This publication does a valuable service in analysing the presence of Australians in Italy over recent history and that presence is significant, although obviously less well known and less studied than that of Italians in Australia.
A visit to the non-catholic cemetery in Rome reveals that a number of people from Australia have been buried there over the years, often after making a significant impact in their chosen field in Italy, such as the arts, literature, diplomacy and business, including a former Australian Ambassador to Italy, Hugh Alexander McClure Smith CVO. The fact that these Australians also came at different times using various means of transport shows that geographic distance need be no obstacle, even less so in the modern transport era.
No-one need be surprised to recognise that it is those people who are prepared to overcome the physical divide who form the bedrock of our excellent bilateral relationship. Some have gone well beyond the call of duty. I wish to recall one prominent Australian in particular, Professor Bernard Hickey, who was instrumental in promoting the study of Australian literature in Italy. The start of my appointment in Italy coincided with his untimely death, but I have had ample opportunity to learn of the tremendous influence he had in introducing Australian literature to generations of Italian students and his role as Australia’s ‘unofficial ambassador’.
The Italian presence in Australia is well documented and, while the era of mass migration is now behind us, the flow still goes on, now perhaps concentrated more on business, scientific, academic and cultural exchange, not forgetting tourism. In particular, it is a pleasure to see an increasing number of young Italians take the opportunity to spend some time working, studying and travelling in Australia.
The Australian presence in Italy takes two forms. The first is the large number of returning Italo-Australians who choose to enjoy their retirement in Italy, often dividing their time between the two countries and feeling equally at home in either. The second, again in increasing numbers, is that of Australians, perhaps without direct Italian roots, who come here for a variety of reasons such as business, study, sport or simply for tourism. While they often initially come for a short period, this may then become a decision to stay permanently or at least for a significant number of years. Whether a permanent resident in Italy, like one of Australia’s best known artists Jeffrey Smart, or more recent arrivals, including young Australians making an impact in film production, material design and the law, each of them brings a piece of Australia with them.
And what do these Australians have to offer Italy? First, they come from a culture which has been partly shaped by Italian emigration and so have some feel for Italy and its customs. In addition, they come from a country whose lifeblood is immigration and which has developed a truly multicultural society in the space of just a few generations. This is an experience which Italy is now going through, while seeking to retain its own unique identity. We have some positive experience to offer. Finally, we have that most particular of Australian characteristics, what we call the ANZAC spirit, that determination to go on striving for success, despite setbacks and adversity. Thankfully, it is not a quality which we need to display in our everyday lives in Italy, but it has helped Australian business people, sports stars and cultural performers make a mark in their adopted country.
Ambassador of Australia to Italy
This chapter is from Australians in Italy: Contemporary Lives and Impressions, edited by Bill Kent, Ros Pesman and Cynthia Troup (Monash University Publishing: Clayton, Melbourne. 2010). For more information about this book, or to purchase print copies, please go to http://www.publishing.monash.edu/books/ai.html.