History of Italians in Australia
Italians have a long and proud history of living in and contributing to Australian society and culture.
The Australian Department of Social Services reports the following about early Italian influence on Australian history:
“Italians have long played an important role in Australia’s history. As early as 1676, a Dominican missionary based in Manila prepared a map that featured the Australian land mass. A Venetian was aboard Captain Cook’s ship, the Endeavour.”
Source: The Department of Social Services.
The Museum of Victoria further notes that “The Italian presence in Australia predates the First Fleet. James Matra and Antonio Ponto, both of Italian descent, were aboard the ship ‘Endeavour’ with Captain James Cook on his voyage of discovery in 1770. Convict Giuseppe Tuzo arrived with the First Fleet, and eventually settled in Sydney.”
The Department of Social Services further reports later Italian influence in Australia:
“In the nineteenth century, Italian priests carried out missionary work in Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory, and the Italian linguist Raffaello Carboni, played a significant role in the Eureka Stockade revolt of 1854. Hundreds of Italians were lured to Victoria and Western Australia by the 1850s gold rushes, creating Italian communities that catered to miners on the goldfields.
“In 1885 a group of 300 migrants from northern Italy established a traditional Italian community called ‘New Italy’ in northern New South Wales, in what is now called Woodburn. Italian fishermen also established communities along the south coast of New South Wales, Port Pirie and Fremantle. During this period, Italian labourers arrived in Queensland to work in the cane fields. By the late 1930s, one-third of all Australia’s Italian migrants lived in the cane-growing regions of Queensland. Italians also became involved in market gardens, comprising about 40 per cent of Queensland’s market gardeners.
“After World War II Italian immigration increased dramatically. In 1947 Australia’s Italy born numbered 33,632 and by 1971 this had increased to 289,476. Most Italian migrants came from Sicily, Calabria and Veneto and settled in metropolitan areas. The majority were young single men. Italy experienced economic buoyancy after 1971, which prompted many Italians to return to Italy. This led to a decline in the size of the Italy-born population in Australia.”
Source: The Department of Social Services.
One notable group of Italians in Australia during World War II were Italian soldiers who were imprisoned and local residents who were interned during the war. The National Archives of Australia notes that during World War II. “In all, just over 20 per cent of all Italians resident in Australia were interned.”
Source: The National Archives of Australia.
The Conversation news site reports adds that “When Fascist Italy declared war on Britain in mid-1940, almost 5,000 Italians living in Australia were imprisoned in internment camps. Few Italian families escaped the human cost of detention as “enemy aliens” during World War Two.”
Source: The Conversation.
Wikipedia reports that “Between 1941 and 1945, Australia received custody of 18,420 Italian POWs. The bulk came from British camps in India. During this time prisoners wore burgundy/maroon clothing. Then, after Italy signed an armistice with the Allies in September 1943, the Australian authorities took between 13,000 and 15,000 Italian prisoners out of the POW camps and put them to work.”
Italians in Victoria
Italians have had a long and fruitful relationship with the colony and state of Victoria. The Museum of Victoria reports that:
“When the gold ran out, many Italians left Victoria to work in other parts of Australia. Those who stayed established small, mainly agricultural communities in country Victoria. The Italian cultural association – the Dante Alighieri Society – established a branch [in Melbourne] in 1896, its first branch outside Italy. By then, around 1,500 Italians lived in Victoria. Many worked as labourers, artisans, artists, doctors, agriculturalists, retailers, manufacturers and scientists. Engineers such as Carlo Catani and Ettore Checchi transformed the city of Melbourne and oversaw irrigation and water catchment projects around the State.
“Italians continued to settle in Victoria in the early years of the twentieth century, many to escape economic hardship in their homeland. However, the 1925 Immigration Act created a quota system limiting people from selected countries, and by 1928 the number of Italian immigrants allowed into Australia was strictly limited.
“The number of Italy-born Victorians peaked at 121,000 in 1971. Italian immigration then declined, but Italians are still the fifth-largest immigrant community in Victoria after the English community, with 70,532 Italy-born people recorded in the 2016 census.”
