DR JAMES JUPP, AM a most eminent academic, wrote the Preface to – CINDERELLAS NO MORE – our publication which celebrated the 10th Anniversary of our Association as well as a follow up to our publication – DONNE DONNE – which celebrated our 20th Anniversary. As we consider these to be very informative, we have included them on our website.


Italians, like the Irish, were the great emigrant nation of the recent past. Starting at final unification in 1871, twenty six million went overseas during the next century. Like the Irish, the great majority went to the Americas, specifically the United States, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and more recently, Venezuela and Canada. Unlike the Irish, few came to Australia until the 1950s. By then the United States had made it difficult to enter, a policy not abandoned until 1965. Encouraged by an agreement between the Australian and Italian governments in 1951, Italians began coming to Australia in record numbers. Today the Italian-born are the largest non-English speaking migrant group, while Italian is the most widely used language after English. But, as everywhere else, Italian emigration has almost ceased. Italy now is an immigrant country, attracting newcomers from Africa and the Middle East. Its population has stabilised. In statistical terms at least, northern Italians are now better off than the average Australian. Those who need to migrate do so from southern to northern Italy, or to neighbouring countries such as Switzerland or France.

Italian settlers in Australia are becoming elderly, while the Australian-born second generation now outnumbers the first, immigrant generation. Those born in Italy numbered 253,332 at the 1991 census, but those born here, with one or both Italian parents, totalled 326,989. First-generation immigrants were outnumbered only by the British and New Zealanders, the second generation only by those of British parentage. A century earlier, in 1891, there were only 3890 Italian born settlers. Census figures show how the emphasis moved from Victoria towards New South Wales and then to Queensland, where by 1933 there were 8355 Italians out of an Australian total of 27,756. After the 1951 inter-government agreement, numbers jumped to 119,897 in 1954 and to a peak of 289,476 by 1971. Post-war immigration was heavily biased towards Victoria, which has had the largest Italian population of any State ever since 1954. Well over one-third of all Italians in Australia live in Melbourne.

Early Settlers
Most histories of ethnic groups concentrate on the early settlers, perhaps because they seem somehow more ‘picturesque’. One of the deeply engrained myths surrounding Italian-Australians is that there was a young Italian, Giuseppe Tuso, on the First Fleet in 1788. He has even been described as a Sicilian, captured at sea by the British navy. Another more firmly based myth, is that there was an Italian, James Mario Matra, who sailed with Captain Cook. The Sydney suburb of Matraville is named after him and he was among the first to recommend New South Wales as a convict colony. Now, Matra was certainly of Italian origin, but he was born in New York and could just as well be described as an American. As for Tuso, recent research suggests that his name was not Giuseppe, that he was not Italian or Sicilian and that he was London-born and only fourteen when transported for theft. There were almost no First Fleet convicts with non-British names. Tuso has also been credited with being Ukrainian, following a published statement by the late historian Manning Clark that there was a Ukrainian on the First Fleet! All we know about Tuso is that he existed and that later generations of Italians still claim him as their own. It is quite possible that, like many other convicts, be could not spell his own name.

The main point about early Italian migration to Australia is that it was very unusual and even accidental. Australian colonisation policy favoured the British, unlike that of the United States which was multicultural from an early date. The US was closer and cheaper to reach from Italy. This was very important as Italians had a long tradition of transitory migration – of living abroad for a period and then returning to Italy. Australia was just too far away for this to be feasible. Immigration policy was based on assisted passages from 1831 and these were only given to British subjects, including the Irish. The first true community of Italians resulted from the Victorian gold rushes of the 1850s. These were the Ticinese from southern Switzerland, whose influence can still be traced in the Daylesford area of central Victoria. Their most famous descendant is Robert de Castella.

