Laura Mecca and Mara Moustafine.
Historian Laura Mecca gives an overview of Italian post-war immigration to Australia.
03 April 2009
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There was a very early discussion with Calwell and the Italian ambassador in London, in late ‘40s to resume migration to Australia for the Italians . There is a memorandum written to the ambassador which you’ll find in the [Italian Historical Society] collection in which Calwell definitely favours the resuming of Italian migration for various reasons: first they were Catholics and he was a Catholic. [laughs] You know. So secondly, the Church, Cardinal Mannix again, pushed for that. Thirdly, a lot of them had relatives here so the support was here. They were hardworking people. So, but there was a big problem, the wounds of the war were still there and many Australians, who had lost their sons in the Second World War in Europe, did not want them. And it’s quite interesting because Calwell said, “Yes, I favour that, however it has to be kept very quiet.”
So they started coming back and from 1949 and the early 1950s the Italian migration resumed. Many had relatives here. Many families had had the reunion with their husbands interrupted by the war. So family unification - first, some clergy, the nuns, for the Cabrini Hospital were the very early ones. And reunions, family reunions, then the southern Italians started to come pretty early, end of ’49.
And then the gates just opened, and then they had the sponsored migration, with Bonegilla and all the camps and all the sugar canes and so on. But the majority of Italian migrant arrived paying their own fares, then only probably I think, an estimate of 50 to 70,000 just with the sponsored migrations, sponsored by both governments which required you to stay for two years in Australia and then – and accept any job.
They came from all walks of life, again, those were their choices. The economic need has always been the most common reason, but a lot of them came for adventure, look at all the young people that came. Projects like Snowy Mountains, electrification of New South Wales, Tasmania Hydroelectric projects, they came and they left, in the ‘70s, more left than arrived in Australia. But they settled here with their families, they married their sweetheart by proxy from the town, most of them knew their proxy bride, most of them knew them. Or they sent the mother around, you know, can we start corresponding? So it happened.