh. A church and hall were built between 1974 and 1976.

In 1968 the Serbian community purchased nine hectares of land at Mylor on the Onkaparinga River. They built a hall on the property and opened it on 7 February, 1971. Serbian South Australians often use the Mylor site for camps and picnics.

In the late 1970s Serbian South Australians built a second church dedicated to Saint Sava on Port Road, Woodville Park. Its design is based on a famous Serbian Byzantine church in Oplenac. The exterior of the church is quite simple. The only decorative aspects of the exterior are its domes and crosses. In keeping with Byzantine tradition, the interior is lavishly decorated. The outside represents the secular world, while the interior symbolises the ideal spiritual universe.

In November 1988 Dragan Marunic began painting devotional frescoes on the ceiling and walls of Saint Sava Serbian Orthodox Church in Woodville Park. He had studied Byzantine art in Serbian monasteries and painted 17 church interiors around the world before working on the Woodville Park church. The frescoes were completed in May 1989.

The icon-frescoes painted by Dragan Marunic are not representations of the natural world. His monumental depictions of Christ, events in the Gospels, the Virgin Mary and the Saints aim to provide the viewer with a profound insight into the mysteries of the Christian religion and elevate their souls.

Both Serbian Orthodox churches at Hindmarsh and Woodville Park are vibrant centres of community life, offering pensioner’s clubs offering social gatherings for older people, ethnic language schools, folk dance groups, concerts, fetes, and more.

The Community Centre of Serbia and Montenegro, based at Croydon Park, offers information and referral services, weekly seniors lunches, centre-based group activities, volunteer support and language assistance.

The major religious festivals of the year for Serbian Orthodox South Australians are Easter, Christmas and Saint Sava’s Saints Day. For further information see Appendix 1, Religious Belief and Practice: Christianity.

In the last few days of Holy Week in the Easter season Serbian Orthodox South Australians prepare to celebrate Christ’s resurrection. They paint eggs and bake cakes and breads. A service is held at midnight on Holy Saturday, for this marks the beginning of Easter Sunday, the day that Christ rose from the dead. Festive family meals usually include lamb on a spit, grilled meat and spicy salads.

Christmas is celebrated on 25 December according to the Julian Calendar which falls on 7 January in the Gregorian or standard modern calendar. It is also preceded by a period of Lent. Midnight Divine Liturgy celebrates the birth of the Saviour. Some Serbian South Australians maintain Christmas cultural traditions. They bake special Christmas bread that has coins in it. Whoever receives a portion of bread with money in it at the Christmas meal will be blessed with good fortune and happiness.

On 6 January, Christmas Eve, some Serbian Orthodox South Australians decorate an oak sapling or bough in front of their home with fruits, apples, nuts and lollies. On Christmas morning the sweetmeats on the tree are distributed and it is cut up into firewood. If possible the logs are burnt in a fireplace in the home. If there are a lot of sparks in the fire the family will have much happiness in the coming year.

Because of his special role as an advocate of learning, Saint Sava’s Saints Day, which falls on 27 January, is celebrated as an educational festival. Serbian South Australian children are awarded prizes for scholastic and other achievements. They take part in a concert that includes singing, dramatic performances, folk dancing and poetry reading.

Other days of significance for Serbian South Australians include the celebration of the 1804 Liberation; Djurdjevdanski Uranak; Vidovdan; and National and Historic Day.

The 1804 Liberation is celebrated on 15 February. On this day Karageorge Petrovic led an uprising of Serbians against the Ottoman Turks after 400 years of occupation. This is often called the First Serbian Uprising. The second was led by Milos Obrenovic in 1815. Serbia did not regain its independence until 1878. The 1804 Liberation is usually commemorated with a barbecue or social gathering.

Djurdjevdanski Uranak is celebrated on 6 May. It honours Serbian freedom fighters who met clandestinely in forests throughout the nineteenth century to plan their overthrow of the Turks. Serbian South Australians visit Loftia Recreation Park in the Adelaide Hills for a barbecue, where they roast a lamb on a spit. They hold a commemorative church service to acknowledge the sacrifice of the Serbians who fought for independence. Serbian musicians play traditional music and the children play games. Djurdjevdanski Uranak has the atmosphere of a community fair.

