Mara Moustafine and Maria Tence.
Historian and museum curator Maria Tence describes the small business focus of early immigrants and their sense of themselves as White
27 March 2009
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Italians were a racist group of people, I mean, they had colonised parts of South Africa, it was a racist society. They didn’t consider themselves anything other than white. So, they fitted in quite well here, they were hard workers and I think it was more that hard work ethic that got them accepted and of course, you know, Italy to the British mentality, Italy was a part of the grand tour and so those Australians who’d taken part in the grand tour accepted the Italians here as part of that experience and revered the society and the, you know, the Dante Alighieri society started not by Italians but by, you know Italophiles in the community. So, the educated Australians and the more sophisticated, travelled Australians had accepted the Italian community.
Because we’d had these significant who had contributed to the development of the infrastructure as I said, like Carlo Catani etcetera, there was a little bit of a different understanding of the Italian community and they took part in opera and theatre and charities, they fundraised for all the hospitals, so they were seen as you know, a civilised community, so that they didn’t pose the same sort of threat.
They were all – many of them were self-employed small business people, they ran restaurants, they ran eateries, green grocers, so they were – they weren’t in the massive working classes in industry, they were self-employed people and I think they were just part of that structure in society where they were a little bit more accepted. So I don’t think we – the Italians here had the same problem until, of course, the Second World War. So then everything changed.