As an American, I naturally think of Italians emigrating to the great cities like New York, Philadelphia, Boston and Chicago, to the smaller ones like Providence and New Haven, and to a certain extent to Latin America, the family of Pope Francis (ne Bergoglio) being a prime example.
But it turns out that nearly 400,000 Italians emigrated to Australia in the post-war years when Italian economic conditions were harsh. As in the U.S., most came from the South; 55,000 from Sicily and 47,400 from Calabria compared to only 3,900 from Tuscany and 1,675 from Umbria. Many settled in the Carlton neighborhood of Melbourne, which continues to be a center for Italian culture, including the Museo Italiano, a wonderful little hub of artifacts, photographs, letters, oral histories, and documents.
Like America, Australia has had ambivalence about immigration from “certain places,” needing the person-power and economic vitality but resistant to the impact on its Anglo culture and privilege, enshrined both in the law and in tradition. This attitude was especially acute during downturns in the Australian economy; in 1934, riots in Western Australia destroyed 560 homes of Italian immigrants. In 1939, there were 33,000 immigrants from Italy, the largest non-British group in the country, but during World War II, nearly 5000 were sent to internment camps and others had liberties, like owning a radio or camera, restricted.
During our current extended stay in Melbourne, we are fortunate to be living within an easy walk from Carlton, and have enjoyed its authentic cafes, pizzerias, and gelaterias.
The employees of these establishments are actually from Italy, and conduct their business in Italian, although all speak heavily-accented English, too.
Our 22-year-old waitress last night, a native of Trieste, was nearing the end of her two-year “young-people’s visa,” as she described it, which after a year of farm work, allowed her to then work for a year as a waitress. She had mixed feelings about going home to Italy — she missed her friends and family, but said there were no jobs, and this is in the North, where conditions are said to be better. Working as a waitress provides her “lots of money” that would be impossible to earn at home. One wonders what she’ll do back home for work when her visa is up.
One thought on “103. Italian-Australians”
Who knew? A thriving Italian community in Melbourne—and yet earlier, Italians being homes being destroyed and, during WW II, Italians herded into internment camps.
Great reporting, Gigi. And some of those food photos, from the cannolis to that killer pizza, has me salivating.😃