Veneto settlers in Griffith, NSW

In the image above, a group of Veneti celebrate New Year’s Day 1927 with host, Antonio Ceccato on his farm at Hanwood, 6kms from Griffith.
Photo from Italian Museum and Cultural Centre, Griffith.

A recent visit to Griffith has been a prompt to write about the Italian migrants who settled in the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area from before World War 1. Three Italians found their way to Griffith from Broken Hill in 1913 and many followed over the next years. Many of the early Italians in the area were from villages in the province of Treviso in the Veneto region – Burso del Grappa, Castelcucco, Cavaso del Tomba, Crespano, Fonte, Paderno del Grappa, Possagno and Pedemontana del Grappa.

Panel about proxy marriages in the Italian Museum, Griffith.

By 1921 there were 33 Italians in Griffith and this number increased to about 2,000 by the late 1940s.

Author Peter Kabaila outlines the challenges for the early Italian settlers of setting up farms in the Griffith area:

Many Italian settlers took up 5 acres of rented land, growing vegetables between their trees or vines, while waiting for them to bear. They lived in shacks and worked often from daylight till dark putting together the money they needed to repay the cost of their fare (and that of their wives), and to buy the farm that represented their goal
(Kabaila, “Griffith Heritage,” 2005, p 60).

Land parcels around Griffith had been allocated to Anglo Australian returned soldiers from World War I but within a few years, many were abandoned because the men did not have agricultural experience. Italians with their knowledge as contadini were able to take up the same land and make it profitable.

Frank Miranda and Maddalena and Peter Mogliotti, owners of the Broadway Store, Griffith behind the counter, May 1939. Griffith Genealogical and Historical Society.

Italians started small businesses from the 1930s and a general store owned by two couples began importing goods such as olive oil and pasta and i migliori prodotti Italiani, that had not been available in the area. In 1936 three Veneto farmers established a social club that provided bocce courts and a venue for men to play cards. There was a locker system to get around licensing laws. Members purchased tokens equivalent to price of a bottle of beer and patrons collected bottles of beer from one of 300 lockers behind the bar. This system continued until a licence was granted in 1951.

Italians from other regions also were attracted to the Griffith area especially after World War II when large numbers of Abbruzzese and Calabrians, as well as Veneti, settled there. Between 1947 and 1950 2,300 Italian migrants arrived in the area. By the end of the 1960s, Griffith had more people of Italian birth per head of population than any other town or city in New South Wales.

Location of Griffith
Griffith developed because of the construction of the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area (MIA) in the early years of the twentieth century. Regular supply of water via the irrigation channels has enabled the area surrounding the town to become a major producer of rice, citrus and stone fruits, vegetables, wheat, cotton, sheep, wool, eggs canola, and of course, wine.

Location of Adelaide and Griffith.

Today, the population of Griffith is approximately 27, 600 and people of Italian heritage make up about 60% of the wider Griffith region. In addition to the large Italian community, Griffith has substantial communities of Aboriginal people, Tongans, Samoans, Afghanis and Indians.

The Veneto influence
Men from three Veneto families provide an insight into the early initiatives to settle and contribute to the social and economic development in the Griffith area in the inter-war years.

Antonio Ceccato, 1888-1956
Antonio was born in Cavaso del Tomba and arrived in Australia in 1913, living and working first in Broken Hill. He married Pasqua Rosterolla (1893-1975) in 1922 and they lived in the Griffith area and became a successful builder. An early construction was the Coronation Hall in Yoogali for the Italian community and it became the venue for Saturday night dances and Veneto wedding receptions.

Opening and blessing of Our Lady of Pompeii, Yoogali, April 1940. Photo in Griffith Italian Heritage Trail brochure.

The Italian community recognised the need for a church in the district where many Italians had farms. They raised money and an Italian priest began to minister to the local Italians in the area. Funds were raised to build a church in Yoogali about 4.5 kilometres from the township of Griffith. Antonio modelled the design on a church in the village of Cavaso del Tomba and building it was a demonstration of the stability of the Italian community. The church was completed over two years and officially blessed in April 1940. It was dedicated to ‘Our Lady of Pompeii’, patron of Italians in foreign lands. It is listed on the NSW State Heritage Register.

