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Subject: Cultural Studies »

Laura Mecca on Italian experiences of the strikes of the 1920s


Historian Laura Mecca describes Italian experiences of the strikes of the 1920s on the Australian waterfront and the conflict they experienced. She also describes Italian fascism and anti-Fascism.



Date Added:

27 March 2009


source not available


mov (Quicktime);

File size:

15.8 MB






Many of them didn’t even know about a strike, I mean already those days there was quite a strong opposition to Italian migration because there was an economic crisis in Australia. And in fact, I think they came on the Rei Italia there is a ship which was sent back, I think it got to Sydney and was kicked out again and sent back with all the migrants. So there was a bit of opposition against the Italians and don’t forget that up in the sugar cane, there was a lot of opposition against the Italians. So when they arrived in Melbourne, I think – or even in Sydney – it was regular for them to be bashed as they – they came down the planks, they were you know, they were bashed up by Australians. But this happened in Melbourne, you know, during the strike.


Now, they wanted work. They didn’t know what it was going on, whether you know, so they just wanted work. And they were offered work and of course, for less money. They didn’t know about the political implication or the unionism or – or – so they took, you know, genuinely, they wanted – they had a family to feed in Italy. Mustn’t forget these people borrowed money to come out, you know, when they were very lucky in the 1920s. There were very, very, very few sponsored migration. So they had to repay that money, so they started working.


First of all we must remember that people do not own – did not own the Italians did not live just for economic reasons. People migrate for all sorts of reasons. And depending again, on the political situation in your country. So there was a – you know quite small but very interesting group of people that came here in the ‘20s. Because of their opposition to fascism. And you know, that’s why we have one of the very early Matteotti Club in Melbourne, 1928.


The problem is that with this particular club, that there were factions, so you had the anarchists together, you know, with those who believed in – socialist and those who are – were, you know, communist, so you couldn’t put them together, that’s why the Matteotti Club survived very little, very little. Carmagnola went off to England, that’s where he started, continued with La Riscossa magazine and Bertazzon who was the anti – the anti – the anarchist one, did one – a few issues L’Avanguardia Libertaria and then soon after he died in an accident in Griffith - a car accident in Griffith.


So, the whole club dissolved, then they took quite a while for the Casa d’Italia to be established again another group of people who opened the Casa d’Italia and the anti-fascist, Professor Schiafsi was behind all that. It was a group of people, sort of educated, which were not very much liked by the rest of the community, you know, who had established here a lot of them were from the Eolian Islands, by then they had a good name, you know, they had good businesses, they were rich. Of course they were pro – not pro-fascism, it was pro Italian Government. To be patriotic, and to be you know, allied with your own government and show love for your homeland or the land of your parents, they just embraced it. And it happened to be a fascist government.


They didn’t know what fascism was in the real – you know, term of a political – no it was just Italian, the consul was, you know, fascist and there were the Fascists. One fascia was based at the Cavour Club which was the – let’s say pro-Italian Government club. And that were – all the factions, all the trouble against the politics- the Italians against fascism, who left Italy because of problem with fascism, they had to leave their homeland, they were persecuted in Italy, arrived here.


Amongst them there were quite a few Jewish as well, Jewish Italians who arrived out here. So they became – they became heroes in one way for a number of people, though for many of other Italians, they were just a nuisance and something to be ashamed of. But they were very active and very vocal. The network was very good. They had a network of keeping in touch with the – you know, the branches in France was very active, anti-fascist, United States and so on and they exchanged newspapers and information and so on.


And they were very much supported by the Australian Labor Party. The church was pro fascist. You had Father Modotti, who arrived in 1938, who was sent here by the Mussolini Government to replace Father Defrancesco who had been here from 1924, had left. And Father Modotti clearly had, you know, sort of, was sent material from the consulate and – no from the Italian Government: films, propaganda film to show this soiree they were making. So, definitely they are pro-fascist. But it must have been a very interesting period, very vibrant, very vibrant.


There’s some beautiful photographs in the Society about when the Montecuccoli ship came. That Montecuccoli came for the Melbourne Olympic Games, it was the same ship that came in 1938, ’38, ’36, when there were violent protests at the docks, you know. From fascists and anti-fascists.


End transcript