The Italians movement to Australia can be dated back in the late 19th century and 20th century, a period in the history of the world that was characterized with enlightenment, liberalism, industrial revolution, and the fascinating and challenging experience of the world exploration. Australia was among the key places in the land of Oceania on which Italy had cast its avid colonial eyes in the struggle for supremacy, which had shifted from European theatre to other parts of the world. In line with this, missionaries and explorers from Italy had also a built interest in settling in Australia, even before the unification of Italy.1 However, the tables began to turn in the 20th century attributed to a plethora of facets which may include; change in the government system, which was exhibited through the civil unrest and political discord in the backwash of world war one. In addition to this, the economy of Italy was also affected, and it amounted to a large number of Italians running away from their country to seek refuge in Australia.2
Casamentos was one of the renowned Italian families that migrated to Australia during the period of 1925-1931. Their migration was sequential and was based on a variety of factors. Rosina and Marino Casamentos got married in 1933, and they opened up a fruit shop in Melbourne. They became legal citizens of Australia through naturalization. Their stay in Australia was highly influenced by the Australians, and they achieved a lot of assistance from them. However with the outstanding achievement and settlement, they faced a lot of problems, which included economic problems, social difficulties, discrimination and imposed restrictions and regulations which made their stay and state of transition in Australia complex.
Reasons for Migration
The core reason to the Italians migration to Australia was the change of the political system in their country.3 The fascism regime facilitated by Mussolini ascent to power, made the stay in Italy difficult, since he declared war against all the anti-fascists.4 Further, Mussolini also formulated policies that facilitated migration of anti-fascists to other parts of the world. He believed that migration served the nation’s interest, and the border purposes of Italian imperialism.5 Thence, many anti-fascists felt compelled to leave Italy and the majority of them migrated to Australia in search of peace and opportunities.6 Since the Casamentos' family was among the speculated anti-fascists, they opted to leave Italy to a more secure place, which exhibited peace and had a strong and stable political system.
During the same period, Italy was also facing serious depression that was facilitated by the First World War, poverty, natural disaster and crop failure.7 Similarly, there were no jobs, and the rates of unemployment were extremely high. This made the Casamentos family, who were entrepreneurial oriented and skilled farmers, to immigrate to look for jobs in the sugarcane and wheat farms, in Australia. The spirit of entrepreneur was highly depicted when they decided to open up a fruit shop in one of the towns in Australia.
Australia as a Migration Destination
Italians were geographically dispersed throughout Australia, looking for jobs and opportunities. Their choice of Australia as the migration destination was due to a considerable number of factors. During the late 1920s and early 1930s, Australia was experiencing a stable economy despite the onset of the great depression, and this attracted people all over the world, amounting to an outstanding permanent arrival of different communities all over the world.8 Italian migration to Australia also increased substantially attributed to the immigration restrictions that were imposed by Americans, which culminated in 1924.9
Australia also became the most preferred destination ascribed to the fact that some Italians had relatives who had migrated to the place in the late 19th century. This heightened job acquisition and settlement for later immigrants. Similarly, the older immigrants also enhanced the assimilation process, and they made new arriving families feel safe and secure. In conjunction to this, large numbers of Italians were also attracted to the inherent opportunities in the sugar firm, in Tropical North Queensland.10 Further, the sugar industry was subsidized and regulated by the federal and state government, and the Italian unions. This enabled the Italian immigrants to settle successfully, and own significant proportion of the farms in some areas. This aspect attracted newcomers, and in tandem to this, seasonal work harvesting sugarcane paid well. Land clearing for increased agricultural development also invited future settlement possibilities.11
Australia had a less involvement in the First World War, and it served as a neutral ground for any foreign country which participated either directly or indirectly in the war. The Australian government had few restrictions and concern on the political systems of the countries from which the immigrants were from, unlike the Americans who were exceedingly strict on the political system and the countries which participated in the world war one. In turn, the Casamentos were able to move into Australia, assigned to the fact that there were no tariff barriers and many legal documents required to migrate.
The factors in Australia that assisted the resettlement process
In light with this, the Australian officials also played a significant role in enhancing the entry of Italians in Australia. During this period, the Australian authorities were never strict, and they neither checked nor interrogated the Italians who were moving into the country, on the reasons to why they preferred the country.12 In tandem to this, there were no regulations and provisions for refugees governing their permanent entry into the country. On the other hand, the Americas had restrictive legislation, which came into pass in 1921.13 The regulations were highly demanding, and the immigrants were not allowed in America without authorized permits and legal documents. Further, the Americans were also against Mussolini’s regime of Fascism, thence making it difficult for immigrants from Italy to gain access into America.14 Hence, these factors made Australia a desirable destination for Italians.
The Australian government also regulated the admission processes of Italian refugees, under which they conformed to the principles used in governing other white refugees. The government also ignored the difference, and it admitted all the refugees on the basis of their usefulness for Australia.15 Most of the Italian refugees were skilled and organized farmers, attributed to high levels of illiteracy, due to poor economic conditions. Moreover, they dwelt in rural areas, thus acquiring a considerable knowledge in grape cultivation, tentatively referred to as viticulture. Thence, they were posted in different farms, and they practiced different agricultural practices-dairy farming, potato growing, and fruit management.16 In addition to this, the Italian farmers reanimated the tobacco plantations and industry, creating more job opportunities to other refugees. Further, some refugees were employed in the mines, factories, retail shops, peculiarly in food associated business like fruits and bakeries, and the famous wood line railway, where they provided timber and fuel for the mines.
