This is my response to the Ragtag Daily Prompt of 21 June 2018  —  Italian.

Some of you may know that I have recently joined a Bush Poetry group.  As this month’s theme for my Group is “Italian” and as I’ve only so much time, I thought “Italian” would make a good Ragtag Daily Prompt as well (it’s my day to be the Prompter).  For those interested in contributing their own post on the Italian theme, please click the hyperlink above for instructions on how to take part.

Bush poetry is a style of poetry that depicts the life, character and scenery of Australia, employing a straightforward rhyme structure. It uses language that is colourful, colloquial and idiomatically Australian.  Well, I’m new to bush poetry or any poetry, so I found it difficult to write a poem in that style, consistent with the theme, but here is my attempt.  My poem (below), “Italian and Then Some”, is about the experience of Italian migrants in Australia under the White Australia Policy.  It covers the period from the start of the 20th century through to the 1980s.  Please be advised that the poem contains racial slurs that were in common use during that time and these slurs were not something I personally engaged in.

Queensland_State_Archives_6757_Parade_for_the_unveiling_of_the_sugar_pioneers_memorial_Innisfail_4_October_1959
Parade for the unveiling of the sugar pioneers memorial,  Innisfail, 4 October 1959 Queensland State Archives, Digital Image ID 6567 (label: 1449743)

Italian and Then Some
(A Poem about the White Australia Policy and Italian Immigration)

Ere the days when only white settlers were true blue;
but too few to till the soil, cut the cane, or mine the land down under.
Aussie’s finest went to war, leaving all bosses and no workers.
No ticker to stand the scorching sun or sweat upon the brow;
no calloused hands or aching muscles for the nation builder.

Labouring a job for wops and brown-skinned island men –
slaves of scythe and plough – the latter tossed aside and evicted.
The better to save the bleedin’ country for white Australians.
Three million bloody square miles of countryside, with just a few fair-skinned men;
too small a population, yet non-whites strictly verboten.

Unpaid roustabouts, blackfella went walkabout.  Not the sort to rely upon.
And driven by a whitening offensive, stolen half-castes subjugated;
wards of Brothers and Nuns hell bent on conversion in more ways than one.
While those Asian hordes to the north, were not welcome on our shores.
Their existence and entry denied by White Australian furore.

But wait …… populate or perish was the new paradigm and clarion call.
So we opened up our country’s doors to Europeans displaced by war.
In every shade of white they came: ten-pound Poms, Greeks and more Italians.
Australia was the poster child, the great white southern nation;
pure as the driven snow, as determined by skin colour, culture and religion.

They came in a convoy of leaky boats, on the promise of a safe haven;
the welcome for those not born on English soil, lukewarm.  Damn nation.
By God, those men could really work.  Good strong lads those Italian blokes.
Joined by blushing brides and later, sons and daughters too.
They played their part in the post-war baby boom.

Canny men and women, those I-talians; many illiterate, but it didn’t hold them back.
They set up shop, cut the cane, dug the mines and grew the crops.
From the Mallee to Tully, they spread everywhere.
They never complained like whinging Poms.  They knuckled down and did the job.
Resented by the drooling class, their response?  To smile and nod.

When I was young, there was no “them”, only friends: Sofia, Marco and Lucia.
I loved Pina Arena best.  But she needed an Aussie name, so they called her Tina.
We ate pizza and pasta; drank chinotto and limonata.
And on my adopted Nonna’s knee, I learnt to speak with my hands —
Words that flowed like honey off my tongue. Just a small glimpse of being Italian.

As I grew older, I learnt some words that weren’t so sweet, like wog, wop and dago.
Face-to-face with Aussie racism.  Ignorance poison laced.
Over time, these racial slurs began to fade, and we Aussies began to assimilate.
We embraced our Italo-Australian cobbers.  We ate their food and drank their vino.
We went the full antipasto, quaffing cappuccino and espresso.

To all you Aussie racists left out there, you’re just slow.  Bloody drongos.
Don’t you know, the White Australia policy was abandoned long ago?
As for me, I’m just an Aussie sheila into kindness and a fair go.
To all the migrants who call Australia home, I raise my espresso to you,
and say, “You’re welcome. ”  In Italian, that’s prego.

References:

Comments welcome.  Can’t find the Comments Section?  Keep scrolling.

Kind Regards.
Tracy

 

 

16 thoughts on “Italian and Then Some

  1. I can appreciate this, Tracy. Growing up in New Jersey (I now live in Florida) there was a huge Italian/American population. I wrote about my Italian grandparents in my post for today. Dago and Wop were terms thrown about pretty freely back in the 60s-70s. Then I moved down South to hear ‘eye-Talian’ and ‘Guido’ thrown into the mix. Thankfully, so much of that has subsided now. Good luck with the poetry–a poetess, I am not!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Australia would not be the country it is today without our post war migrants from Europe. It is depressing that the prejudices shown by some to them in the fifties and sixties were repeated to the Vietnamese and Cambodians in the seventies and today to Australians with middle eastern heritage. Have we learned nothing? I worked with a lot of Italians and Greeks when I was working for the railways. I used to enjoy hearing the stories of their youth, how they came to Australia and their early years here. By the time I met them many were already grandparents to kids who did not speak the old language so in two generations they had assimilated.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I hoped by writing this post, people would see the parallels. There is nothing to fear except fear itself. But those vulnerable people, especially the young men, may be driven into extremism. This is the saddest part. Those of us English/Irish/Scot ancestry have assimilated a lot of the culture that the Italians and Greeks brought with them, as much as the reverse. I often see some young Sudanese kids walking with their white-skinned Aussie pals, and they are all smiling, having a good time. I wonder why we adults feel the need to foist our prejudices on our children. I think the kids get it right.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Bravissima, Tracy! I love the poetry and the sentiments. I have had a lot to do with Italians in Australia as well as in Italy & Italian is one of the biggest influences on Australian life. (And America and British)
    I also love this online community of readers and writers and the exchange of ideas and styles of expression. I’m glad you liked Sue’s review of my book. I hope you enjoy it and I’m very happy to answer any questions you might have about it. Ciao a presto. Jan

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for checking out my poem, Jan. I never expected that! I wish you every success with your book, Jan. I’ve downloaded it and look forward to reading it. I have a few more books on my list but I will get to it as soon as I can, and will definitely be in touch to hopefully tell you how much I enjoyed it. Kind regards. Tracy.

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  4. Great poem Tracy and sentiments I believe in myself, being a migrant too: from NZ. It’s very distressing to keep hearing people make racist slurs against our most recent migrants who have no wish but to work hard and make a success in their new country. I remember well the things folks said about Italians, but I know first hand having taught them and lived amongst them (in Leichhardt), they’re wonderful people.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Well done Tracy you have certainly caught the feelings of the Australian policy of that era. Where would this country be without all those hard working immigrants, the Italians now integrated as a new wave of immigrants arrive to more media driven backlash.

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      1. It’s an important topic – never more important than now. Many of the earliest migrants now struggle to accept the more recent ones too – it was ever thus. I grew up in post-war Oz and I only knew migrant children – I thought that’s what Australia was. It wasn’t until I was adult that I realised not all Anglo Aussie kids were fortunate enough to have the experience I had. It is probably where my interest in Italy was born, but it could as easily have been an interest in Greece, or Poland or Estonia or any of the myriad cultures I came into contact with. What was important was that it shone a bright light onto a world much wider than 1950s Australia.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Actually selling papers is all about keeping the advertisers happy they contribute $$$ to be seen and without readers they will go somewhere else chasing the exposure. So sensationalism sells papers and so it goes round.

        Liked by 1 person

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