The Goulburn Valley has long been recognised as a destination point for migrants and humanitarian refugees attracted by the availability of employment in a strong regional economy based on irrigated agriculture.
Greater Shepparton City and Moira Shire in particular have experienced new arrivals from a diversity of backgrounds in far greater numbers than comparable municipalities in rural and regional Australia.
The region also has an Indigenous population generally accepted as being 10‰ of the total and as such is the largest Indigenous population outside of metropolitan Melbourne in Victoria.
During the gold rush period of the 1850s Victoria's population grew rapidly drawing people from many overseas countries and Shepparton being a crossing point of the Goulburn and strategically located between the goldfields of Bendigo and Beechworth grew and developed.
A significant Chinese community was established and remains to this day.
The real growth came with the introduction of irrigation in the early part of the twentieth century, sourcing water from the Goulburn and delivered in a series of channels to the rapidly expanding irrigation area around Shepparton.
Immigration to the area continued from the traditional United Kingdom and Ireland sources and these were now joined by people from non English speaking backgrounds predominantly from Southern Europe; Italians, Greeks and Albanians. These communities have grown significantly and are strongly reflected in census data that indicates that Italians remain the highest proportion of overseas born persons in Greater Shepparton.
Following the Second World War the Goulburn Valley's population growth mirrored Australia's with displaced persons, refugees and migrants from Europe coming in large numbers. Dutch, German, Polish and Maltese settlers arrived along with continuing numbers from previous ethnic groups and established themselves independently or as many did, after periods in Government operated migrant camps.
Later others arrived in substantial numbers from Turkey, Macedonia and increasingly from Asia with immigrants from the Philippines. In the mid eighties the Asian numbers increased with arrivals from India, Malaysia, Indonesia and Sri Lanka.
In the early 1990s Pacific Islanders began arriving and with ongoing issues in the Balkans large numbers from the former Yugoslavian republics and renewed Albanian arrivals.
At the same time immigration from New Zealand and South Africa increased markedly.
The mid nineteen nineties saw a significant change in Australia intake of overseas persons with humanitarian entrants increasing significantly particularly the Middle East, with Shepparton and Cobram soon home to a growing number of Arabic speaking; predominantly Iraqi settlers. These were quickly followed by family relatives arriving by boat and other unconventional means resulting in forced detention, Temporary Protection Visas and a lack of services to support this group.
As Australia's humanitarian focus moved to Africa, Shepparton was chosen for a national pilot project testing for the first time the direct settlement of African refugees. This project has seen eleven families from the Democratic Republic of Congo settling in Shepparton.
Shepparton and the Goulburn Valley's reputation as a region capable of successfully settling new arrivals has seen an increase in numbers coming through secondary migration.
At the present time (2007) the region is experiencing an influx of people from Afghanistan and Sudan drawn to the area by the same pull factors that attracted the first non English-speaking immigrants a century ago.
The Goulburn Valley is a diverse multicultural community with up to sixty languages other than English being regularly spoken in the home; it is very distinct demographically from its provincial competitors and often cited by State and federal Governments as a model for successful settlement.
Source: Cultural Diversity and Social Harmony - The Goulburn Valley Experience
Photo Credit:University of the Third Age, Shepparton