The Australian government also had inadequate information about the fascism regime in Italy, and it took much time for the growth of fascist influence in Australia, and hence, the policy makers in Australia were particularly reluctant, and they did nothing to obstruct Italians movement to Australia.18 Moreover, the policy makers did not regard fascist influence as threatening, and participation in ether fascists or anti fascist groups, and advocating for either ideology, were not regarded as grounds for exclusion from Australian citizenship.19 These aspects in the policy of the Australian government facilitated the settlement of Italian refugees in Australia. In light with this, the early immigrants from Italy who had migrated to Italy purposefully for gold mining and other activities like, music, literature, art and missionaries, also enhanced settlement of later immigrants.
The factors in Australia that hampered the resettlement process
As the number of Italian immigrants increased, an anti-Italian sentiment was formed owed to varied number of factors, and it grew to a large extent that resulted to a reduced inflow of immigrants from Italy. Similarly, more regulations and restrictions were amended, and imposed in an attempt to reduce the immigration flow.20 One of the factors was the agile growth of the Italian immigrants in the sugar plantations and industry. Some quarters in the Australian government were unsettled and intensely concerned with the rapid increase in Italian population, and they feared that that Italians would overtop the sugar industry, both as cane cutters and farm owners.21 Thence, it totaled to industrial and political unrest in sugar towns. Besides, regulations were tightened, and in most sugar districts, Italian cane cutters were restricted by the imposition of the British preference, whereby 75 percent of jobs in the town were reserved for only British, and this hampered the resettlement process.22
The Australia’s inter-war immigration was brought to a halt by the great depression in 1929. The depression was triggered by the post war inflation, foreign debts and the sudden drop in stock prices. Similarly, they were facing more economic problems which encompassed an inexorable decline in Australian commodity price and production in some areas of the economy-which was primarily farming-. The Australian could no longer fit in the global economy, since most of the industrialized economies were diversified and they were moving away from agriculture.23 Conventionally, the depression led to unstable economy, high rates of unemployment, which was evinced through the massive loss of jobs in manufacturing industries, and the drop in prices of the industrial commodities.24 In light with this, the newcomers from Italy were unable to find jobs and the process of resettlement was also delayed. Further, the tariff barriers were raised, and the government became strict on the migration issue.25 The migration processes and protocols were highly monitored, and consequently, they were reduced, thus shackling the resettlement process of the Italians refugees.
There were also incidences of discrimination, exclusion and isolation. Many problems arose from racism and ethnicity, which was rampant in all sorts of cultures and subcultures. The Italian immigrants received an extraordinary amount of dislike, ascribed to the notable difference that existed between them and the Australians. The differences included culture, language, aspects of religion, and the mode of dressing. The Italians were also subjected to hostility and prejudice from the majority populations as the less wanted immigrant. They were viewed as miniatures and people who could only be given cheap in less valued labor.26Mob rioting against the Italians also took place, and it resulted to destruction of properties, many casualties, and even death. This was a source of insecurity, and it made the Italian immigrants live in fear and worry, haltering the resettlement process of the refugees.27
The hostility towards the Italians was also enhanced by the growth of the fascist movement in Australia. The Italians were highly considered as a likely threat to the security of the Australians. The immigrants counter reacted on the issue by forming anti-fascism groups that addressed the security issues and stood against the movement.28 The persistent resistance amounted to violence, riots and death, which made the resettlement process cumbersome.
In a nutshell, the migration of various families from Italy to Australia is an incredible aspect in the history of both the two countries. In addition to this, the assimilation of Italian immigrants into the Australian society also made a considerable impact in the, economical, social, political, and the religious life of the Australians. The Casamentos' family also displayed a quality character of perseverance and determination, evinced through settlement and operating business in a foreign land, despite the different forms of obstacles. Rosina and Marino, created a legacy, and they remain the central figures in the extensive Casamentos' family that now exists in Australia.
Gabaccia, Donna. Italy's Many Diasporas. Oxon: Routledge, an Imprint of Taylor & Francis Group, 2003.
Cresciani, Gianfranco. “Refractory Migrants: Fascist Surveillance on Italians in Australia 1922 – 1943,” Italian Historical Society Journal 15, (2007): 8-57.
Cresciani, Gianfranco. The Italians in Australia. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2003.
Crotty, Martin and Roberts, David (Ed). Turning Points in Australian History. Sydney: University of New South Wales Press Ltd, 2009.
Dutton, David. One Of Us?: A Century Of Australian Citizenship. Sydney: University of New South Wales Press Ltd, 2002.
Elkner, Cate., O’Brien, M. Ilma., Rando Gaetano and Capello, Anthony. Enemy Aliens: Internment of Italian migrants in Australia during the Second World War. Bacchus Marsh: Connor Court Publishing Pty Ltd, 2005.
Ember, Melvin., Ember, R. Carol and Skoggard, Ian. (Eds.). Encyclopedia of Diasporas: Immigrant and Refugee Cultures around the World. New York, NY: Springer Science + Business Media, Inc., 2005.
Galligan, Brian and Roberts, Winsome. Australian citizenship. Carlton: Melbourne University Press, 2004.
Jupp, James (Ed). The Australian People: An Encyclopedia of the Nation, Its People and Their Origin. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2001.
Neumann, Klaus. Refuge Australia: Australia's Humanitarian Record. Sydney: University of New South Wales Press Ltd., 2004.