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Category: Interviews »

Subject: Cultural Studies »

Laura Mecca on Italian Historical Society

Laura Mecca and Mara Moustafine.



Date Added:

27 April 2009


source not available


mov (Quicktime);

File size:

11 MB






It was a vision, a vision by a group of people at CO.AS.IT, headed by Sir James Gobbo but it was interesting because the group of people were mainly first generation Australian-born or second generation, you know, but the first generation Australian-born and the idea of the society came amongst them, among this group and Maria Tence is one of them. There was Gina Triaca there were other young people born in Australia, with Sir James, they all discussed; they perceived there was a need to ensure that the Italian history or the Italian story was present in Australian mainstream repositories.


There was nothing, Sarina Casino conducted a survey and only found very little in the Australian archives. There were mainly records of prisoners of war, internees, but nothing significant so the real story and contribution of the Italians wasn’t there. And we all felt that the most important need was for the people to record their history themselves, we didn’t want it interpreted. We didn’t want it to have to be interpreted by Australians by others, the story had to be told by the Italians, themselves.


So, that’s how it started, they started with a series of interviews, particularly of the people who came in the ‘20s and ‘30s, who were already quite old. And that was very successful, of course, when you go out and interview them, the first thing that comes out apart from the grappa, the caffe, the biscuits and all that, are the photographs. So I mean, how can you tell a story without illustrating it? So they started to collect photographs and all this eventuated in Negative Issue, which was Victoria’s Italian – the first exhibition – it was a story of Victoria for 45 years, from 1900 to 1945.


And then Maria essentially got busy making babies, so I came in. And from there on, I mean for 20 years I have been involved.


... Australia’s Italians, 1788-1988, an exhibition, The Dowry which was the inaugural exhibition of the Immigration Museum about how the concept of the dowry changed. We worked at a book, The Proxy Brides, by Mrs Bella and then we finally came out with a big book, you know, which is Per l’Australia which is the conclusion of my contribution to the Historical Society. So we collected enormous amounts of photographs.


I think the success of the society was that we were very much part of the community particularly with CO.AS.IT, it is a welfare organisation and the network that it had that helped a lot. And the reputation of course, I mean I was almost neurotic in trying to protect the photographs and the community and their story, I wouldn’t let anyone alter it unless it was altered with the consent of the donor. Same with the book, it was hard work because when you come to graphic design and designing the book, the photographer very often would crop the photographs. I said, “No, the photographs cannot be touched.”


Because a migrant does the first choice anyway, so you don’t get to see every photograph, they make their decision what they want about their story to be preserved and told first, so you’ve got to respect that.


End transcript