Many Italians came to Victoria as individuals in the late nineteenth century. Their occupations ranged from the higher professionals, like the colonial astronomer, Pietro Baracchi, whose son became a founder of the Communist Party, to bands of musicians from Viggiano. But stable communities did not start to develop until rural settlers arrived in Western Australia in the 1890s and, as cane cutters, in Queensland in the 1920s. Like the earlier Ticinese in mid-Victoria, they were able to build identifiable Italian societies in such places as Ingham in North Queensland. However, the majority were still male itinerant workers who moved around Australia and returned to Italy or went on to America. Their influence on society remained limited because of their instability. In the larger cities, small groups began to develop around the vegetable wholesale and retail business. These were mostly from southern Italy. Rural settlers were more frequently from the north, which was favoured by Australian recruiters, often for openly racist reasons. Among such urban retailers were the parents of B.A. Santamaria, who was born in Brunswick ( Victoria) which at one stage was to be the ‘most Italian’ municipality in Australia.

As settlers in an overwhelmingly British society, Italians faced considerable prejudice. Unlike the individual immigrants in the previous century, many of whom were well educated, most arrivals in the inter-war years were unskilled. Many came to Australia because the United States made it very difficult for Italians to enter after 1924. Problems associated with Italian-Americans came to influence Australian attitudes through films and newspaper stories. The attempts by the Italian Fascist government to recruit local support did not help matters. Prejudice was most severely felt by the north Queensland cane cutters, many of whom eventually became farmers. When Italy entered the war in 1940, many were interned, often for no reason other than their ethnic background. Only the much smaller numbers of Japanese (who were almost all male pearl divers) were worse treated, as they were all deported after the war. Yet Italians were not necessarily unhappy in Australia. Many prisoners-of-war chose to return and were among the first post-1945 immigrants from Italy. As was so often the case, prejudice was often more virulently expressed by journalists and politicians than by friends and neighbours.

The postwar immigrants
Outside north Queensland and some other isolated rural areas in Western Australia and the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area, Italians were a small and not very visible minority until the 1940s. Small communities existed around Lygon Street, Carlton (Vic) and Norton Street, Leichhardt (NSW) and these became the focus for much larger communities in the 1950s. As in many other societies, Italian immigrants with few resources became important in the fruit and vegetable trade, in groceries and in building and construction. They were not as important in running cafes as the Greeks or Chinese but soon moved into that area when immigrant numbers started to rise. Until the post war migration there were more Italians in rural areas than in the large cities. Even today Italians are found in quite large numbers in such rural agricultural districts as north Queensland, Griffith or Cobram. They are more likely to be employed in agriculture than any other non-British migrants except for the Dutch. But post war immigration changed the picture completely. Italians, like most other immigrants, became city dwellers, employed in industry. As in New York, Buenos Aires or Toronto, they concentrated in the largest and most prosperous cities in Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide and Perth. In 1991, 70 percent of Italian-born immigrants lived in these four cities.

Those who arrived between 1950 and 1970 constitute the great majority of Italians currently living in Australia. Well over half came from Calabria or Sicily, with significant numbers from Abruzzo and Veneto. Most came from urban centres but with strong rural backgrounds. In social terms the settlers were disadvantaged. There was considerable local prejudice against them. Many spoke only southern dialects. Many had not been to school and an unmeasured number were probably illiterate. Such skills as they had were often not relevant to their employment in Australia. Few had paper qualifications. Had they come into an uncontrolled labour market or conditions of high unemployment, they might well have formed an “underclass” doomed to remain poor and exploited as they had often been at home.

But that was not the case. Although Australian immigration policy in the 1950s and 1960s aimed at creating a factory proletariat, it did so within a system of industrial arbitration, trade union strength and full employment. Those who fell outside this social protection were to be found in outwork, especially in the clothing industry which employed many Italian women. The building industry, into which many Italians were recruited, was notorious for industrial conflict but was also highly unionised. Apart from women out-workers, most Italians soon found themselves in secure, well paid and state regulated employment – a much better fate than had awaited many emigrating to the United States in the past.

