Frank Morelli (with piano accordion), his brother Aldo, young John Maluta and friends, Ballina 1947
Frank Morelli (with piano accordion), his brother Aldo, young John Maluta and friends, Ballina 1947

Italian families settle on the Richmond

MOST of us think of Italian immigration to this area as divided into two phases - the New Italy settlers of the 1880s, and those among the post-World War II influx of settlers from various European countries.

However, there was another group of Italians who arrived here, mainly in the 1920s.

The First World War and its aftermath, including the flu epidemic and economic depression, had affected most European countries. Soldiers returned home only to find that their families, if alive, were starving. In Italy farmers and fishermen were possibly the worst effected economically.

Many young Italian men decided to join the rush to immigrate to America. Then, suddenly in the 1920s, the United States introduced immigration quotas and so this caused some to look towards Australia, further away but perhaps even more promising.

Some of the new arrivals had possibly heard of the earlier arrivals at New Italy so many of these came to the Richmond. They found that a good living could be made by leasing hilly country and growing bananas.

Settlers already there, especially in the Rock Valley area and at places such as The Channon, thought the steep hillsides on their properties too difficult to cultivate, even with pasture.

The Italians were used to hard, manual labour and soon rough shacks were appearing everywhere as the new arrivals set to with hoes and bare hands. Most joined forces to work a piece of land and then move on to clear and sow another piece.

It was very hard work, but there were other problems. Firstly, few could speak English. Local school teachers were later to establish night classes to help them. Secondly, many had left a wife and family in Italy or a sweetheart.

Obtaining enough money to bring them to Australia was very difficult. One example was John Mazzorana who had arrived in 1927. He had to wait until 1937 before he could afford to bring his wife and family to join him.

When Australia entered the Second World War there was a problem for some of these settlers. Italy had declared itself on the side of the Germans, unlike in the First World War when Italy had fought alongside the Allies.

Some of the Italians in Australia were seen as aliens and so were interned. Some of the young Italians joined the Australian Army. Others had to fight prejudice at home. Perhaps their isolation in the Rocky Creek area was a good thing because of this, although most of the locals had accepted the Italian families long before the War had started!

Many were very musical. Angelo Morelli and his wife lived at The Channon and they had two sons, Frank and Aldo. Frank (or Frankie as he was mainly known) was a brilliant piano-accordionist. He played at many local concerts and was featured on "Australia's Amateur Hour" at one time. He won this event and it led to him going to Sydney for further study. Previously he had been largely self-taught. He eventually became a professional player in Sydney as well as a teacher.

During the War many Italian POWs were sent here as farm labourers. Some went to farms near the Italian settlers.

The Mazzorana family made them welcome, as did other families, including the Morellis. They especially loved participating in musical events when Frankie was playing. Although they all had to return to Italy when the War ended some of them later returned to Australia as migrants.

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