Special place and occasion
The Ossario, in a quiet corner of theMurchison Cemetery was completed in 1961 and is a beautifully crafted Mediterranean-style building.
It contains the remains of Italian Prisoners of War and Internees who died on Australian soil during World War II.
Every year, on the second Sunday in November, hundreds of people gather to remember the 129 men and one woman for whom the Ossario is their last resting place.
On Sunday, November 11, this year, a warm sunny day with a lovely clear blue sky, the occasion was again well attended by more than 300 people.
Mostly of Italian descent, they travelled from Melbourne, interstate, overseas and across Victoria and were joined by locals who appreciate this special occasion.
The ceremony was moving, suitably reverent and also colourful with many Italian Military Service uniforms, banners, flags, floral wreaths and bouquets in abundance.
The official service began with a procession along the cypress-lined path leading to the Ossario. Officials, such as the Italian Consul General, councillors from City of Greater Shepparton, representatives of many Italian Service and Military Clubs, Australian Returned Service groups, local school children, representatives of the Murchison Lions Club and Historical Society were called forward to walk towards the monument in the forecourt where they laid their floral tributes, then gathered on the steps of the Ossario building.
This year I had the privilege of laying a beautiful floral wreath on behalf of the family of Nicola Evangelista, whose family only recently discovered that his remains were housed in the Ossario.
Joanne Tapiolas, a Queensland author who recently published Walking in their Boots telling the story of the Italian Prisoners ofWar in Queensland, organised the flowers from Avonlea Flowers for me to place on the memorial.
In the course of her research for the book, Joanne was able to find Nicola in the Ossario at Murchison.
The family, who live in Italy, only had knowledge fromhis war record that he had died in Australia, but no more detail than that.
To learn that his remains lie respectfully in the well cared for Ossario, and that each year there is a special memorial service, has given great peace to this family who have wondered about his whereabouts for more than 70 years.
After the laying of floral arrangements, the singing of the Australian and Italian National Anthems took place.
Everyone observed a thoughtful and respectful silence as the most moving and heart wrenching trumpet rendition of Il Silenzio, (The Silence) was played.
I have to confess it brings tears to my eyes every year.
Various dignitaries addressed the crowd with messages about the significance of the occasion and appeals for this sacred place and those it honours not to be forgotten.
A Catholic Mass was held in the Italian language including the singing of hymns familiar to many nonItalian speaking who were also present.
After the ceremony was completed, those attending gathered at the local community centre and in the Riverbank Gardens to enjoy lunch together and to be entertained by bands playing favourite Italianmusic and there was even some dancing.
During the years the older generation who attended in the 1960s, when as many as 1200 people were said to be present, have passed away or are no longer well enough to make the journey to Murchison.
We can only hope that the younger generation, particularly with Italian heritage and family connections to those whose remains lie in the Ossario, continue with this important pilgrimage each year to attend the Memorial Service.
Above: Dignitaries on the steps of the Ossario as the trumpet plays.Councillor Dinny Adem pays his respects.Lining up for the Procession on November 11.