While most Philippines-born settlement in Australia is comparatively recent, contact between indigenous Australians and Filipino sailors in the north of the continenet extends back well before Europeans arrived. Early census data shows that some of the sojourners stayed for good: there were approximately 700 Philippines-born persons in Australia at the turn of the century, mainly in Western Australia and Queensland.
The Immigration Restriction Act of 1901 led to the introduction of policies excluding non-Europeans from entry to Australia (colloquially known as the 'White Australia Policy'). This resulted in a significant decrease in the number of Philippines-born settlers in Australia. The number of Filipinos was down to 141 at the time of the 1947 Australian Census, and it was not until the 1950s that the population began to increase.
Significant numbers of Filipino students were allowed entry to Australia under the Colombo Plan and many chose to stay after graduation. An immigration policy reform in 1966 allowed well-qualified non-Europeans to immigrate to Australia. The Filipino population approximately doubled between every Census (every 5 years) to 1991, making it one of the fastest growing overseas-born populations in Australia.
The final repudiation of the 'White Australia Policy' and the declaration of martial law in the Philippines in 1972 led to rapid growth in the Philippines-born population in Australia over the next two decades. During the 1970s, many Filipino women migrated as spouses of Australian residents. Since then, most of the Philippines-born settlers have been sponsored by a family member.
Most Filipino migration occurred during the 1980s, peaking in 1987-1988. In the 1990s, settler arrivals began to decline and the growth in the Philippines-born population slowed. The 1991 Census recorded 73,673 living in Australia.