Their main problem was not lack of employment but lack of education to improve their status. Even today one quarter of the Italian-born claim to speak English “not well” or “not at all”. This excludes them from the rapidly increasing professional and semi-professional labour opportunities.

A Working-Class Community
Most Italians arriving in Australia between 1951 and 1971 were recruited into manual industrial jobs. They had few qualifications and many from Calabria or Sicily had not attended school. Their education had often been interrupted by the war. Today only 2 percent of the Italian-born have degrees, a level far below the Australian average and in very stark contrast to the educational achievements of more recent Asian immigrants. But this did not mean that Italians became an underprivileged community. Employment levels for Italians have always been above the national average, in contrast with many more recent arrivals. They almost invariably own their homes and hardly any are to be found in private or public rental housing. Because of the strength of family links, household incomes have often been quite high although individual incomes have been below the Australian norm.

Essentially Italians have formed a prosperous and secure working-class community, mainly employed in manufacturing, trade and construction. By 1991, twenty years after the post war migration wave came to an end, these three industries still employed over half of the Italian-born.

The settlement patterns of Italians underline their working-class character. Starting life in such inner-city suburbs as Carlton or Leichhardt, many soon moved to middle-class suburbs such as Preston or Drummoyne. They were not to be found either in the older slums or in public housing. Indeed, some areas which had once been regarded as slums, such as Carlton, were greatly improved by Italian residents and shopkeepers. Today, areas like Carlton, Fitzroy or Leichhardt are very fashionable. While most Italians have moved out, many businesses, churches and organisations of an Italian character remain. Australians of Italian origin still come into these centres, especially at the weekend, though they are no longer a point of first arrival as they were in the 1950s. Typically, the inner-city housing which Italians bought and improved thirty years ago, is now occupied by young Anglo- Australian professionals, while the original owners have moved out to the suburbs.

The suburbanisation of Italians has not yet reached many of the solid middle-class areas, certainly not to the same extent as is true for Jews, Greeks or Chinese. Most Italian suburbs are working-class but prosperous and settled. Italians live in family homes alongside other former migrants who are also stable and permanently established.

In most respects, Italians have been model settlers, fully conforming to the expectations of their sponsoring relatives, employers or governments. Those who were unhappy in Australia, or preferred to return home, left behind a very solid and respectable community. Even those who went back to Italy have formed a network of “kangaroo clubs” which keep Australian memories alive. But Italians have not “assimilated” in the unrealistic sense that was expected in the early 1950s. The great majority (88 per cent) still use Italian in the home, as do half the second generation. Well over 90 per cent are Catholics, making up about 12 per cent of all Australian Catholics. There has been almost no movement away towards other denominations. There is a wide network of Italian community organisations, though no single effective national structure. The Italian press is still the most widely read of all the non-English media in Australia. These are all good foundations for a community likely to remain viable and important into the coming century. People in a mass society are undoubtedly changed by that society. However, many also want to assert their individuality and do so by a revived interest in their ethnicity.

Women in the Italian community
The majority of Italian migrants to Australia came from southern Italy and particularly from Calabria and Sicily. This region was for several centuries under Arabic and later Spanish influence and is frequently regarded as the most conservative in the country. As elsewhere in the Mediterranean, southern Italian society is often described as “patriarchal” with a strong emphasis on the protection and honour of women and the dominance of public life by men. The role of women in Italian society was never as subservient as outsiders often imagine, and Italian mothers have been especially influential in domestic life and the upbringing of children. In post war Italy, women have become politically organised and vocal, forming a higher proportion of elected politicians than in Australia. The influence of the Catholic Church on actual behaviour is rather different from its theoretical pronouncements would suggest. Italy, for example, has one of the lowest birth rates in Europe and regular church attendance is less common than in some other Catholic countries such as Poland or Ireland. This does not necessarily mean that Italian women in Australia have become equally emancipated. They are older and left Italy, on the average, about thirty years ago.

