Mara Moustafine and Maria Tence.
Museum curator Maria Tence recalls the racism her father experienced at work.
06 April 2009
source not available
The 1960s was a really dark period for the Italian community I think; mass migration and the predominantly rural community here from Italy with quite distinct and different – you know they were visibly different, because there were masses coming from southern Italy so they were visibly different in very big numbers and so they did start posing a threat. And so there was a lot of racism in the ‘60s, there was a divide in factories, you know, there was – the Australian women were on one side of the factory floor and the Italian women and the Greek women were on the other side of the factory floor. They wouldn’t talk to each other. And that was the same in schools and there was that division in factories.
I recall my mother talking about the fact that her Australian workmates would barely say two words to the Italian women and they didn’t care, they only fought for their rights, they didn’t care about the rights of the migrants and they felt as second class citizens. And Dad who was a skilled migrant and very good technician, even though respected for his skills by his management and by the owners of the factories by his colleagues – by his workmates, he wasn’t. I do recall Dad coming home with black eyes and there’d be fights after work or at lunchtime, you know where he’d be called a “wog” and told – and told to go back to his home country and, you know a dago etcetera.
So, yeah, I do remember Dad coming home with black eyes from time to time due to fights that occurred on the factory floor, so it – I can imagine I mean, I was a young girl but I do remember this, I can imagine it could have been quite nasty and I know my mother was very resentful of the Australian women who she thought got together as a group and protected their interests but wouldn’t help the – the migrant women and left them to do all the hard work. All the bits at the – on the conveyor belt that were too hard, were always given to the – to the migrant women to do. And you know, when you’re being paid at piece work, piece by piece, they could never make the same salary that the Australian women did because they were given the hard bits to do. So there was this resentment in the factories between the two.
My mother worked in a textile mill and then she worked in an electrical factory where they made components for TVs and radios. Dad worked in various places, but he was a maintenance fitter so he was very skilled and never out of work. And he worked in a car part supplier, he worked, they made I think toasters, electrical things, so yeah, he’s – he was – yeah he did. He actually liked work. He thought – and that, he felt – my parents have always defended Australia, even though, you know, there was this harshness in the beginning, because of the opportunities and they would – never considered going back, even though they were, you know, didn’t have any family members here.
But I think the ‘60s, speaking to a lot of the Italians that I’ve interviewed over the years, they all agree that the ’60s was a really hard time.