Source: Museum of Victoria.
Italians in Melbourne
Melbourne, the capital of Victoria, has its own interesting Italian history, also much influenced by the Gold Rush.
“The first Italians who came to Melbourne were adventurers or ex-convicts. Carlo Brentani, transported to Van Diemen’s Land, became a respectable silversmith in Collins Street and was commissioned to craft the winner’s trophy for the 1849 Flemington races.
“Gold brought approximately 4000 Italian speakers to the colony [of Victoria], many from the Valtellina and the neighbouring Swiss cantons of Tessin and Grisons. Most returned home but a small number settled in Victoria as farmers and small business owners. The wealth generated from gold attracted an influential group of Italians over succeeding decades including opera singer Pietro Cecchi (Dame Nellie Melba’s first voice teacher), musician Alberto Zelman Snr, Carlo Catani (who was responsible for major engineering works), Ettore Checchi (a senior officer with the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works), Government astronomer, Pietro Baracchi (government astronomer), and Ferdinando Gagliardi, State Librarian. Skilled craftsmen also arrived and were contracted to work for British builders and architects developing some of Melbourne’s notable buildings such as the Block Arcade and the ANZ Bank, Collins Street.
“In the 1890s a number of skilled street musicians from Viggiano entertained Melburnians playing the harp and the violin. They formed a small community in Little Lonsdale Street before moving to Carlton. Many immigrants from the Eolian Islands (Sicily) also settled in Melbourne and opened ‘fruit palaces’ in suburbs such as Windsor, Hawthorn, Brighton, Flemington, Brunswick and Richmond. Popular restaurants such as Fasoli’s and Rinaldi’s Café e Cucina Italiana in Lonsdale Street opened their doors at the turn of the 20th century.
“The pre-World War II immigrants were particularly entrepreneurial (in 1933 52.8% were self-employed) establishing themselves as greengrocers, tailors, shoemakers and bakers in small businesses that became meeting places for local communities. Their success and reputation were based on supplying quality produce, expert advice and good community relations.
“Between 1947 and 1961 Italians in Victoria increased from 8305 to 91 075. They found employment in infrastructure and construction, automotive, engineering, textile and fashion and the food production and service industry. The main reason for such an influx was the destruction caused by the war and the resulting poverty in Italian regional and country areas.
“While maintaining their traditional roles as wives and mothers, transmitting regional customs, family values and skills, Italian immigrant women contributed to the well-being of their family by joining the paid workforce, most for the first time. Many became process workers in large manufacturing industries but others put their traditional needlework skills to use by entering the fashion and textile industries, working for clothing companies located in Flinders Lane.
“By the 1960s distinct Italian communities began to grow in urban and regional areas such as Brunswick, Coburg, Preston, Essendon and Oakleigh. The number of Italian regional clubs and associations increased, replicating the village life and the network system the immigrants left behind. They were also important venues for meeting prospective wives at a time when there was substantial disparity in the sex ratio.”
Little Italy in Melbourne
The heart of Melbourne’s Italian community is Lygon Street in inner city Carlton. Wikipedia notes that:
“Little Italy in Victoria, Australia (sometimes referred to as the “Italian Precinct” or simply “Lygon Street”), is a “Little Italy” cultural precinct of the Italian community of Melbourne. It is situated along Lygon Street in the inner-Melbourne suburb of Carlton.
“According to the 2006 Australian census, Victoria has the largest Italian-Australian population in Australia (around 200,000 statewide), with much of its inner-Melbourne population recorded in the suburbs of Carlton and nearby Brunswick.
“Lygon Street is home to a large concentration of Italian restaurants, and is the birthplace of Melbourne’s “cafe culture”.
Aging Melbourne Is Less Italian
As reported above, Italian migration to Australia has slowed since its heyday of 1947 to 1971. The Melbourne Age newspaper reports that in 2016: “the Italian-born community is in decline, down to 63,332 residents compared with 87,392 in 1996.
