Chapter 27 – Vignette
The returned migrants: The Associazione Nazionale Emigrati ed ex Emigrati in Australia
Aldo Lorigiola travelled to Australia in 1955 from North America as a member of the Scalabrinian order. He spent over 13 years in Australia closely involved with providing assistance of all kinds to Italian migrants. In 1960 he opened Wollongong’s Sacred Heart Italian Centre, a project supported by donations from his former parishioners in New York; the Centre catered especially for young Italian men who worked in the BHP steelworks, and made available a social club, English language classes, and information on social welfare. In 1964 Lorigiola became the Superior of the Australian province of the Scalabrinians. Also in Australia he established the Federazione Cattolica Italiana, a lay organisation which published the journal Il Messaggero. In Italy in 1976, he helped to found the association now called the Associazione Nazionale Emigrati ed ex Emigrati in Australia e Americhe, of which he is President. He lives in Padua.
Italian migrants and their children and grandchildren visiting those places where they or their parents and grandparents were born and grew up are a significant Australian presence in Italy. This vignette discusses a particular group of Italian Australians, the migrants who returned to Italy permanently; those who, after some years of residence in Australia, have found their way back to their native towns, cities and regions throughout Italy. Statistics indicate that about 22 per cent of the original Italian migrants leaving Australia between 1960 and 1975 did so at an average age of 36 years, and after some 12 years of residence. These statistics represent 90,000 people, some of whom were naturalised Australians and/or Australian-born. Within this group, my focus is on those who have wished to maintain their ties with Australia and with one other through membership of the Associazione Nazionale Emigrati ed Ex emigrati in Australia (ANEA), the body of which I have been President for many years. These returned migrants might well be described as Australian Italians.
The above-mentioned return rate of migration is rather high, prompting some in Australia to ask why so many migrants left their adopted land. Was it because the Italian migrants did not like Australia, or did not think it somehow good enough to be where they wanted to settle and spend the rest of their lives? An answer to these questions may be found in the integration process Italian migrants went through while residing in Australia. A decade or so may mean little in the span of a whole life. Yet when those 10 years involve uprooting from one’s native land and undergoing the process of integrating oneself into a new country alongside immigrants from many other places, the decade from, say, 21 to 30 years of age constitutes a sufficient time span during which hearts and souls can change; during which traditional ways of thinking, judging and achieving can be challenged, and feelings of belonging can become complicated. In Australian factories and in pubs, over back fences, on buses and trams, inside and outside churches, time and goodwill have ensured that many migrants have come to think of their experience of Australia as part of the fabric of their existence.
The migrants were changed by their lives in the now far off and difficult years of assimilation – with its experience of Australian impatience, intolerance and arrogance – and later in those more humane years of multiculturalism, one of Australia’s great achievements. Since 1973, the policy of multiculturalism has led most if not all of Australia’s Italian new citizens to feel a sense of belonging to their new land, and to accept and overcome the challenges posed by recurrent surges of antagonism, surges that I would not, however, define as racism. My reluctance to define them as such is based on my own years in Australia, during which I was closely connected to the saga of Italian migrants who were trying hard to settle down and fulfil their original dreams. My experience led me to believe that the antagonism towards migrants relates more to a difficulty in accepting diversity than to racism as such. My own experience also suggests that Australian institutions, including trade unions, even when they upheld assimilationist policies, have for the most part treated migrants on an equal basis with the long-established population of largely British extraction. It is not my purpose here to further analyse the integration experience of migrants in Australia. The issue has been raised as a necessary introduction to understanding the situation of those Italian migrants who returned to Italy; to understanding them as Australian Italians in Italy.
Italian migrants’ reasons for leaving Australia were numerous and not always the result of careful consideration. On many occasions the decision to return to Italy was made on the spur of the moment, when something ‘clicked’ in the individual’s conscious or subconscious mind. Was the cause a fiancée waiting back home, or the need to find a wife in the migrant’s paese (home town); or was it rather the desire to see ageing parents or the attractions of Italy’s economic boom? Whatever the reasons, on their return migrants found themselves in the same old piazza, though now it was surrounded by new building. Or they found themselves in familiar suburbs crowded with people they did not know living in comfortable flats – though as a result of Italy’s rapid development away from its ancient backwardness and poverty, people were crammed into their flats like sardines. Thus in no time, the returned migrants came to realise that they no longer belonged to the old village or district or suburb: they felt like paesani spaesati, an almost untranslatable phrase that means something like ‘uprooted locals’. They were somehow different from their relatives and friends who had never left the paese; there was something obviously foreign and unacceptable about them. So upon returning home, the migrants faced a full-scale cultural confrontation.
Having taken the decision to stay, the returned migrants hardly imagined how hard the road to re-integration would be; how, as with the road to integration in Australia, it would take time and patience to traverse this road in Italy. Furthermore, the latter path would require energy, much of which had been generously spent elsewhere at a fresher and stronger age. The returned migrants found themselves in a ‘no-man’s-land’ between three cultures: the old culture ‘at home’ in the Italy that they knew well; the more recent Italian experience in which they had taken no part; and the culture of the ‘new world’ they had inhabited, and in many cases come to cherish, in a far distant land. In addition, many such migrants had Australian-born children perhaps old enough to have received their primary school education in Australia. Although some of the returnees could not bear re-integration (or the feeling of being an immigrant in their own original homes), the tens of thousands who wanted to succeed knew what to do, and that was to form little ‘Australias in Italy’ wherever there existed a strong enough group, little Australias that were not intended to be against anything or anybody but were regarded as a means of keeping and bringing to fruition whatever cultural and economic advantages had been acquired made possible by their immigration to Australia.
