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Australians in Italy: Contemporary Lives and Impressions


Bill Kent [editor]; Ros Pesman [editor]; Cynthia Troup [editor]

  1. Download this book
  2. First page
  3. Cover; Copyright and Contributor Information; Table of Contents
  4. Preface
  5. Presentazione
  6. Acknowledgements
  7. Introduction
  9. Ch 1. Australians in Italy: The long view
  10. Ch 2. Twentieth-century diplomatic and trade relations
  11. Ch 3. Some facts and figures
  12. Ch 4. Gaining a foothold: Australian cultural institutions in Italy
  13. Ch 5. Arthur Dale Trendall: A memoir
  15. Ch 6. More than a love affair: Australian writers and Italy
  16. Ch 7. A great tradition revisited
  17. Ch 8. Funghi, family and fables
  18. Ch 9. ‘Everything else in Italy’: A journalist in Rome
  20. Ch 10. Australian artists in Italy: Residencies and residents
  21. Ch 11. Donald Friend: An Australian artist’s affair with Italy
  22. Ch 12. Drawing on Italian art
  23. Ch 13. Rinascimento through a contemporary lens
  25. Ch 14. Australian clergy in Italy after Vatican II
  26. Ch 15. Rome: My two cities
  27. Ch 16. Rediscovering Rome
  28. Ch 17. ‘Unevenly buried’: A personal topography of Rome
  30. Ch 18. Elusive landscapes: Australians and the Italian garden
  31. Ch 19. Educational tourism – cultural landscapes
  32. Ch 20. Carrara: Landscape of stone
  33. Ch 21. Imagining and experiencing Italy in the 1980s and 1990s
  35. Ch 22. Reflections and refractions: An Italian perspective on Australian Studies
  36. Ch 23. Australian cinema in Italy: Sguardi australiani
  37. Ch 24. Remembering Bernard Hickey
  39. Ch 25. Italian Australians in Italy
  40. Ch 26. Washing faces, cleansing hearts: Who am I?
  41. Ch 27. The returned migrants: The Associazione Nazionale Emigrati ed ex Emigrati in Australia
  42. INDEX

Chapter 25

Italian Australians in Italy

Loretta Baldassar

Loretta Baldassar is Associate Professor in the discipline of Anthropology and Sociology, School of Social and Cultural Studies, at the University of Western Australia. She has published widely on Italian-Australian migration and more recently on transnational family relationships. She was born in Perth to Italian migrant parents and has travelled to Italy many times to visit her extended family and undertake anthropological fieldwork. She is currently Chair of the Australasian Centre for Italian Studies.

This essay focuses on ‘the other Italy’: the Italy peopled neither by Renaissance artists or Risorgimento heroes, nor by the Australians who study them. My journey was not to Florence or Rome and the venerable institutions of Villa I Tatti or the British School at Rome but to the Italy of the migrants, specifically to those regions that suffered la miseria, the wretchedness, which fuelled migration as ‘the only hope’ for a better future. I set out in the late 1980s as an anthropology student – and a second generation Italian Australian – to study the continuing connections between individuals, families and communities in both countries. My research began in the cities of Perth and Kalamunda1 in Western Australia and led me to the province of Treviso and, in particular, to the pre-alpine town of San Fior in the north-eastern region of the Veneto, where I lived for two years. I later spent several months gathering comparative data in the port city of Fremantle, Western Australia, and in the coastal towns of Torrenova and Sant’Agata di Militello in the province of Messina, Sicily.

In Italy, for the most part, I immersed myself in the worlds of the locals. I had limited interactions with tertiary institutions, although it is pertinent to mention one memorable encounter with an Italian professor who greeted my research topic with the comment: ‘Ah… the anthropologist comes home to study!’ The notion of ‘home’ is to be read here in the context of the discipline of anthropology; that is, in sharp contrast to the traditional field-site located ‘away’ with the ‘natives’. As a young Australian, I was completely confused by this statement for I was certain I had been headed in the opposite direction: to the ‘subalterns’ of that far away ‘other’ Italy. Such tensions between ‘home’ and ‘away’, ‘us’ and ‘other’, belonging and identity, have characterised my studies ever since.