In common with most ethnic groups in Australia (other than Filipinos), the organisational and public life of the Italian community is still dominated by men. The traditional division of roles, which left women dominant in the home and men dominant outside, is still an influential factor. The importance of ex-service organisations among Italians, sustained by support from Italy, emphasises male domination of organisations, as does the significance of soccer clubs. Australian society itself is only just emerging from a tradition of male domination which goes back to the earliest days of settlement, when men were in a large majority and manual labour was their usual occupation. The Australian feminist movement has largely been controlled by professional women of English-speaking background and has had an ambivalent relationship with the ethnic communities. Thus many Italian women in Australia have been doubly disadvantaged by coming from a male-dominated community within a wider, male-dominated society. In contrast to many other migrant groups, there is a substantial male majority amongst Italians, with men making up 53 per cent of the Italian-born in 1991. This imbalance has not been altered by ageing. Men are in the majority even past the age of 65 when women normally predominate.

Italian women have tended to remain outside the workforce to a great degree than is true of many other immigrants. Others have undertaken work within the home such as clothing industry outwork. While Italian men have been in such highly unionised industries as the building trade, many women have not been unionised because they have been part-timers or work from home. Italian-born women in 1991 were also less well qualified than men, with 83 per cent having no qualifications. Women outnumbered men in the unskilled category of labourers, which is unusual, and among sales workers and clerks, which is much more common. Most of these occupations were not organised by active trade unions. Women were also less likely than men to be proficient in English, with 25.8 per cent not speaking it well and 5.3 per cent not speaking it at all. Of Italian-born women over sixty five, 60.5 per cent spoke English “not well” or “not at all”. While this may not have affected their role within the family or the community, it obviously inhibited them from any part in the wider community and political life of Australia.

Italian-born women, then, are disadvantaged when it comes to organising and expressing themselves. This is much less true of the second, Australian born generation. The gender gap in qualifications has almost closed. Nearly half speak only English at home. In so far as the second generation still retain their Italian identity, they obviously have the potential to organise effectively. They also operate in a less prejudiced environment than their parents did. The first generation had to suffer from an alienation of which the locally-born are much less aware. They tended to live their social lives within the Italian community and to accept male dominated structures such as the Church, sporting clubs or community organisation.

The formation of a specifically Italian women’s network came about when the Italian-Australian community was already complete and starting to move into its second generation. It has also created links between Italian women in Australia and those in Italy, the United States and Canada, overcoming the provincialism which often besets small ethnic communities. Unless lively links are maintained with the original culture, there is always a tendency to “fossilisation”. The avoidance of this trend is especially important for women, as “fossilisation” usually helps to maintain conservative attitudes and behaviour which have often ceased to be relevant else-where. An international and forward-looking approach is especially important in retaining the loyalty and enthusiasm of the younger generation. The ‘past’ and the ‘old country’ will remain important as defining the cultural inheritance. But the National Italian-Australian Women’s Association is ensuring that the “past” does not become a “dead hand”. Italy has changed as much as Australia since 1945 and no organisation which overlooks this reality can prosper.

The National Italian-Australian Women’s Association, though late in developing, now makes several important contributions to Australian multicultural life. It shows others that Italian women are not simply the mothers, daughters and sisters of Italian men. It shows the Australian majority that Italians are progressive, competent and worthy of respect. It shows Italy that among the millions who have left, there are still many who retain affection for their land of origin. Multiculturalism must rest on organised ethnicity, not just on vague sentiment. It must enshrine respect not only for those from “ethnic” backgrounds, but for men and women equally.

Dr James Jupp
Centre for Immigration and Cultural Studies
Australian National University



Ten years have passed since I wrote the Preface to “Cinderellas No More” (Protagoniste non Spettatrici). During that time many of the changes which I predicted have taken place. Immigration from Western Europe (other than Britain) has almost ceased. As a consequence, the Italian born population has steadily declined and grown older.