By the mid 1970s there were large concentrations of returnees in northern regions of Italy such as Veneto, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, and Trentino, and in the south in Calabria. These people had generally known each other in their initial wanderings around North Queensland, the north and south coasts of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and then, in the course of settling in a permanent way, in metropolitan areas, particularly in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide. By re-integrating into Italy, these people did not wish to lose the rich personal and community experience they had acquired in Australia: in a sense they wanted to become Australian Italians rather than Italian Australians. Therefore these returnees wanted to group together, and to find leadership; they hoped to preserve and maintain their new identity and to have it accepted into the Italian social fabric, just as they had maintained significant aspects of their earlier identity while residing in Australia.
The formation of ANEA
The systematic but modest formation of little Australias in Italy began in 1976 with the foundation of a nonprofit, non political, non religious national association of former migrants in Australia. It was registered as the Associazione Nazionale Emigrati ed Ex emigrati in Australia (ANEA) in Padua on 6 May 1976. Later on the association was officially recognised by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (DGEAS-1978), the Veneto Region (1983) and the Calabria Region (1985). News of ANEA spread very quickly, mainly by word of mouth, as returnees began meeting for a carefully planned program of cultural, social and recreational activities. These activities now bring members together five or six times a year on a local, provincial and regional level. Once a year, the association organises a national conference attended by between 1500 and 2000 returnees and Italian Australians on vacation in Italy. The conference is designed to bring to the attention of civil institutions in Italy and to Australian diplomats in Italy the many problems that migrants and returnees have experienced. Apart from a National Council, the association is subdivided into branches directed by local boards. Formally established branches have been operating in the provinces of Padua (2), Verona (1), Vicenza (7), Treviso (5), Belluno (1), Trento (1), Pordenone (5), Udine (1), Gorizia (1), Trieste (1), Asti (1), Foligno-Perugia (1), Genga-Ancona (1), Marigliano-Naples (1), Beltiglio-Benevento (1), Catanzaro (8), Cosenza (1) and Reggio Calabria (1). Close links with Australia are kept very active through branches established in Adelaide, Horsham, Melbourne, Wollongong, Sydney, Townsville and Darwin. The total membership comprises about 9500 people.
ANEA is financed exclusively from the annual dues and voluntary work of its members, and through their fundraising activities. Major events may be housed in public buildings that are made available by local civil institutions in appreciation of the association’s work. Motivations for maintaining ANEA’s vitality have remained so strong and genuine that lack of finance has never been a serious hindrance. The association publishes a quarterly magazine titled Il Canguro which reports news about ANEA, and wider news about Australia.
Relations with the Australian Embassy in Rome and the Consulate General in Milan have been close and constant, and ANEA is known and appreciated in Canberra, where its delegations quite often meet with officials to discuss issues of interest to Italian Australians residing in both countries. The association has been an effective lobby group, as exemplified by its role throughout negotiations concerning the social security agreement between Australia and Italy (FaHCSIA 2008).
The association has helped to keep Australia ‘on the map’ in Italy. In 1988 it went to some trouble to celebrate in Italy the Bicentenary of European settlement in Australia. Meetings were well-planned and attended wherever the association was strong; nearly 3000 people took part in the celebrations. Since its inception the association has taken particular care in promoting and updating courses in Italian public schools on the history of Italian migration, and in assisting teachers by providing material on this theme. Help is freely given to students whose research is focused on Italians in Australia; indeed, research projects on this subject are promoted by the association and are sometimes published at its expense if and when funds are available. ANEA has also created a rich travelling exhibition of photos from the private albums of migrants, which can be mounted at public events.
I have given a brief sample of the many activities of ANEA. Let me say, however, that in many ways the association’s lobbying encompasses the general situation of all Italian migrants; therefore, it has attracted the attention of Italian migrants in – and returnees from – countries other than Australia. Some years ago, migrants from the USA, Canada and Latin America, particularly from Brazil, petitioned to join the association, in order to create a cohesive push for things that could not be achieved by individual groups. As a result, the word ‘Americhe’ – the Americas – was added to the official title of the association (ANEA 2008). Nevertheless, over 90 per cent of ANEA’s membership in Italy comprises Italian Australians.
Italian migrants to Australia remain proud of Italy and attached to Australia, while returnees remain loyal to Australia as well as to Italy; both groups wish both countries well. The experiences of migrants and former migrants offer proof that a genuine patriotism can exist that unites feelings of allegiance and loyalty to two or more countries.
Associazione Nazionale Emigrati ex Emigrati Australia e Americhe (ANEA). 2008. ‘Associazione Nazionale Emigrati ex Emigrati Australia e Americhe’. Accessed 14 March 2008. Available from: http://xoomer.alice.it/alorigio/.
Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA). 2008. ‘Social Security Agreement between Australia and The Republic of Italy’. [Internet]. Australian Government. Accessed 14 March 2008. Available from: http://www.facs.gov.au/internet/facsinternet.nsf/international/italy-italy.htm.
Lorigiola, Aldo. 1987. Radici al Sole, dieci anni di amicizia fra migranti. Padua: Edizioni Messaggero.
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.