The first significant Italian person to come into contact with Australia was a missionary priest, Father Vittorio Riccio who, in 1676, drew a map of the new continent based on conversations with Dutch sailors. He also met aborigines whom he described as “bronzed, courageous and strong”. From Manila he wrote to the church authorities in Rome requesting permission to establish a Catholic mission in the new land. When the authorisation came, ten years later, Father Vittorio had passed away and so died the dream of establishing an Italian foothold in Australia.
In 1770 Antonio Ponto, a Venetian, and James Matra, an Italo-American found themselves on board The Endeavour, Captain James Cook’s ship on which he landed at Botany Bay. Not far from this point would rise Sydney town and Matra contributed to its founding. Today his role is recognised in the name of one of its suburbs: Matraville.
When the first wave of settlers and convicts came with the First Fleet in 1788, it included Giuseppe Tusa, a Sicilian convict deported from England. After serving his sentence he would go on to raise a family of four and eventually own a 50 acre property.
Towards the middle of the 19th century the gold rush attracted a large contingent of Irish, Chinese and Italians. A very significant Italian figure during the Gold Rush period was Raffaello Carboni. Carboni was an accomplished writer and composer who was born in Italy in 1817. From 1849 he lived mainly in London until he was lured to the Australian colonies by the discovery of gold in 1852. His revolutionary experience and linguistic skills were recognised by Peter Lalor, who appointed him to organise the European contingent at the Eureka Stockade. After he was acquitted for treason, he returned to Italy to be involved in the Nationalistic movement. Back in Ballarat, Raffaelo Carboni wrote the only eyewitness account of most of the events: The Eureka Stockade. Published in English in 1885 it was not translated into Italian until 1980 by Nino Randazzo, a journalist with the Italo-Australian newspaper Il Globo.
Pietro Lucini, a political refugee from Lake Maggiore in the Italian Alps, arrived in Melbourne in 1854. He first opened a pasta factory in Lonsdale Street, which failed. He then moved to the Hepburn Springs goldfields the following year. There he opened a bakery, soon turned it into a pasta factory and made his fortune by striking a lucrative goldmine by feeding the miners.
Italian migration to Australia was sporadic during the C19th and early twentieth century. In 1901 the census recorded that there were 5,679 Italian-born residents. Some years later, in 1903, the first Italian club – the Aeolian Island Club, would be founded. Chain migration started in earnest and mass migration would reach a peak in the 50s and 60s.
Post War Migration
The largest influx of migrants from Molinara came between 1950 and 1970.
The Molinaresi that migrated to Adelaide bought many elements of their culture with them and their religion was no exception. The church became a meeting place; a place where they could keep the ties to their homeland alive and more importantly, a point of connection to each other as well as their faith. The St Francis of Assisi Church at Newton became the principal church where the Molinaresi would congregate for mass and celebrations.
Apart from the Festa di San Rocco held during August, there were other religious traditions and celebrations that took place in Molinara in connection with their Patron Saint. As time progressed these traditions were reproduced in Adelaide.
As the traditions translated themselves across the seas, they took on an Australian flavour, becoming unique in themselves.
Molinaresi Migrate to Adelaide
Rocco Luigi Cirocco and Antonio Girolamo were the first migrants to come from Molinara to Australia, having arrived in 1927. They came in search of a better life. A few migrants followed Rocco Luigi and Antonio but the largest group of Molinaresi arrived after the devastation of World War II and the 1962 earthquake.
Following World War II, Europe was left in ruins and twenty-six million Italians left Italy in search of a better life, nine million never returned. It was during this time that the largest group of migrants came to Adelaide in search of a more prosperous life. Most were ‘chain migrants ‘. They came here through a migration scheme that enabled people already living in Australia to nominate members of their family and friends back home as suitable migrants. The majority of Molinaresi settled in the areas of Campbelltown and the surrounding suburbs, with another group settling in the western suburbs of Adelaide. Once in Adelaide, the Molinaresi went about establishing themselves, economically and socially, in their newly adopted country.
Born: 1890 (Molinara)
Died: 1960 (Adelaide)
Migrated 1927 to Australia
Married 1919 in Molinara to Maria Gentilcore
Antonio Girolamo was the first ‘Molinarese’ to arrive in Australia in 1927. He came to Adelaide without his family. He wanted to return to America where he had been for 7 years from 1908 -1915 after the war. He chose to leave America as he didn’t want to fight for them in the war. Instead he returned to ‘Molinara’ for the war and was a POW in Germany for 3 years. He married in 1919. He wanted a better life and could not return to America (once a migrant left, he/she could not return there). He migrated to Australia with his friend Michele from San Giorgio. They did not work together. Antonio went to work at Dixons, and Michele worked at Uraidla as a market gardener. His family joined him in Australia in 1949, his wife and children. He worked at Paradise as a market gardener during the war. During WW2 he worked for an Aussie farmer and the farmer knew the police were coming the following day to collect him. The Italian & German men were put in internment camps during the war. The farmer didn’t want to lose Antonio because he was a good worker, so he told him to rub his body with parsnip leaves. The following day Antonio’s body was all ulcerated, so the police did not take him. During 1951-1955 he worked with the tram ways. In 1955 he retired. He liked sport, to have a beer every night at the Windsor Hotel in Athelstone, trotting horses on Saturday, playing cards, he was very gregarious, by all accounts he was very well assimilated. He enjoyed great friendships with other Italian migrants and his Aussie mates.
Rocco Luigi Cirocco
Born: 1898 (Molinara)
Died: 1986 (Adelaide)
Migrated 1927 to Australia
Sopranome : Furcina
Married 1921 in Molinara to Maria Giovanna Longo
Rocco Luigi Cirocco was the first Molinarese migrant to arrive in Australia in August 1927. He was born in Molinara in 1898 and at 17yrs old he was conscripted into the army during WW1. He was captured and he spent 18 months as a POW in Germany, where conditions were harsh. Returning to Molinara he married Maria Giovanna Longo in 1921. They had close relatives that had migrated to the USA and Argentina. While Rocco Luigi was in Naples, he encountered friends from San Marco dei Cavoti that told him of a foreign land that was accepting migrants and there was plentiful work available. They found a sponsor in Giuseppe La Vista who was already living in Adelaide. His voyage took 40 days and he disembarked in Fremantle on 27th August 1927 then made his way to Port Adelaide. He left behind in Italy two daughters, and a pregnant wife. He arrived with £10 that money soon dried up and he didn’t have any employment. He headed for the hills and he found work at an orchard in Norton Summit. He remained there working for 19 years for the Cowling family until 1946. He was naturalised in 1933 and called for his wife and family to join him. Maria Giovanna and her daughters were to be the first female immigrants to arrive in Adelaide before 1949. The family lived on the Cowling property on arrival. There were few conveniences at Norton Summit before WW2, no piped water or electricity. The girls attended the local school, they were noticeably different, but they suffered no racism. They had a son born in 1936 Reginald; the first Australian born of Molinarese parents. Rocco Luigi avoided internment possibly because he wasn’t living in the city and or the Cowlings were well respected, and they protected him. In 1943 a fourth daughter was born Diana, and the eldest daughter married. The Ciroccos left Norton Summit in 1946 and bought a property in Uraidla where they pursued market gardening until mid-1950s. In 1954, they bought land in Paradise east of Darley Rd. They worked the land as a market garden. In 1969 they sold part of the land to the Assemblies of God Church while the river portion was sold to the State govt. Rocco Luigi assisted many migrants that wanted information about Australia or needed support in finding employment or financial assistance. Rocco Luigi died in 1986 and Maria Giovanna died in 1991.