It is fair to ask whether Italian migrants warrant a place in a volume about Australians in Italy – after all, aren’t they the ‘real’ Italians? My fieldwork reveals in no uncertain terms something of the turmoil of identity and belonging that migration inevitably brings. Of the estimated 360,000 Italians who migrated to Australia between 1947 and 1976, approximately 25 per cent repatriated (Castles 1992, 42). The return rate for the migrants of the period 1922 to 1940 was much higher, at 42.5 per cent (Price 1963, 11). And of those who chose to settle in Australia, almost all – including their Australian-born children – returned to their homeland for visits, or at least planned to. In this essay I discuss the relationship of each of these groups to Italy and argue that repatriates and visitors alike approach Italy (and are received there) in some measure as Australians.

The discussion below also includes another group, one virtually unknown in the literature on Italian migration. My difficulty in deciding how to name its members indicates how precarious their sense of belonging can be. I am referring to the second generation, but not to those living in Australia; rather, to those who returned ‘home’ to Italy. How do we define this generation; as repatriates, as Italian-Australian migrants or, indeed, as Australians – all of which they are? Born in Australia to Italian migrant parents, or arriving in Australia as young children, members of this group spent a considerable part of their childhood in Australia.2 Interestingly, my research so far indicates that members of this second generation group are more likely to refer to their return to Italy as having been ‘taken back’; by contrast, their counterparts who still live in Australia tend to describe their return as a ‘going back’. Instead of the mixture of reunion, reconciliation, pilgrimage and tourism that characterises the return visits of Italian Australians, whatever their generation, the Australian returnees I interviewed describe battles of integration into an alien and often inhospitable society – the classic migrant’s story – but in a place that was supposed to be their home.

The key context in which to locate the drama of the Italian Australian in Italy must be found in ‘popular’ Italian perceptions of Australia and Australians. Here we find a curious and ironic inversion. Perhaps most Australians mentioned in Ros Pesman’s essay, for example, people she describes as guided by ‘Victorian British middle class’ values and prejudices (Pesman 2008, 1.6), regarded the ‘real’ Italians they encountered as inferior. Yet the descendants of these same ‘real’ Italians, most notably those from the developing and newly wealthy Veneto from the 1970s onwards, judged repatriate, returning and visiting Italian Australians to be inferior; that is, to have been contaminated by the ‘land of primitives, serpents and desert’ from which they hailed. No doubt much of this characterisation of Australia by Italians was informed by the leitmotiv of competition that colours the relationships between migrants and their non-migrant kin. However, it is also evident in the comments of the Italian professor about my chosen field of study; according to him, I had come from the quintessential anthropological field-site – remote and marginal Australia, home of the Aborigine.

Repatriation: returns and transformation

Repatriation rates were much higher for migrants from the northern and central regions of Italy than for those from the south, reflecting the degree of industrial development and possibilities for resettlement available in different parts of Italy (Thompson 1980, xix). Between 1960 and 1969 there were 8450 arrivals from the Veneto and 6023 ‘remigrations’, a staggering 71.3 per cent return rate. The proportion for the same period for Sicily was 19.7 per cent of a total emigration of 23, 291 (Thompson 1980, 231). Whether these were in fact permanent repatriations or temporary visits is unknown. Yet it is clear that wherever they were headed, and at whatever period, most Italian-Australian visitors and would-be returnees to Italy arrived cashed up and eager to establish themselves handsomely – create a fine sistemazione – back home. Laden with expensive gifts that symbolised their financial achievements, validated their sacrifices and hard work, and proved their migration had been a success, many anticipated a kind of hero’s welcome, or at least the feast offered a prodigal’s return.

Reunions with non-migrant parenti e paesani (kin and fellow townsmen or villagers), those left behind to struggle with limited opportunities and the pressures of ageing parents, were characterised by a mix of emotions. There was unending joy in the embrace of long-lost siblings and in the first-time meetings between grandparents and grandchildren. There was a deep sense of the mutual obligation between family and community. This was expressed by the exchange of remittances and packages, one of the economic strategies adopted by households spread across space and time. Nevertheless, there were often also resentments and rivalries on both sides: on one hand about having been left behind and on the other at having felt forced to leave. The two sides of the ensuing symbolic competition were played out in a battle over culture and identity, being and belonging.

