Outcast ridiculed for mainstay culture: How Italian migrants reshaped Australia | Instant News

Dina remembers a time when things changed – the painful nickname, the taunt on her mortadella sandwich. The risky decision by her Italian immigrant father will profoundly affect the life of Dina and her family, and it’s a story that resonates through the Italian experience in Australia.

It was 1975 and young Dina Caiazza had moved with her family to southeast South Australia nine years earlier to join the growing number of Italian families in the jungle.

The names they hear. ‘Wogs’ and ‘spag heads’. A mockery of their ‘donkey meat’ culinary culture. Dina had this experience when her father, Vince, decided to make a change at the Mt Gambier cafe.

“There’s nothing on this side of the Murray Bridge [then], there is no.”

His father’s shop, with his wife Franca, opened when the 40 year old pasta serving Australian dishes skyrocketed in popularity when they introduced the “pizza pie” [as the Aussies called them].

Vince and Franca Caiazza introduced the culinary revolution – pizza – to southeastern South Australia in 1975.(Source: Dario Caiazza)

It is a legacy that Ms Macera and her brother Dario Caiazza have been helping to keep alive for 52 years.

“We have to stop making hamburger and steak sandwiches because we can’t keep up [with the pizza]”Said Mr. Caiazza.

Suddenly, the locals tasted donkey meat.

A man and a woman sit on a bench in a restaurant smiling at each other, the pizza menu behind them.
Dina Macera and Dario’s brother at the pizzeria their father founded.(ABC South East SA: Bec Whetham)

The Caiazza family represents the broader story of Italians in Australia – migrants from war-torn countries moving to foreign lands in hopes of a better future.

Considered different, even underdeveloped, by some Australians, Italy’s work ethic and love of the simple pleasures of life had a moving impact on their new homeland.

Came to Australia without success

When Vince Caiazza left Italy for Australia, he would never see his father again.

He never forgot his parting words: ‘Go, because if the water doesn’t keep flowing it will become stale.’

Even the hardest workers with the biggest ideas found few opportunities in devastated post-war Italy.

That is the case of Francesco Capriotti, one of the icons of Italy’s Mount Gambier.

An old man in a turtleneck shirt and sports jacket sits in front of a brick wall with the orange glow of the heater above it.
Frank Capriotti, 92, moved from Italy to South Australia in 1956.(ABC South East SA: Bec Whetham)

The 92-year-old left his wife and son in Castignano in 1956 to make a future for his family.

“The little money we had was lost to pay for the boat,” said Capriotti.

With Australia upgrading its infrastructure, there is no shortage of an unskilled workforce.

Mr Capriotti, who had never ridden a truck before, ended up in Kalangadoo where he built a career as a logging contractor.

Old black and white photo of a man in a small hat bending over to cut a large cabbage.
Many Italian prisoners of war were sent to labor camps on Australian territory and gave their hands to market gardens.(Provided: State Library of Victoria)

By then he had reunited with his family, a reunion which was short-lived.

His wife died when he was 53 years old. Two years later he lost their son to cancer.

“Life is not meant to be easy, [Bob] Hawke or [Malcolm] Fraser said [that] . . . especially when you emigrate.

“But life goes on.”

Finally accepted

Nicknamed ‘Oil’ by some of his colleagues, Capriotti remembers several clashes with his new neighbors.

Black and white photo of four young men gathered on the steps of the log cabin, cutting each other's hair.
Many Italian men leave their families to go to Australia and live in single male residences, such as the one in Nangwarry.(Provided: Penola History Room)

“They tell us, ‘Don’t work too hard’.

“But the boss is very happy [with us]. “

Not far north of Mount Gambier, a woman named Maria Sabot is adapting to life in Nangwarry.

He remembers arriving when there were about 100 Italians.

They dream of returning to ‘motherland’.

“When we get together, without fail we will start singing … ‘Terra straniera, quanta malinconia’, which translates to, ‘Foreign land, you make me so hurt,” said Sabot.

Old black and white photo of a group of men, women and children posing for a photo on the steps of a small wooden house.
Mrs. Maria Sabot with her family and friends in Nangwarry, late 1950s.(Provided: Penola History Room)

“We are only one nation that lost the war, with all the consequences. But the Australian people are honest and helpful.

“I lived in Nangwarry for 42 years, I raised three children and I have no regrets. People respect me and the Australian state gives me security and peace.”

Bringing Italy to Australia

Mr Capriotti said Australians like Italians because they are “happy people”.

“Italy and Spain, they are very straightforward people,” said Capriotti.

Things that happen in a lot of Italian clubs in Australia.

An old man smiled as he threw a bocce ball into the sand path in the room.
At the age of 92, 23-year-old director of Italian club Mount Gambier, Frank Capriotti, is still throwing the vicious bocce.(ABC South East SA: Bec Whetham)

Everyone will be there, including young Rocco Bueti, now president of the Club Australia Italy at Mount Gambier.

If they weren’t at the Italo Club, they were at Vince Caiazza cafe.

In the 70s and 80s it was bustling with people smoking, arguing about football and getting food.

It was a soccer match carpool meeting point and hangout for Dina and Dario’s friends in their high school years.

The future of Italian culture?

Fast forward to 2020 and the Italian Australian clubs that were so important 70 years ago now serve a different purpose.

Football is the main focus at Mount Gambier’s Italo-Australia Club, with several pizza and pasta nights during the week.

You will still find the same nonna chatting in the kitchen over the pasta pot but it’s likely that non-Italians will eat it.

“I think it’s really a testament to our success, the fact that we’ve been able to embrace a culture within our own,” said Bueti.

Vintage photo of a corner shop painted in red, green and white with a sign reading 'Cosmopolitan Pizza Bar'.
Vince Caiazza introduced pizza to southeastern South Australia after immigrating from war-torn Italy in 1952.(Source: Dario Caiazza)

As far as pizza bar Cosmopolitan Caiazzas goes, Dario and Dina took over when Vince died two years ago.

“I think he’s very grateful that Dario was able to keep it,” said Macera.

“I think it would be completely devastating if this happened [stopped] before he left.

One day they may leave it, but not completely.

“It’s actually in our blood,” said Mr. Caiazza.


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