Italian tenacity an example of ‘Aussie success’
We often talk about the great “Aussie success” story for whatever that means but I think Italians are the great Aussie success story and in saying that I am showing a little of my bias here given that I am a paid-up citizen of Italy albeit having never been to the place.
After the senseless terrorist attack in Melbourne a little while back when Sisto Malaspina, the coffee shop maestro was murdered, he was remembered as a great Australian success story and rightly so too.
Italians migrated to this country in their thousands – many of them like my grandfather and all his mates – escaping a fascist government and the Spanish Influenza outbreak in Europe that killed millions of people. Among those who died were three of my grandparents’ children and this personal tragedy coupled to my grandfather’s dislike of a Europe coming out of the most savage war in history, he like many others chose to leave.
These people changed the face of Australian culture but it wasn’t easy as they were subjected to years of racist abuse, taunts and bigotry.
While the brood whose origins were of the mother country were smug in their contempt of the foreigners of Europe, it wasn’t long before they began to embrace a cuisine that put old English food to the sword and a culture of music, festivity, hard work and the occasional bottle of plonk.
The tragedy of being Italian in the war years was that you were likely to have been imprisoned in labour camps in places like Harvey and Lovegrove in South Australia, where you dug the trenches for the irrigation system.
These people endured the pain of internment but they held few grudges, instead opting to eventually buy the farms they previously worked on as POWs and turn these paddocks into the food bowl of WA.
Italians also brought with them the concept of changing Prime Ministers with alarming regularity and their colourful and controversial political leaders were changed and recycled with gay abandon.
For a while it seemed that this was a weekly event on the Italian political stage and while it took the Australian political hacks some time to catch onto this concept, we have in the last decade certainly embraced it with some gusto.
The Italian influence in the South West epitomises the Australian spirit of having the capacity to confront the environmental and social challenges of building a future in another country.