Last month, the South Australian parliament unanimously admitted a bi-partisan movement moved by Labour member, Tony Piccolo, to admit the wrongful internment of Italian civilians residing in Australia during World War II.
This little thing can usher in a fresh phase of reconciling with the darker side of Deadly Australia and help us understand this particular chapter of our history.
Quiet For Too Long
Throughout World War II, as in the Great War, civilians from enemy countries had been detained behind barbed wire irrespective of age, health or political perspectives. Italian migrants experienced hot bitterness in Australia, though they’d escaped Fascism and yet another war looming in Europe.
Britain and other European countries also had powerful colonial interests in Africa which resulted in uncomfortable political relations.
Heartfelt Apology Had
Successive Australian authorities have been silent about the problem of wartime reparation to civilians that have been trapped as “enemy aliens” if their nation of arrival turned into a wartime enemy.
Piccolo’s movement to admit Italian migrants’ wartime suffering in the hands of the Australian army and security agencies revisits WA Liberal Senator John Panizza’s unique movement presented to the Hawke government in 1990, that was successful.
It’s a welcome step forward to possess Italian pre-war migrants’ sufferings recognized by the South Australian parliament. The next stage ought to be complete acknowledgement from our Federal Parliament, as happened with the Stolen Generations and Child Migrants.
Unfortunately, the South Australian movement stops short of a real heartfelt sorry because of its many governmental, military mistakes of judgement and violations of individual rights that caused unbelievable sufferings for migrant households in this country.
There has been restricted acknowledgement of the prevalent xenophobia against Italian households during the summertime. My studies have found that after 70 decades, there’s still unresolved distress for Italians who lived through that age.
The Internment Narrative
Italian internee households in Australia through the war had no access to government assistance. The Salvation Army provided emergency aid for destitute families, but some of them were finally interned in Tatura to get basic shelter and food.
Girls who were abandoned at home, hardly managed to live on farms, in companies or as seamstresses. A couple of internment sailors and guards also pillaged internees’ bundles sent from households or the Red Cross.
Vehicles, bicycles, bicycles, and radios were captured or afterwards returned broken. Italian physicians’ medical devices were present in private operations following the war, requiring prolonged legal actions to be returned.
The movement omits to mention that the many sad instances of Italian deaths through internment. Sometimes, the internees were refused access to crucial expert medical care. While the amount of documented deaths appears comparatively modest, many were avoidable while some remained unreported.
There were women and children who died during their internment in the Tatura camp, but those are not spoke.
No state has a monopoly on unfair treatment of enemy civilians and Australia wasn’t resistant to abuses from the most vulnerable migrants from enemy countries. But should Italian migrants take their wartime sufferings in quiet only because Fascist Italy chose to declare war on Britain.
Most pre-war Italian-Australian families endured far greater than they’ve ever dared to show until today. My study on Italian internment expects to include to many other distinguished scholars operates by exploring aspects of their everyday lives of Italian men, women and kids in Australia through the war years.
Italian-Australians were arguably the most significant group of nearly 5,000 Italian civilians incarcerated in any Allied country, however this remains insignificant in Australia’s wartime narrative.
There are just some of those former internees left now, today reaching their late 80s and 90s who’d benefit greatly from a public awareness of their past, in addition to material payment.
The timing is ripe for a complete and honest apology with proper reimbursement for the Italian families that lost a lot in Australia during World War II.
Canada and the USA have completely apologised into Japanese, Italian and German interned civilians with reparations. Just how long does interned Italian-Australians should wait.