Vittorio De Bortoli, 1900-1979
Vittorio was born in Castelcucco and arrived in Australia in 1924 and made his way to the Griffith where he worked on several local farms. By 1927 he was able to buy a 55-acre fruit farm which became the site of the family winery.  Vittorio’s fiancee, Giuseppina, (1906-1997) joined him in 1928 and they were married and haad three children. Giuseppina learned English from a local school teacher and was involved in running the business. By 1931, De Bortoli wine was transported to Sydney and Queensland.

Image taken from the Italian Museum and Cultural Centre, Griffith showing part of the facilities at Bilbul, near Griffith.
Image taken from the Italian museum and cultural centre, Griffith.
Image taken from the Italian Museum and Cultural Centre, Griffith.








The family winery has expanded over  more than 90 years and four generations. De Bortoli wines have vineyards and facilities in the Yarra Valley, King Valley and Hunter Valley and in 2018, purchased Rutherglen Estate.

Angelo Rossetto, 1903-1981
Angelo originated from Cavaso del Tomba and arrived in Australia in 1923 and followed his brother to Broken Hill where he married Tullia Penasa, (1910-2000) the daughter of a couple from the Trentino area of northern Italy. Angelo and Tullia moved to Griffith and bought a farm in 1928 to grow grapes and then set up a winery which he built up with his two sons Giovanni and Alan. The first commercial production began in 1930. After 85 years of operation, the Rossetto winery was sold in 2016 to local winemakers, Dee Vine Estate.

Image taken from the Italian Museum and Cultural Centre, Griffith.
Image taken from the Italian Museum and Cultural Centre, Griffith.








Italian museum and cultural centre
The museum was opened in 2004 and presents the history of the Italian migrants who established their lives in Griffith from the early 1900s. It was funded by the Italian community and Arts New South Wales.

A still used by an Italian family to make grappa. Object in the Italian Museum and Cultural Centre, Griffith.


Based on four themes, Immigration, Improvisation, Tradition and Consolidation, the museum has an extensive display of objects donated by families, videos and memorabilia.



Image of the Italian Museum and Cultural Centre at the Pioneer Park, Griffith.

A series of graphic panels with beautiful photos illustrate the experience of Italian people in the Griffith area. There are panels representing different Veneto associations in the Griffith region: the Alpini, Trevisani, Veronese and Vicentini. The museum acknowledges the contribution of the Italian community to the social, economic, cultural and physical development of Griffith and the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area.


Madeleine Regan
19 November 2023

Madeleine Regan
19 November 2023

*Jennifer Cornwall, Fruits of our Labour: The History of Griffith’s Italian Community, Griffith City Council, 2007. (This is a free pdf)
*Peter Kabaila, Griffith Heritage, Pirion Publishing, Canberra, 2005. (This is a free pdf)
*Griffith Italian Heritage Trail brochure prepared by the Griffith City Council with assistance from the NSW Department of Planning, the Heritage Council of NSW and the Migration Heritage Centre NSW.
*Italian Museum and Cultural Centre, Pioneer Park, Griffith


Photos taken by Madeleine Regan.



Little Italy in Adelaide 1930s-1940s

In October 1935, a journalist, Ernestine Hill, wrote in an Adelaide newspaper, ‘The Advertiser,’ about the Italian community in South Australia and called it “little Italy.” She reported that there were less than 2,000 Italians. Most of them were in what she called “the laboring classes” who were employed in agricultural, industrial and mechanical areas of work across the state.

The image above shows a group of Veneto families and single men, Lockleys,  c1940s. Photo, supplied by Christine Rebellato nee Mattiazzo.

Desmond O’Connor’s research showed that 2,493 Italians arrived in South Australia between 1927 and 1940. The largest groups came from four regions: Veneto (728 people), Calabria (512), Puglia (288) and Campania (239).

In 1933, the population of Australia was 6,630, 600. In the total population of South Australia of 580, 987 and 1,489 people identified as being born in Italy. Just one in five Italians were women. At that time, the largest group of Italians (367) lived in the city of Adelaide and 214 resided in Port Pirie which had a large group of fisher families from Molfetta.

Gelindo Rossetto, Spotted Tiger mica mine, Northern Territory, 1930s. (Gelindo was one of the Veneto market gardeners at Lockleys.) Photo supplied by Maria Rosa Tormena.