Vidovdan, Saint Vitus’s Day, falls on 28 June. It commemorates a battle on the Plain of Kosovo in which the Ottoman Turks defeated the Serbians. It is a solemn anniversary for Serbian South Australians.

National and Historic Day is celebrated on 26 November. This was the day in 1918 when the Serbians of Montenegro proclaimed their union with Serbia. It led to the creation of the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, which was renamed Yugoslavia in 1929. The name Yugoslavia means Southern Slavs.

Serbian South Australians have been involved in two Migration Museum exhibitions. ‘Textile Traditions’ was on display at the museum from April until August 1986. It was a joint project between the museum and the Jubilee 150 Families, Religion and Cultural Communities Executive Committee. The exhibition consisted of garments and textiles lent by Serbian, Bulgarian, Croatian and Macedonian South Australians. Among the exhibits were Serbian cotton reels, wool carders, spindles, distaffs, sleeveless jackets embroidered with gold cord, embroidered linen, tapestry bags and woven rugs.

‘Serbs Down Under’ was the foundation exhibition in the Migration Museum’s community access gallery, The Forum. It was staged from 25 October until 6 December, 1987. This display formed part of the celebrations for Vukovi Dani, an annual Serbian cultural festival from 10 to 16 November. Vukovi Dani commemorates the anniversary of the birth of Vuk Karadzic, who lived from 1787 until 1864. He was a linguist, writer and scholar who promoted Serbian folk culture and is credited with the creation of the Serbo-Croatian literary language. The year 1987 was the bicentennial of Karadzic’s birth. ‘Serbs Down Under’ presented the story of Serbian migration to South Australia through photographs, poetry, woodcarvings and traditional crafts.

Organisations and Media

  • Saint Sava Serbian Orthodox Church at Hindmarsh
  • Saint Sava Serbian Orthodox Church at Woodville Park
  • Serbian Community Club of S.A. Inc., Pennington
  • Serbia and Montenegro Community Centre SA Inc., Croydon Park
  • Draza Mihailovic Yugoslav Ex-Servicemen’s Association
  • Saint Sava Serbian Cultural Club: publishes Serbian Struggle, a monthly newsletter
  • Serbian Community Welfare Association
  • Serbian Orthodox Youth Association of Australia and New Zealand
  • White City Woodville Soccer Club Inc.
  • 5EBI Radio Programs
  • Serbian Herald, a weekly national newspaper with a South Australian correspondent


The 1986 census recorded that there were 8,774 Yugoslavian-born South Australians. 646 people said that they were of Serbian descent. The actual figure is probably higher. It is likely that some Serbian South Australians were among the 8,131 people who said 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.

According to the 1996 census the Serbia-Montenegro-born population was previously grouped under the general heading of Yugoslav-born. After the identification of sub-groups within that country, the Serbia-Montenegro group were one of the smaller groups enumerated with the option to continue to identify themselves as being Yugoslavia-born. The official figure supplied is 802 Serbia-Montenegro-born South Australians, and a second generation of 346.

The 2001 census recorded 4,270 Yugoslavian-born South Australians. 8,193 people said that they were of Serbian descent, and 42 that they were of Montenegrin descent.

The 2006 census recorded 1,366 Serbian-born South Australians, and 47 Montenegrin-born South Australians. 8,139 people said that they were of Serbian descent, and 74 that they were of Montenegrin descent.

The 2011 census recorded 1,352 Serbian-born South Australians, and 75 Montenegrin-born South Australians. 5,667 people said that they were of Serbian descent, and 99 that they were of Montenegrin descent.

The 2016 census recorded 1,357 Serbian-born South Australians, and 81 Montenegrin-born South Australians. 5,867 people said that they were of Serbian descent, and 140 people that they were of Montenegrin descent.

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Jupp, J, (ed), The Australian People: An Encyclopedia of the Nation, Its People and Their Origins, 2nd Ed., (Cambridge University Press, 2001)

Marsden, S, A History of Woodville (Adelaide: Corporation of the City of Woodville, 1977)