“It’s an ageing community, with almost 40 per cent of Italian-born Melburnians aged 75 and older.”
The Italian Population in Australia Today
According to Wikipedia, “Italian Australians comprise the sixth largest ethnic group in Australia, with the 2016 census finding 4.6% of the population (1,000,013 people) claiming ancestry from Italy be they migrants to Australia or their descendants born in Australia of Italian heritage. [The 2016 census counted 174,044 people (2.8% of the foreign born population) who were born in Italy…] By 2016, Italian was identified as the fifth most spoken language other than English with 271,597 speakers.”
The Department of Social Services notes that “The 2011 distribution [of Italy-born] by state and territory showed Victoria had the largest number with 76 909 followed by New South Wales (51 626), South Australia (20 708) and Western Australia (19 477).”
Source: The Australian Department of Social Services.
Italian Legacy in Australia
The influence of Italian culture on Australian society has been immense, especially in food and hospitality.
Citing Multicultural Communities Online, the Life in Italy website reports from Dr. Laura Baldassar that:
“It is today hard to believe that garlic was once an unknown and highly suspicious food, that olive oil was only available from chemists in small glass bottles for medicinal purposes, that bread was prized for its ability to be cut in thin square slices, that cheese came in silver paper and melted into slippery blobs when cooked, that pasta was not a familiar dish, that wine was considered a foreign beverage for foreigners and that tea was a far more popular drink than coffee.”
The Life in Italy website continues, “Now Italian restaurants can be found everywhere, even in the suburbs…Cappuccinos are a favorite beverage of Australians and Australians love to eat pasta and drink wine.
“Italians played a big role in introducing Australians to wine and Italian-style wines, such as logrein, barbera, and sangiovese are increasingly popular. They also helped to make the ‘coffee culture’ popular and many coffee brands in Australia have Italian origins and many different types of coffee are available at coffee shops and in the supermarkets.
“The Italian influence on Australian life has been enormous and it is almost too difficult to categorize it. Since they first came here more than one hundred years ago, Italian immigrants and descendants have done their best to introduce Anglo-Australians to ‘La Dolce Vita’.”
Source: Life in Italy.
To gain an insight into Italian influence on Australia and Melbourne, view the documentary Lygon Street.
Watch the trailer of Lygon Street.
Italians in Australia Today
Today, many young Italians come to Australia to study, travel and especially to work in Australia’s hospitality and farming industries. Read more about Australian Chef and Cook visas and watch the documentary 88 Days about young Italians blossoming on Australia’s farms.
Australia’s Leading Immigration Agents for Italians
Read about Migration Ways, its Italian background, and Italian success stories.
Australian Visas and Work for Italians
There are many opportunities for Italians to work in Australia, depending upon your background and circumstances such as age, education, work experience and English language ability.
Many Italians come to Australia, for example, to work in the hospitality industry as chefs, cooks and restaurant managers. Learn more about such opportunities in these Migration Ways posts.
The most popular Australian work visa is the 482 TSS visa. Learn more about this important visa for overseas talent.
The Australian government is especially promoting its Regional visas as a great opportunity for foreign skilled workers to live and work in Australia. Check out this visa opportunity and especially study the Occupation lists related to skills in demand in Australia.
Many young Italians take advantage of Australia’s 417 Working Holiday visa to live, work and study in Australia, including on Australia’s farms. Here is more information about this valuable opportunity to see more of Australia’s outback.
If you are an Italian media or sport person and wanting to work or perform in Australia, that is possible via the 408 Entertainment visa. Read more about this helpful visa for the sport and media industries.
More generally, here is advice from Migration Ways on how to find jobs and employers in Australia.
If you want to consider studying in Australia, read this information about Australia’s student visas. For example, many foreigners come to Australia to learn English. Also understand how knowing English can help you in Australia.
There are many other visa options re entering, working and living in Australia. Please go to our website to discover more about them or contact Migration Ways. For skilled workers, it is best to consult with a registered migration agent to discuss official recognition of your credentials and work experience.
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