The migrants discovered untold irritation in the challenges of outdated plumbing, old-fashioned mores, ubiquitous gossip and the locals’ seeming inability to form queues. Women and children in particular complained bitterly about the constant surveillance and gossipy restrictions placed on their behaviour. There were stricter divisions between the genders and gender roles, with men doing far less to assist in the home. Parents lost a certain autonomous control over their children as extended family living arrangements gave relatives direct access to the children.

To the stay-behinds the migrants could appear quite alien, given their questionable clothes, strange speech and new customs; they had become americani (of which the worst kind was the rich americani, too quick to show off their dollars). The non-migrants found the women’s behaviour to be too liberal, individualistic and even selfish; they were disapproving of the children’s inability to speak the local dialect, and judged their knowledge of standard Italian to be snobbish and inappropriate. In the face of the apparent affronts to their status, their standard of living and traditions, the locals missed few opportunities to emphasise the fact that they were the embodiment of the very ‘centre’ of civilisation. They had never left and had always guarded the hearth and home, defence of which, after all, was the motivation and meaning behind the migrants’ struggle.

It was into this world and these perceptions that returning migrants (particularly in the industrialising north) wandered, usually unsuspectingly, only to experience some degree of disillusionment and disappointment. Suddenly, and deeply disconcertingly, the migrants realised that others labelled them australiani. More disturbingly, though, they found themselves – for the first time in their lives – thinking of Australia as home. As a consequence of this rejection or questioning of their italianità (their Italianness), many discovered their Australianness; indeed, second generation repatriates embraced their Australianness.

Here we uncover migration’s fundamental process: transformation. Already, through their difficult and painful experience of settlement in Australia, the migrants had been transformed from kinsmen and townsmen (people with local loyalties to family and community), into Italians. Throughout the period of mass Italian immigration, Australian migration policy required migrants with limited financial resources to be sponsored; Italian policy, too, required the acquisition of an Atto di richiamo (sponsorship form) before departure. Both policies encouraged chain migration. As a result, large numbers of people from the same town came to live in Australia. Several factors conspired, then, to produce relatively high levels of residential and occupational segregation from the wider community. Italian migrants did not represent a cross-section of the Australian labour market and were relegated to the lower end of the economic ladder. In the face of relatively high levels of prejudice and hostility from the local population, based largely on the economic threat they were perceived to pose to the labouring classes, migrants banded together for moral and practical support. In addition, Italians could claim the dubious honour of being amongst the first groups of ‘non-white’ migrants to be welcomed as permanent settlers. Despite their official acceptance in what was then a very white, ‘Anglo’ Australia, Italians were often feared and criticised as morally licentious, dangerous and untrustworthy. In this troubled context of assimilationist Australia, migrants from the length and breadth of the Italian peninsula found themselves collectively baptised ‘Italians’, though before their arrival they would have felt themselves to have little in common. Overall, the regional and provincial divisions of the Old World mattered far less and became much more flexible in the New.

Transformed into ‘Italians’ and to a large part constrained within this identity in Australia, the first generation set about ‘preserving’ such ‘Italianness’ through the invention of quintessential Italian-Australian traditions (like the grand Italian wedding with copious bridesmaids wearing lots of gold jewellery).3 Hearts and minds were focused on Italy, the homeland, and every effort was made to return there. These circumstances simply added to the shock when, on returning to Italy, migrants were obliged to confront just how different from the locals they had become. Their ensuing experiences of Italy varied widely, as demonstrated by the following case studies and migrant voices.

Returning to San Fior and to Sant’Agata

I’ll begin with some snapshot auto-ethnography. My father migrated to Perth in 1956 from Tarzo, a small rural town not far from San Fior. His is a common enough story, with hard work at its core. Beginning with the ‘dirty and dangerous’ jobs that ‘Aussies didn’t want to do’, like felling trees and clearing bush in remote country, he graduated to building and demolition sites in the city, before eventually buying a suburban corner store of the type that opens from dawn to dusk seven days a week. He was no stranger to the perspectives and prejudices of White Australia. He built up a notion, like many of his paesani – particularly when faced with the apparent emancipation of his daughters – that Italy represented all things good and Australia all things bad. It took him 20 years to garner the resources needed to take his family back to Italy on an extended visit. The shock he experienced on discovering just how Australian he had become was matched only by the shock that I felt when, on our second visit a decade later (by which time I had become a young adult), I overheard him singing the praises of Australia to his brothers and old friends at the local bar. Until that moment, I had never in my life heard him say anything remotely positive about Australia, and yet here he was, passionately defending it as both a great place to live and a great place in which to raise children!

