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The Changes Italian Immigration Brought to Australian Society since World War II

Australia is completely comprised of united parts. It is a mixture of cultures that are perfectly combined to produce the flavour of multiculturalism. A major part of that perfect combination is Italy with its residents. The reason is that Australia has been profoundly influenced by Italian immigrants who constitute a considerable part of the population. To be more precise, Italians form the third largest ethnic group in Australia, with Italian being the second most popular language in Australia after English. Their cultural peculiarities inevitably penetrated into the fabric of Australian society, producing a transformation of food, culture, sports, economic activities, and government policies. Consequently, these changes triggered the phenomena now known as ‘multiculturalism’. There are various definitions used to elucidate this concept. However, to understand the situation, it is the best way to ask the one who experiences it. Thus, the government of South Australia provided an elaborate and precise description of what multiculturalism strictly means. Multiculturalism is a combination of the following tenets:

  • The acceptance that all citizens of the country are Australians, despite their origins.
  • Regardless of the difference in places of origin, the commitment to Australia is unanimous.
  • People are allowed to express and cherish their cultural identity, without feeling threatened.

These tenets are immersed in a melting pot and explain the notion of multiculturalism as the combination of different cultures that provide a novel way of the development of society. Apparently, this way is characterized by the situation when all people have drives and desires and love differences that make them unique. Moreover, with regard to this way, all people are seeking better lives for themselves and the next generation. In multiculturalism, there is no room for criticism, bias and savage mentality.
The thesis of this paper is grounded on the investigation of changes that may exist and are experienced by the Australian society because of Italian’s immigration. The focus is on post- World War II period, which saw an increase in the number of Italians arriving in Australia. This paper will examine the history of that immigration, investigate the push and pull factors and the ripple effect of immigration that is felt to date.

The History

Italians comprise a substantial part of Australian population and exert a profound influence on the culture. In fact, they are second after the British (who colonized Australia and did not immigrate into it in the context of this paper), with regard to cultural influence and number of residents. The immigration of Italians to Australia commenced approximately at the same time when Captain Cook found the nation in 1770. There were two men of Italian origin on board his Endeavour, namely James Matra and Antonio Ponto. An Italian convict Giuseppe Tuzo was part of that company, and he left with the First Fleet. History shows that he was among the first Italians ever to settle and reside in Sydney. In fact, Italians came as free settlers, but there were no real Italian communities until the Victorian and Western Australian gold rushes in the 1850’s. Immigrants from numerous countries (including Italy) came in droves while being attracted by the dream of wealth and the glitter of gold. Many Italians headed for the sugarcane fields of Northern Queensland as indentured servants. In order to acquire free passage and aid on their entry into Australia, they consented to vocational opportunities from the Australian government for an interlude spanning two years. Although conditions were poor (with low wages, pathetic living conditions and long working hours in the intense heat), Northern Queensland produced one of the biggest Italian communities in the country. Most people lived through the terrible conditions and eventually developed their farms. Scores of Italians migrated to Australia in the 1920’s, but the actual incursion commenced after the Second World War when economic conditions were debilitating in Italy but better in Australia. A considerable number of the immigrants laboured on the infamous Snowy Mountains Scheme. The Italians resided and scratched a living in the cities and pioneered wineries by growing tobacco and harvesting the sugar cane. At that time, there was the dawn of the Italian influence on the Australian society.

Assimilation

However, during the massive proliferation of Italian immigration into Australia in the late 1940’s and 1960’s, there was a problem of assimilation. It was difficult for Australians to welcome the Italians with open arms. A large proportion of Italians had only finished the fifth grade. In fact, many could not enter any form of education at all, thereby starting work soon after infancy and remaining illiterate. They compensated for their deficiency in ‘book smart’ with a wild ambition and an obsessive work ethic. Apparently, Australia was their escape and their second chance of a better life. Italians had an intense connection and loyalty to their family, but thousands found themselves separated from their loved ones. The only way they could justify that decision was to become wealthy, die trying to achieve their goal or return home. Unknowingly, they made themselves indispensible to the Australian fabric. With the help of fate and their work ethic, the assimilation of Italians into Australia culminated. In 1945, the Department of Immigration came to life. Chaired by Arthur Calwell, it determined that Australia needed an annual population growth of two per cent, but natural increase could not satiate even half of it. There was a sentiment that such a diminutive populace responsible for an immense land could not adequately defend itself. These perceptions led to the mantra ‘Populate or Perish’. Therefore, an annual amount of seventy thousand immigrants was necessary to compensate for the missing half. The Australian population had no choice but to accept their zeitgeist and assimilate. With regard to assimilation, Italians gained superiority. Hereby, they could influence their environment and Australia’s culture. Therefore, this crop of illiterate yet exceedingly hard working Italians paved the way for a new generation of Italian immigrants. During 1966 and 1975, there was an influx of better educated Italians who migrated to Australia. Italians adapted quickly to Australian life and played a crucial role in aiding other Italian migrants in their adaptation to life in Australia. The influx of literate Italian migrants inevitably assisted the Italian community. They assisted in humanizing working conditions, giving legal aid and language tutorship (almost all the Italians had migrated to Australia at a time when proficiency in English was irrelevant).

