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Italians in Australia

Australia Day is the 26th of January, and this day provides us with the opportunity to reflect on Italian-Australians and their role in helping to create Australia’s modern multicultural society. With that in mind, here are some facts I hope you find interesting...

  • 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 Italian heritage.

  • Italian is the fifth most spoken language in Australia other than English.

  • By Italian Government estimates, two-fifths of its emigrants to Australia were from the Veneto and another two-fifths were drawn from the Piedmont, Lombardy and Tuscany regions. Only one-fifth were from Sicily and Calabria.

  • There have been many waves of migration from Italy, with the largest influx occurring during the post-war period of the 1950s and ’60s.

  • Melbourne has the most Italian-Australians, followed by Sydney, Adelaide and Perth. The Italian concentration in the inner suburbs of Melbourne gave the area around Carlton the title 'Little Italy'. Its equivalent in Sydney is Leichhardt.

  • The Italian presence in Australia predates the First Fleet. James Matra and Antonio Ponto, both of Italian descent, were aboard the Endeavour with Captain Cook on his voyage in 1770. Convict Giuseppe Tuzo arrived with the First Fleet, and eventually settled in Sydney.

  • 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.

  • Since Italian immigration began in the 1850’s, there have been many successful Italian-Australians in all areas of life, and Italians have influenced our food and our culture.

  • Italian immigrants introduced olive oil, pasta, pizza, cappuccinos, salad, and wine which have all become integral parts of the Australian cuisine.

“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.” (Baldassar and Pesman 2004).
  • Italians played a big role in introducing Australians to wine and Italian-style wines - such as Barbera, and Sangiovese - are increasingly popular.

  • Italians introduced ‘new’ vegetables and herbs at a time when Australian cuisine was quite staid and conservative. Plants like artichoke, eggplant, flat-leaf parsley, oregano and basil were all viewed with suspicion but are now favourites in many non-Italian households.

  • Italians may not have been the first to introduce soccer and tennis to Australians, but they caused the sports' popularity to explode through mass migration before, during and after World War 2.

  • Many of our best known and most distinguished actors and entertainers are of Italian-Australian descent, such as Greta Scacchi, Anthony LaPaglia, Scott Cam, Vince Sorrenti, Santo Cilauro and Paul Mercurio. Well-known journalists like Paul Bongiorno, Jane Gazzo, Emma Alberici and Steve Pizzati are of Italian heritage, as are politicians, such as Anthony Albanese and Franca Arena.

Greta Scacchi
  • Romaldo Giurgola, the Italian-born architect and academic who won the competition to design our new Parliament House in the 1980s died in 2016 aged. 95.

Others of Italian extraction we claim as Aussies include:

  • musicians (like Natalie Imbruglia, Vanessa Amorosi, Tina Arena, Anthony Callea, Joe Dolce, Anthony Field, Natalie Imbruglia and Paul Kelly)

  • Australian rules footballers (like Steven Alessio, Ron Barassi, Stephen Coniglio, Robert DiPierdomenico, Brendan Fevola, Tony Liberatore, Anthony Rocca and Stephen Silvagni)

  • soccer players (like Mark Bresciano, John Aloisi, Frank Farina, Paul Trimboli and Tony Vidmar)

  • rugby league footballers (like Martin Bella, Terry Campese, Willie Carne, Greg Florimo, Aiden Guerra, Anthony Laffranchi, Anthony and Mark Minichiello and James Tedesco)

  • rugby union footballers (like David Campese, Paul Carozza and John Eales)

  • cricketers (like Joe Burns, Michael Di Venuto, Michael Dimattina, Phillip Hughes, Luke Ronchi, Mike Veletta and Adam Zampa)

  • other sports stars (like surfers Claire Bevilacqua and Mark Occhilupo, tennis player Casey Dellacqua, boxer Rocky Mattioli, and Formula 1 racing driver Daniel Ricciardo.

Racing driver Daniel Ricciardo

So Australia has a long and strong connection to Italy, and many Australians wear their Italian heritage with pride. Italy has contributed much to the creation of the country in which I live and we are so much better for it.

Buon Giono d’Australia!

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