It was on this visit that I experienced my own transformation, a kind of rite de passage common to others of my generation. I gained some fluency in the language and knowledge of the culture, developing as well strong attachments to people and locations. I experienced something of what life was like there, such that I was identified (both there and in Australia) as having become ‘more Italian’. But identities have many facets and my right to belong in Italy was contested by the town councillor of Tarzo: ‘So you’ve come to discover America, have you?’ he sneered at my request for citizenship; ‘Why did your father ever migrate if you want to become an Italian citizen?’ These two caustic comments, which upset me greatly at first, were an insight into Italian perspectives on returning migrants.

If this kind of contestation was a bitter pill for me, it was even harder to swallow for the first generation. One man, Antonio Brescacin (Toni), made one of the earliest return visits to San Fior in 1956. He can be credited with having sponsored ‘half the town’ to migrate to Perth. Having helped so many people to access increased opportunities, Toni was well known and well respected in the town. Keen to show off the spoils of his adventures, he returned to Italy with his Holden car; since it was too large to fit into most of the streets in the town, he parked it in the central piazza to be admired by all. The car made a huge impression. At the time, only the local doctor owned a little car, while most people walked or rode bikes.

By contrast, when Toni visited subsequently in 1974, the locals had begun to enjoy the effects of the miracolo Veneto, the Veneto Region’s economic miracle, and were ready to contest the merits of migration; ‘Why do you live there, when America is now here?’ This sentiment renders migration meaningless and presents an enormous challenge to those labour migrants, like Toni, who decided to settle in Australia and thus forsake their original promise to return home. Elsewhere I have argued that for the majority of San Fioresi repatriation was expected; it was an obligation (Baldassar 2001). Forfeiting repatriation could only be excused by significant economic success and the promise of future opportunities for children. Contemplating his Australian-born daughter’s decision to live in Italy, Toni confided; ‘siamo stati fregati’ – ‘we’ve been ripped off (or duped)’ – as if all his many sacrifices had been in vain. Not entirely ‘at home’ in either place, migrants like Toni are often destined to a continuing round of visits, seeking always to be at home, which somehow seems always to be in the place that they are not.

Toni can take some solace in the experiences of the most recent, albeit very few, migrants to Perth from Treviso, who are fleeing what they call the ‘troppo benessere’ (excessive affluence) of the Veneto. Searching for a sea change and healthier pace of life, these new arrivals bemoan the materialism that wealth has brought to their ancestral homes. These rare contemporary Italian-Australian migrants can appreciate Toni’s decision to remain in Australia; some of his paesani in Italy think he’s just too stubborn to ‘come home’, considering this stubbornness a kind of admission that he was wrong to leave. People such as Toni find that a general lack of awareness about the important role migration played in Italy’s economic development is almost as difficult to bear as the scant regard afforded to visiting migrants by the younger Italian generations. ‘They just couldn’t be bothered about us’, complained Toni’s son, Steven, who went on to say:

Whenever anyone visits Perth, we just go all out and organise a big deal, lots of parties, sightseeing, you name it. The best example is how I had to get my old uncle to take me skiing because my cousins couldn’t be bothered. It would be like your old man taking your young cousin to the beach in Perth instead of you…

Biagio Cicirello from Sant’Agata in Sicily has a modest sistemazione in Fremantle and the ability to afford to visit his birthplace; unlike Toni Brescacin he continues to enjoy his status in Italy as a successful townsman. Sant’Agata is now far from the depressed state it was in when Biagio first left its shores in 1954, yet it has not enjoyed anything like the economic development of San Fior, or Fremantle for that matter. Dotted across the countryside and towns of Sicily are the impressive (by local standards) case australiane, americane, tedesche, Australian, American and German homes; that is, houses built with emigrant wealth and with the generous dimensions to match. In Sicily the value of migration remains strong, although those locals who chose to migrate to closer destinations like Germany, Switzerland and northern Italy are considered to have made better choices than those who went to ‘the other side of the world’. Australian migrants cannot afford nearly as many return visits as their European counterparts. However, the relatively unsullied status of the migrant in southern Italy is still no protection against challenges to returnees’ right to belong. Returning migrant women, in particular, find the moral and gender codes oppressive and restrictive. For example, Biagio’s Australian-born daughter Gianna left Australia aged 21, believing herself to be a ‘real Italian’. On arrival in her father’s home town she discovered that, in her words: ‘Mate, there are different types of Italians!’ Gianna and her three Italian-Australian girlfriends (myself included) caused some serious consternation among the locals because of a propensity for travelling ‘on their own’, for having coffee in bars and talking to young men they didn’t know, and for swimming in the sea ‘after lunch’. ‘It’s a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there’, was Gianna’s final assessment of her ancestral home.