From a peak of 290,000 in 1971, numbers had dropped to 232,000 by the time of the last Census. While some have returned to Italy, this means that those settled in Australia have grown ten years older or passed on altogether.

Yet to look on a brighter side, there are now 800,000 who claim Italian ancestry. Of these, two thirds were born in Australia. The second generation has overtaken the first. The strength of Italian family life means that Italian influences are being passed down through the generations.

Of those with Italian ancestry more than one-third live in Victoria, which has been the State attracting most Italian migrants in the past. The shift to the second generation has meant a decline in the numbers speaking Italian at home from 376,000 in 1996 to 355,400 in 2001. But this still leaves Italian as the most widely spoken language after English. Moreover, of those using Italian, four out of ten were born in Australia – a healthy sign for the future.

It is very unlikely that Italian migration will increase in the future. Since joining the European Union, Italians now have free access to the entire European labour market. Even more importantly, Italy is now a very prosperous country, with living standards in the North at least easily comparable to those in Australia. And unlike the British there are no added benefits for immigrants from the Australian climate! So the challenge to organisations like the Italian-Australian Women’s Association is to keep the support which it has earned over the years, but also to appeal to the younger generation and even to the grand-children of those who came in the great migration of 1950 to 1970. Italian organisations in the United States and Canada have been able to do this and there is no reason why it cannot be done in Australia.

Ten years ago I argued that “Italian women are disadvantaged when it comes to organising and expressing themselves”. This is much less true today. After many years in Australia migrant women have asserted themselves and migrant families have become more prosperous and better educated. The Australian born generation fully enjoys the benefits which good incomes, good jobs and access to higher education have brought since the 1960s. The Italian settlement has been a success and that means that the disadvantages of the past have largely been overcome by hard work and perseverance.

There are, then, good prospects ahead for Italian women’s organisations to cater for the need of a large constituency and to continue on into the future. Links with Italy are being strongly maintained by the ease and relative cheapness of air travel. Many children of migrants have gone back to Italy for holidays and education. There is not the isolation from the homeland that was so daunting in the days of shipping which took four weeks or more to reach Europe.

Keeping up an effective organisation is a vital feature of Australian multiculturalism. But such organisations must and do change with the times.

As I concluded ten years ago: “Multiculturalism must rest on organised ethnicity, not just on vague sentiment. It must enshrine respect not only for those from “ethnic” backgrounds, but for men and women equally. I am sure that the Italian-Australian Women’s Association understands this very well and will go on working towards its goals into the future as in the past.

Dr James Jupp has been Director of the Centre for Immigration and Multicultural Studies in the Research School of Social Sciences at the Australian National University since 1988.

He was General Editor of the Bicentennial Encyclopaedia of the Australian People from 1984 until its publication by Angus and Robertson as The Australian People in September 1988. He completed a second edition for the Centenary of Federation which was published in October 2001 by Cambridge University Press.

Dr Jupp was born in Croydon, England in 1932 and is an Australian citizen and resident of Canberra. He was educated at the London School of Economics. He has held teaching positions in Political Science at the University of Melbourne, the University of York (England), the University of Waterloo (Canada) and the University of Canberra.

Dr Jupp was a member of the Advisory Council on Multicultural Affairs (1988-89). He was chairman of the Review of Migrant and Multicultural Programs and Services, which presented its report Don’t Settle for Less to the Minister for Immigration in August 1986.

He was also a member of various government committees and boards. Dr Jupp has published widely on immigration and multicultural affairs and has acted as a consultant for the Office of Multicultural Affairs, the Department of Immigration and other public agencies.

Dr Jupp was awarded membership of the Order of Australia (AM) on Australia Day 2004 for “service to the development of public policy in relation to immigration and multiculturalism, to education and to the recording of Australian history”.