Multicultural community profiles


It should be noted that, in developing this profile, the Portuguese-Timorese community is defined as those people with direct Portuguese heritage as well as Timorese from Timor-Leste, commonly known as East Timor. These people have strong links - by marriage, language, culture and religion - through Portugal’s colonial past in East Timor.

World War 2 saw Australia’s first major contact with the Portuguese colony of East Timor when the Australian forces were fighting against the Japanese there. Following the end of the war, Portugal resumed its colonial rule. With the end of Portuguese colonial rule, on 28 November 1975, East Timor declared its independence.

However, as East Timor became an Indonesian-ruled province, it impacted on the country’s economy and political stability. The conflict caused by these political developments saw a wave of refugees arrive in Australia in 1975. Some Timorese refugees also went to Portugal. Many of these later migrated to Australia to be reunited with their families in the Northern Territory (NT).

The events and consequent wars leading to the end of Portugal’s colonialism in Angola and Mozambique, as well as Indonesian claims to East Timor in the 1970s, impacted on the economy in Portugal, leading to the migration of Portuguese to other parts of the world, including Australia.

Settlement in NT

The first Portuguese community in Darwin was called the Lusitano - a derivative of Lusitania, meaning of Portuguese heritage and descent. Following the arrival of the East Timorese, in 1977 it was decided the community was to be called the Portuguese-Timorese community, bringing together these groups with common historical and cultural heritage.

Following the referendum for independence in August 1999 and ensuing violence many East Timorese refugees were evacuated to Darwin and housed at a tent city at Marrara.

The estimated 5,000 member Portuguese-Timorese community today is settled predominantly in Darwin. Many still have links through families and businesses in Timor-Leste.

According to the 2006 Census, there are 160 Portuguese-born people in the NT. This represents one per cent of the total Portuguese-born people in Australia. Australian Bureau of Statistics figures for the same period also show that that there are 1,021 East Timor-born residents in the NT, with 1,000 residing in Darwin.

Settlement issues and challenges faced

The language barrier and a different culture in Australia were the initial challenges to the Portuguese-Timorese community. This was soon overcome and the community has since played an active part in the wider community of the NT.


While English is spoken widely, Portuguese and Tetum are the main languages used in the Portuguese-Timorese community. Portuguese is also spoken in the communities of migrants from the former Portuguese colonies of Macau, Mozambique, Angola and Brazil.

Hakka, a Chinese dialect, is widely spoken by the Timorese-Chinese community.

Religion, practices and traditions

The majority of members in the Portuguese-Timorese community in the NT are Catholic. The Catholic Church is an important foundation in the cultural identity of the Portuguese-Timorese community.

According to the 2006 Census, Buddhism is also affiliated to the Timorese community in Australia.

Community events celebrated in NT

The following celebrations are highlights for the Portuguese-Timorese community:

  • New Year’s Eve Party
  • Pre-Easter Carnival (a pre-Lenten celebration)
  • Easter Party
  • Portuguese and Timorese Social Club birthday party which is held annually on 27 July
  • celebration of the National Day of Timor Leste on 20 May
  • celebration of the National Day of Portugal on 10 June
  • restaurant nights are held monthly or fortnightly when possible.

All the above functions are held at the Portuguese and Timorese Social Club. Christmas is also an important celebration in the community but it is usually a family affair.

The Portuguese and Timorese Social Club

The Portuguese and Timorese Social Club was established in 1977 and celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2007.

The club has a commercial kitchen, cool room, licensed bar, community hall with seating for 400 people, as well as meeting rooms. A sporting ground boasting a football (soccer) field is also part of the facility.


Ana McKay - President 
Portuguese and Timorese Social Club

Phone: 0407 359 850

Batten Rd, Marrara NT 0812

Sources and acknowledgments

This information was sourced with assistance from Diamantino Ribeiro, Census data and the Australian Government's Department of Home Affairs website.

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Last updated: 02 March 2016

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