These various examples of the rather fraught relationship between Italian-Australian visitors and Italian locals provide some insight into the experience of the returnees who chose to re-establish themselves in Italy. For the San Fioresi repatriates, there seem to have been few rewards for meeting their moral obligation to return home; ‘They said we were asleep and should wake up’ explained one repatriate when describing his futile attempts to form a queue at the post office and bank. ‘They thought we had sunstroke’, recalls another. After a decade or so in Perth, and despite having resettled in Italy for over 40 years, many repatriates still do not quite feel entirely at home in San Fior. One woman continues to miss what she summed up simply as the ‘pure freedom’ of Australia: ‘you could wear whatever you wanted, people weren’t looking at you from top to toe all the time. Here, they are too much when it comes to dress; you can’t wear open-toe shoes in winter and you can’t wear dark colours in summer, it’s just too much’. Her daughter laughs at this comment, remembering only too well her mother’s complaints about her so-called ‘Aussie’ dress style when they lived in Australia until she was 13: ‘I was never properly dressed, as far as she was concerned, never Italian enough. And yet, when we got back here, even Mum thought it was over the top… My grandmother forbade me to wear certain shoes in public, like thongs, and tracksuit pants were strictly for the bedroom!’

‘Italy through Australian-Italian eyes’

The frustration and sense of alienation experienced by repatriates inspired a group of returned migrants to form the Associazione Nazionale Emigrati ed Ex emigrati in Australia (ANEA) in 1976.4 This organisation has headquarters in Padua and caters to the interests and welfare of migrants, including repatriated migrants, on the assumption that, according to its founder, Aldo Lorigiola, ‘once a migrant, always a migrant’. Aldo spent over 13 years in Australia, and his own account of ANEA appears below in this volume (Lorigiola 2010).

In the major work on Italian return migration from Australia, Australia through Italian Eyes, Stephanie Thompson (1980) does not overtly describe the repatriates as a group separate from their former townspeople who did not migrate overseas. Nonetheless, she does note that without exception ‘readapting to life back in Italy was not automatic’ (210). Thompson’s book could have been equally aptly titled ‘Italy through Australian-Italian eyes’. The difficulties associated with resettlement and, in particular, the tendency for the experience of repatriation to be underestimated if not completely ignored, make ANEA a significant source of support for returnees. The association acts as a lobby group which, for example, successfully mobilised Australian-Italian associations in 2000 to pressure the Australian government into reforming its policies concerning dual citizenship (Lorigiola 1987, 49–72). ANEA also plays an important mediating and mentoring role on migration issues relvant to both the Italian and the Australian governments. Its strong involvement in the bilateral agreement on matters of social security between Australia and Italy in 1985 is further evidence of its potential for political clout. As well as this kind of advocacy, the association provides a base of sociability for repatriates. Thus ANEA enables them to share their very real sense of nostalgia for the places of their migration, including Australia, a land where many spent – in the words of one member, Fabio Fabbian –‘their entire youth and the best years of their lives’. Fabio lived in Australia for 12 years before returning to his native Padua. His son Damian was born in Melbourne, and the whole family feels a strong connection with Australia. They have visited on several occasions, and Fabio’s active involvement in ANEA is inspired by his love for Australia.

