Enemy Aliens: The Internment of Italian Migrants in Australia During the Second World War

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Enemy Aliens: The Internment of Italian Migrants in Australia During the Second World War

Preface by James Franklin

The Internment of Italian Australians:
A perspective from Melbourne, Victoria - Cate Elkner

Internments in Australia during World War Two: Life histories of citizenship and exclusion
- Ilma Martinuzzi O'Brien

Tales of internment: The story of Andrea La Macchia - Gaetano Rando

Archbishop Mannix and Italian Relief
Anthony Cappello

ISBN: 0975801503
Binding: Paperback
Pages:  81 pages
Price: $19.95

Following Italy's declaration of war on Britain and France on June 10th 1940, the Australian authorities carried out the biggest round-up of civilians of an Italian descent. These people, because of their background, now became enemy aliens. These four essays tell of their plight, from Melbourne to North Queensland and Newcastle, and of those who worked in their defence against the injustices of the internment policy. 

REVIEWED IN JULY 2006, by Don Dignan

Third generation Italo- Australians are both unfortunate and fortunate.

They are unfortunate because almost all of them have completely lost the language of their grandmothers. They are fortunate because they are not bedevilled by the identity problems that the second generation suffered, particularly in the pre–1970s period when Australian assimilationist attitudes were very strong, often to the point of cruel intolerance. They have become doubly fortunate as the trend to uncover their ethnic roots has become socially fashionable, and more and more of them are learning the language of their first generation forebear(s) although it is standard Italian rather than one of the many languages of geographical Italy.

These two recent acquisitions to our library in different ways illustrate this phenomenon, and it is encouraging and hopeful to note the emergence of small publishers like Connor Court who are willing to take the risk of supporting italoaustralian literature with or without the financial support from the interested family as in this first case or generous benefactors as in the second.

Reference to the lamentable internment episode in Australia’s ethnically prejudiced history brings us to the second title also worthily accepted as a financial risk by Connor Court. It comprises a number of biographical vignettes of internment experiences. Here we select two for comment, partly because they are Queensland experiences, on which too little up to now has been written, but also because their Innisfail-born authoress, Ilma Martinuzzi O’Brien is undertaking with financial support from the Australian Research Council a full-scale research study of the internment episode, which should well complement Margaret Bevege’s 1993 monograph Behind Barbed Wire. From the two individual experiences two facets are extracted for noting: the first because, though tragic, it was ludicrous.; the second because it was nastily scandalous.

Ilma’s father, Alfio Martinuzzi, was Australian born but categorized as Italian and as a guilty Italian because of his friendly associations with naturalized or unnaturalized italo-australians who were interned. Also he had worked for the Shell Oil Company and so was a security risk because he would know where the oil dumps were. It made no difference when he told the appeals tribunal that anyone could see these clearly from a train window. Then there was Giuseppe Cantamessa of Ingham, who came to Australia from Piedmont in 1907, was naturalized in 1913 and had lived continuously in this country for 33 years. However, by the 1930s he had become very prominent in
the district socially, industrially and politically. He represented the A.W.U dominated Australian Labor Party on the shire
council, which earned him few friends among propertied Anglophones but also branded him as a Fascist per se by the

Herbert River District’s numerous Communist activists in the ranks of the canecutters and sugar mill workers. But his greatest sin had been to set up an Italian canecutters’ association in an effort to secure fairer treatment for them in the face of the British Preference League, which had established high percentile discrimination against non-British canecutters, and this definition also included naturalized italo-australian cutters. Three and a half years of soul-destroying internment of a man who was so clearly very Australian for 33 years hastened his early death in 1947 at the age of 55 years.

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