Metamorphosis of Government Policies

In the year 1972, Australia elected its first Labour government from 1948. In his tenure as Minister for Immigration, Al Grassby fundamentally changed a government policy. The quota system based on native origin and the myopic preservation of racial ‘homogeneity’ was abolished and replaced by a visionary government policy of ‘structured selection’. Migrants now selected according to personal and social traits as well as their vocational criteria, as opposed to their country of origin. In 1973, Australia officially declared itself a multicultural society. The proclamation went hand in hand with the announcement that declared every remnant of past ethnic or racial bigotry obliterated. The Australian Citizenship Act of 1973 proclaimed that all migrants deserved equal treatment. Between 1970 and 1980, the Australian economy slowed and unemployment became a mounting problem. Meanwhile in Italy, economic conditions had significantly improved. The incentive for the country’s citizens to migrate virtually disappeared and Italian migration to Australia ceased, but Australia found itself under Italian impact. The Italian immigrants (now de facto Australian citizens) changed Australia with regard to infrastructure, politics, and culture.

The Changes Accrued from Immigration

Hinchinbrook, North Queensland (home to one of the biggest Italian communities) has thriving industries and is a classic example of the Italian influence. Italians caused changes in transport, construction, manufacturing, and retail services. The region’s transport industry has an efficient air, road, sea, and rail infrastructure, which links the industrial and tourist industries. In essence, the work done by generations of Italian immigrants (who formed the bulk of the workforce working in the industries at little to no cost) transformed the latter region into an advanced society with a thriving economical landscape. Apparently, this example represents the influence of Italian immigration on the Australian society. It is also important to mention that Italians had and continue to have a great impact on Australia’s housing markets. In fact, Italian immigration created a high demand for housing, which in turn developed the housing market supply and demand curve. Thus, Italians (due to housing demand related to immigration) influenced the macroeconomics of Australia. Moreover, intermarriages became an accepted social phenomenon. Immigration had a profound influence on culture, especially in relation to Australian food. Due to the sumptuousness of Australian culinary legacy and its malleability to manufacturing food products, Italians had a considerable influence on Australian cuisine. Propelled by the Italians’ agricultural prowess many previously unknown Italian foods became widely available. Examples include cheese (pecorino, parmesan, provolone, ricotta and mozzarella), various pasta shapes, tinned tomatoes, tomato paste, black olives, olive oil, pickles, and gelato. Moreover, it is worth mentioning Italian salamis and prosciutto, espresso and cappuccino. There has also been a significant effect on the vegetable and fruit trade, with Italian vegetable vendors setting a quality standard. They have also introduced previously unknown varieties of lettuces and capsicums, Italian products like zucchini, globe artichokes, radicchio fennel, eggplant, broccoli, chillies, and fresh chestnuts. However, the greatest and most significant influence that Italian immigration in the post-World War II period had was on government bureaucracy and policymaking. As articulated earlier, the time had come for the reformation of the archaic quota system and the incorporation of a fully-fledged multicultural system. The obliteration of the ‘White Australia Policy’ was a watershed in the Australian society and gave way to the abolishment of racism and ethnic discrimination. Consequently, it became a source of Australia’s true social and economic strength. What started as a war strategy to protect the country from speculated attacks became the beginning of a revolution relating to urbanization and industrialization. The Australian government had the foresight to grant all Australians (native-born or naturalized) equal social, cultural, political, and economic opportunities that had the cumulative effect, thereby benefitting the Australian economy and the economic well-being of its citizenry.
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