The second generation repatriates, like Damian Fabbian, probably had some of the toughest experiences of integration, and it is questionable whether even an association such as ANEA is attuned to their particular needs. Those in this second generation group to whom I have spoken, who often returned to Italy in the delicate and difficult pre and early teenage years, felt abandoned in a school system that was poorly equipped to support them. Viewed and treated as stranieri (foreigners), they struggled with limited language ability in pedagogical systems uninformed by the multicultural perspectives common today. ‘I cried a lot, really a lot’ recalls Perth-born Lisa Favero, who returned to Italy as an eight-year-old. Having Italian parents, Italian ancestry and hence a strong family connection to the place did not seem to facilitate belonging: ‘people just saw you as a foreigner, it didn’t matter if you could speak Italian or not, or if you had Italian parents, you were just a foreigner to them’. ‘English lessons were the worst’, explained Lisa’s older sister Teresa:

You’d think that [English] would have been my best subject, that the teacher might have made some use of me to help her, but no, no, no, the opposite in fact. She was mortified if I ever dared to correct her pronunciation or vocabulary … and you know kids, they blurt out the right word when they hear a mistake, what do you expect! She made my life hell.

Simone Bianchi5 recounts similar experiences; his school teachers in Italy discouraged him from speaking English. Simone was born in Italy to an Italian father and an Australian mother, and it is notable that he has always felt a sense of belonging to both places. Simone’s family undertook several visits ‘home’ to Australia while he was growing up in the Veneto, and he recalls that:

Australia was an invisible country. It was a place which all the people I knew, knew nothing or next to nothing about... Australia always felt like… it was in a separate world… it was sort of somewhere where we had to go to and no-one around me except for my mother and very few friends… could help me sort of understand what the country was.

Simone described what he called ‘the hostility and prejudice’ that his siblings, but especially his mother, suffered on account of being ‘different’ and ‘seen as stranieri’. Fortunately for Simone, he learnt from an early age to ‘pass’ as Italian. Not so lucky his mother, whose accent set her apart, casting her, in the eyes of the local Italians, in a negative light. Even the town priest registered his concerns about the children’s exposure to the English language (so revealing, one suspects, negative perceptions about ‘English ways’). Simone surmises that it was not until his mother moved to live in the more cosmopolitan city of Milan in the 1980s that she felt more accepted.

Something of the Italian experience of second generation repatriates, or of second generation Australians like Simone, is captured in the often heartfelt struggles surrounding citizenship. Simone Bianchi is very fortunate in that he has been able to hold dual citizenship all his life, a privilege accessible to only some since the relevant laws changed in 1992. As a minor, Simone had been entitled to both passports. Because he turned 18 after 1992, he was not forced to opt for one nationality as had been the requirement in the past. However, he was obliged to attend a special ceremony during which he was to declare his allegiance to Italy:

even though I had dual citizenship, Italian law is such that I had to, at the age of 18, I had to officially… basically state that I accepted to be an Italian citizen and I was going to abide by all the laws and regulations of Italy. So it was quite an interesting official ceremony in which I had to sort of state that… I became a 100 per cent [Italian] citizen.

Paradoxically, Simone had to make such a declaration in order to retain his dual citizenship. Had he not done so, he would have become Australian only.

Not so the Favero sisters who, despite their loss of Australian citizenship (because they turned 18 before 1992), continue to feel Australian, and are dismayed that they are not entitled to dual citizenship. Here the vagaries of citizenship laws are worth noting. For example, I am entitled to dual citizenship because my father renounced his Italian citizenship to become a British subject after my birth. This results in the odd situation by which my father, who was born in Italy, has no access to Italian citizenship, while I, Australian-born, do have it, along with my Australian-Singaporean sons – but not so my siblings, who were born after my father renounced his Italian passport. In sum, as Lisa and Teresa Favero emphatically point out, citizenship (or more precisely the lack of it) is not necessarily a valid measure of identity or belonging.6

Something of the dramatic changes that have occurred in contemporary Italy are glimpsed through the experiences of young Isaac Finaldi. Born in London in 1995 to an Italian mother and British-Italian father, Isaac lived the first few years of his life in Rome and Florence before moving to Perth with his family in 2003. In 2007 Isaac and his family spent six months in Italy where he attended a local school in Florence. There Isaac found that his ‘Australianness’ was of some modest interest to his classmates; consequently it was something of which he could feel proud. In addition, the relatively large number of immigrant children from North Africa and Asia in the class made Isaac seem much more Italian than foreign, despite his British and Australian identities. Unlike Teresa Favero’s teacher, Isaac’s English teacher appears to have put him ‘to good use’, calling on him and a fellow American student to point out differences in English pronunciation and expression. Isaac explained that his teacher ‘definitely didn’t speak English as a first language’, and it seemed to him that she ‘felt lucky to have someone helping her out’. Isaac, whose Italian is quite fluent, was also often asked to assist the American student who had a limited knowledge of the language.

