Astra was formed in 1951 as an orchestra of women musicians under the direction of Asta Flack, a violinist and conductor who had migrated to Australia from Lithuania. In 1958, George Logie-Smith became Musical Director, extending the orchestra to include male members and a larger wind section and founding the Astra Choir. Over a period of 20 years, he developed links with Australian composers as well as giving performance of choral and chamber orchestral repertoire rarely heard at that time (for example the Bach Passions, Stravinsky's Les Noces, works of Bartok, Britten, Penderecki.)

Since John McCaughey became Musical Director in 1978 (continuing to the present), the Astra Choir has provided the principal focus of concerts, joined by many of Australia's leading contemporary instrumental performers as guests.

Robert Smallwood was Director of Astra in the period 1983-4, and other guest directors (Joan Pollock, Graeme Leak, Kenneth Gaburo, Sue Healey, Anne Thompson, William Henderson and Allan Walker) have extended the Choir's work into the domains of flm, dance and improvisation.

Astra's contribution to the advancement of Australian music has been recognised with a number of prizes including the Sidney Myer national Performing Arts Award 1987, the Australian Music Centre's 1998 National Award for the Best Australian Composition (for Lawrence Whiffn's Murchitt - a Daydream), and the 2000 National and Victorian Awards for Outstanding Contribution to Australian Music to Astra's Director, John McCaughey.