In her 1935 article, Ernestine Hill reported that Italians:

are scattered far and wide over the State. Forty or fifty are mining mica in the Hart Ranges in Central Australia – their output absorbed by the small mica-cutting factory of one of their countrymen in Adelaide. A few are gold miners. Two hundred fishermen of Bari and Sicily cast their nets along the coast and in the Murray River.
Others are engaged as workmen, stonemasons, cabinetmakers and mechanics or planting their vineyards and garden groves.

Aerial view of Adelaide in 1935 looking south-east over the Adelaide Railway Station, by D. Darian Smith. (Public domain) SLSA collection B+6676

1947 Census
Because of the war years, there was a gap of 14 years before the next Census.  The population of Australia had increased by nearly a million people to 7, 580, 820.

A total of 646,216 people were living in South Australia.

The records showed that 2,428 people in South Australia recorded their birthplace as Italy in 1947 – an increase of nearly one thousand from 1933.

Little Italy – the Veneto market gardeners at Lockleys
After they arrived in the mid-to-late 1920s, the Veneto group lived in boarding houses in the city of Adelaide and then travelled in country South Australia and other states looking for work wherever they could find it. The first of the Veneto market gardeners began leasing land in the Lockleys area from the mid-1930s.

Aerial photo of the area where the Veneto market gardeners were living and working, 1935. Photo used with permission of City of Charles Sturt.

According to the 1933 Census, there were only 44 Italians living in the Woodville Council area which is where the Veneto group settled. By 1947, the numbers had increased to 57 and the number of women had doubled to 12. This growth reflects the arrival of several women in the Veneto community of market gardeners.

Romildo Santin, Valetta Road, Lockleys c early 1940s. Photo supplied by Diana Panazzolo nee Santin.







Fear of little Italies
In 1930s, newspapers reported negative opinions about Italians in South Australia. In one article they were called “foreigners” who didn’t mix, spoke their own language, made very little money and lived in poor accommodation (‘The Advertiser’, 13/4/1938).

Newspapers were also critical of other southern Europeans. Anglo Australians seemed to fear groups of Italians who lived close to each other and called them “alien communities.”

Article by Ernestine Hill in ‘The Advertiser’ 19 October 1935, p 11.

Ernestine Hill had a different – and positive – opinion about Italians in South Australia when she wrote about them in 1935. She said:

Love of country endures as love of country always must and shall, but in this case it expresses itself for the most part in a community and family economy to assist relatives and friends at home to emigrate to a new land of plenitude and peace, remote from the hand-to-mouth struggle of teeming cities of great architectural beauty and dire poverty.




The comfort of the close community
We know that the Veneto market gardeners and other non-English-speaking groups found strength and comfort in the small communities that they created in the cities and country towns. Many of the Veneto people did not have other family members in Australia and they took on the challenge of making a new life in an unfamiliar country.

The market gardeners at Lockleys made strong relationships which deepened when the group became larger with the addition of wives and children – it became a small community of families who supported each other. Godparents took the place of aunts and uncles and even though they were not all from the same area in the Veneto region, the market gardener families became paesani (people who came from the same locality in Italy).

Group of young Veneto men who arrived after WW2 with young Robert Berno, outside the Berno house, Valetta Road, c 1951. Photo supplied by Maria Mazzarolo nee Compostella.

The Lockleys locality became like a small village where the Veneti lived within about three kilometres of each other. They could become successful business owners, flourish and overcome the difficulties of the Second World War in the 1940s. The first-generation market gardener families were well established at Lockleys when they assisted new Veneto migrants to feel welcome when they arrived after the war.

Madeleine Regan
5 November 2023


Desmond O’Connor, No Need to be Afraid: Italian Settlers in South Australia between 1839 and the Second World, Wakefield Press, 1996.

Australian Bureau of Statistics: Census of the Commonwealth of Australia, 1933 and 1947.

“Ritornerò”= “I will return”

Guest blogger, Remo Berno, reports on the experience of the recent pilgrimage when the body of St Pius X returned to  the village of Riese Pio X.  Pope Pius X had been born in the village in 1835. In the image above, people file past the body of St Pius X.

The famous words (“Ritornerò”) were pronounced by the Patriarch of Venice, Cardinal Giuseppe Sarto, in 1903 when he farewelled his beloved fellow Venetian citizens that flocked to the railway station as he was to leave Venice to attend the Conclave of Cardinals. He had been summoned by the Vatican City to elect the new pope after the death of Pope Leo XIII. The many Venetians there showed their disappointment for his departure. They had experienced his great stature as head of the Catholic Church of Veneto for nine years. It could well be that they foresaw his election as the new pope.