As Isaac Finaldi discovered, being Australian in Italy today is more likely to contribute to one’s cultural capital than detract from it. If my trendy young Italian cousins are anything to go by, Australia is now primarily viewed as a prize holiday destination, known for its sun-drenched and pristine beaches, laid-back lifestyle and (thanks probably to the extremely popular Perth supermodel, Megan Gale) beautiful people. This growing interest in Australia is largely a case of ‘too little, too late’ for the migrant generation, many of whom have come to feel more at home in Australia than Italy.

In conclusion, with the dramatic changes in wealth and economic development over time, along with the increased opportunities for travel and communication between their countries of birth and adoption, Italian Australians today have more access to their ancestral homeland than ever before. A continual sense of belonging and identity, often experienced as feeling torn between two places, is partly due to the greater levels of exchange (on many levels) between both countries. This constant and seemingly ever-growing set of connections can facilitate a deep sense of attachment to both places. For all the disappointment and disillusionment that return can bring – evidenced in the above discussion – the durable social context provided by kin and community ensures that relationships are maintained, despite the distances of time and space and the inherent challenges to belonging that persist. In addition, many Italian migrants harbour profound feelings of connection to country (paese), and they often speak of the need to reinvigorate their senses by simply being in the special places of their youth. Because to see, smell, hear, taste and touch these places seems somehow to soothe the soul, while confirming identities on many levels: local, national and as migrant. If these experiences of Italian-Australian migrants in Italy are any guide, perhaps Australia’s best – if somehow unlikely – ambassadors are its migrants.


1 Kalamunda is located in the hills 25 kilometres north-east of Perth.

2 There are also a number of children with one Australian parent who were born and grew up in Italy but undertook visits ‘home’ to Australia.

3 Weddings in Italy usually only involve two sponsors (one chosen by the bride and one by the groom).

4 The association later became known as the Associazione Nazionale Emigrati ex Emigrati Australia e Americhe (ANEA 2008).

5 Pseudonym used.

6 The laws have improved, however, since my grandmother’s day. Together with her siblings and their mother, my grandmother lost her Italian citizenship and all associated rights – including a scholarship to study at secondary school – when her father became a British subject in Australia, even though she was living in Italy at the time. It took 12 years before the family was reunited in Australia.


Associazione Nazionale Emigrati ex Emigrati Australia e Americhe. 2008. ‘Associazione Nazionale Emigrati ex Emigrati Australia e Americhe’. Accessed 1 February 2008. Available from:

Baldassar, Loretta. 2001. Visits Home: Migration Experiences between Italy and Australia. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press.

Baldassar, Loretta; Pesman, Ros. 2005. From Paesani to Global Italians: Veneto Migrants in Australia. Crawley: University of Western Australia Press.

Castles, Stephen. 1992. ‘Italian migration and settlement since 1945’. In Australia’s Italians: Culture and Community in a Changing Society, edited by Castles, Stephen, et al. Sydney: Allen and Unwin.

Lorigiola, Aldo. 1987. Radici al Sole, dieci anni di amicizia fra migranti. Padua: Edizioni Messaggero.

Lorigiola, Aldo. 2010 ‘The returned migrants: The Associazione Nazionale Emigrati ed ex Emigrati in Australia’. In Australians in Italy: Contemporary Lives and Impressions, edited by Kent, Bill; Pesman, Ros; Troup, Cynthia. Melbourne: Monash University Publishing.

Pesman, Ros. 2008. ‘Australians in Italy: The long view’. In Australians in Italy: Contemporary Lives and Impressions, edited by Kent, Bill; Pesman, Ros; Troup, Cynthia. Melbourne: Monash University ePress.

Price, Charles A. 1963. The Method and Statistics of Southern Europeans in Australia. Melbourne: Oxford University Press.

Thompson, Stephanie Lindsay. 1980. Australia Through Italian Eyes: A Study of Settlers Returning from Australia to Italy. Melbourne: Oxford University Press.


Publication information

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

Australians in Italy: Contemporary Lives and Impressions

   by Bill Kent [editor]; Ros Pesman [editor]; Cynthia Troup [editor]