Leaving on the “Sydney” from Genoa

  • Italians are the largest group of older overseas born migrants in Australia, after migrants from the UK and Ireland.
  • The first wave of Italian migration to Australia commenced in the late 19th century with the arrival of the group of 50 families (217 people) from the Veneto region in 1882. These families settled at “New Italy” Woodburn near Lismore in Northern NSW.
  • Mass migration from Italy to Australia occurred from the early 1950s to the late 1960s with some migration occurring in the early 1970s. The peak was reached in the decade 1951-1961.
  • Migrants arrived mainly from the most economically depressed regions of Sicily, Calabria, Veneto and Campania.
  • Most spoke dialect as their first language and Italian as their second.
  • The majority of migrants came from small rural centres, were economically poor, had limited education and little or no English skills.
  • Many might suffer from stress and other health related symptoms as a result of this migration experience.

Italians are the largest group of older overseas born migrants in Australia, after migrants from the UK and Ireland. There is a long history of Italian migration in Australia however the largest wave of migration from Italy occurred in the post World War II era and in the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s. Numbers of Italian migrants in Australia jumped rapidly from 33, 632 in 1947 to 289,476 in 1971. This explains the reason for the rapid ageing of the Italian community in the 50+ age bracket (Gibson et.al.,2001).

The majority of Italian migrants arrived from Sicily, Calabria, Veneto and Campania, which were non-industrialised regions of Italy. Many came from rural and farming areas and were largely unskilled and trying to make better lives for themselves and their families. Of course there were also migrants who did have trades and who did possess a level of education beyond primary school.

As a result a large majority of Italian Australians were employed in traditionally blue-collar jobs and worked long hours to provide for the family. Many of these migrants found work with other Italians and lived in areas with a significant presence of other Italians, which may explain why many today have limited English skills.

Other reasons for their limited English skills are that many Italians migrated before English proficiency was necessary to migrate to Australia and before English classes were provided (or if they were provided, they were not easily accessible) (Allotey et.al.,2003). Also many Italians arrived in Australia with a low level of Italian literacy which meant that learning a second language would be quite challenging for most.

In addition, many felt that maintaining their link with Italy was important for their sense of identity and wellbeing (although they were not ashamed to call Australia home), as these early migrants battled to maintain their culture, language and heritage in the time of assimilation. In order to maintain their culture many Italian clubs/associations were formed throughout NSW. Some of the most known ones are Club Marconi and Club Italia (previously named the Fogolar Furlan and Abruzzo Club) in Sydney, Fraternity club in Wollongong, New Italy Complex and Italo-Australian Club in Lismore and Yoogali and the Coronation Clubs in Griffith.