The suburb of Melbourne where the most Christians live is close to Tullamarine Airport

Census data from 2021 shows that nationwide the proportion of Christians has fallen below 50% for the first time.

Only 44% of Australians now identify as Christian, down from 52% five years earlier and 61% in 2011. But the census also revealed that the trend away from Christianity is not uniform.

In a suburban pocket clustered around Melbourne Airport, more than two-thirds of residents are Christian – the highest percentage in the city. Suburbs include Taylors Lakes, Keilor, Keilor East and Avondale Heights.

The Christian component of the region is significantly higher than that of Victoria as a whole – 43.8% of the state’s population identify themselves as Christian.

And while 42.1% of Victorians said they had no religion, that figure was just 17.6% in Taylors Lakes and 23.3% in Avondale Heights.

The census also showed that in Dandenong, 54.3% of the population is Muslim, 34.7% of the residents of Springvale South are Buddhist and 44.8% of the population of Caulfield North is Jewish. In Tarneit Nord, 31% of the inhabitants are Hindus and more than a fifth are Sikhs.

Peter Ward, spokesman for the Keilor Historical Society, said that after the Second World War, with the opening of good jobs and relatively cheap housing, the area around the airport attracted new migrants, in particularly from Italy, Greece and Malta.

He said later immigrants sought to live near relatives, friends and compatriots.

Demographer Glenn Capuano of .id consulting said that, depending on the country of origin of residents, more multicultural suburbs often have higher levels of religious faith than those where more people were born in Australia or Britain.

In Avondale Heights, Taliana, 35, of Spanish and German descent and whose husband is of Maltese descent, said that in addition to the Ten Commandments, her church teaches her children to help those in need.

They are taught “to love people for who they are, whether they are married, divorced, gay or lesbian”.

Also, she says, “Jesus is the hope of the world and I want my children to live in hope and not be afraid, and know that they have someone to talk to and ‘they have a Heavenly Father.’

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Loretta Bufalino of Airport West, a suburb the census identifies as 64.5 percent Christian, said that while she does not go to church, she listed herself as Catholic on the census. Her four daughters, aged eight months to six years, will go to Catholic schools, at least in primary school.

Bufalino, the daughter of Italian immigrants, enjoys being part of this community. “I think for Italians in particular, religion is part of their identity,” she said.

Iraqi refugee Doris Haweil, 43, from Keilor, is keen to raise her three sons, aged 13 to 20, as Assyrian Orthodox Christians, and the family, including her husband Alfred, attend church in Coolaroo.

She says her faith is “very important” to her, as it was in Iraq: it’s a place where she can speak Assyrian, pray and meet friends.

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