St Pius X in St Peter’s Basilica, Rome, before his departure.

On departure Cardinal Sarto addressed the crowd that came to see him off, saying “O vivo o morto, ritornerò” (or alive or dead, I will return). It’s history, that he became Pope Pius X and was head of the Roman Catholic Church for 11 years. Pope Pius X died in 1914 and in 1954 he was proclaimed a Saint.


Peregrinatio Corporis” of Saint Pius X to his birthplace
Once he became Pope Pius X, Giuseppe Sarto never returned to his birthplace. However, Pope Pius X never forgot his town of origin, Riese. In his 11 years in the Vatican, he often prayed to Our Lady of Cendrole (“Madonna delle Cendrole”) as he did when he was a boy. The Pope sent many gifts to his fellow citizens in Riese, and these can be now seen in his museum next to his home. ( Click here for virtual tour )

For us, his fellow citizens that live in Riese Pio X and for the very many “Riesini” (people from Riese) that migrated from this small village to populate so many cities throughout the world, Saint Pius X is our most famous citizen. This year is the 120th anniversary of his election as Pope. To mark this important historical event, the Giuseppe Sarto Foundation, the Treviso Diocese, the parish and the municipality of Riese Pio X honoured our great saint by means of a “Peregrinatio Corporis”. For the first time after becoming Pope Pius X, the mortal remains of Giuseppe Melchiore Sarto returned to his town of birth for 8 days and many thousands of pilgrims paid homage to this saint in the Marian Sanctuary in Cendrole. The young Giuseppe Sarto often walked these two kilometres from his home to this church, to receive the grace of Our Lady in his way as a Catholic believer that eventually elevated him to holiness.

“Bentornato a casa, Bepi” (Welcome back home, Giuseppe)
The mortal remains of Saint Pius X in his glass coffin travelled 550 km to Riese Pio X from the Vatican, on board a vehicle, specifically equipped for the journey. It arrived in Riese on Saturday 7th September in the afternoon and the first stop was in front of the local Church where more than two thousand people eagerly awaited to catch the first glimpse of Saint Pius X.

Arrival in front of his birthplace.

His next stop was in front of the house where he was born on 2nd June 1835. He lived here to the age of 15, when he entered the Seminary of Padova for his clerical studies. On 18th September 1858 he was ordained a priest. The following day he celebrated his first mass in the Church of his hometown, Riese. Giuseppe Sarto’s father, Giovanni Battista died in 1852 whilst the future pope was only a boy of 17. His mother, Margherita Sanson, however, lived in her house in Riese for many years after. Father Giuseppe Sarto often visited his mother until her death in 1894. At that time Giuseppe Sarto was Bishop of Mantova.

Giuseppe Sarto’s family home at the beginning of the 20th Century.

Saint Pius X’s body was in front of his home on this Saturday afternoon and this picture will remain a magical moment for all of us that were there. The Mayor of Riese Pio X, Matteo Guidolin, and the Parish Priest, Don Giorgio Piva and the thousands of spectators hailed his return, “Ben tornato a casa, Bepi” = “Welcome back home, Giuseppe.”

Saint Pius X in his casket in the Marian Sanctuary of Cendrole.


His destination for this “Peregrinatio Corporis” was his beloved Cendrole Sanctuary where he rested till his departure on Sunday 15th October.

Pilgrims waiting to enter the church at Cendrole.

The Pilgrimage
As for tens of thousands before me, on Saturday 14th my pilgrimage commenced in the Church of Riese Pio X. I was accompanied by my family and some friends. Together we stopped in front of the font where our saint was baptized on 3rd June 1835, the day after his birth. It is also the font where my two children, Alberto and Daniela, received their baptism.  Behind the altar we passed the tomb that held the body of Pope Pius X for the time from his burial, in 1914, till 1954, when he was proclaimed saint and elevated to the honour of exposure in Saint Peter’s Basilica.  The former tomb that held his body, was sent as a relic to his church in Riese.

Remo Berno with family and friends in front of St Pius X’s house.

Leaving the parish church, we walked on the same the street that Giuseppe Sarto had walked. A quick stop took us through his home to remember where the saint lived his childhood. From there it was a 2 km walk to Cendrole, the same path that Giuseppe Sarto covered so many times. In this small area in Riese, there is a beautiful Marian Sanctury that now stands on the grounds where there was, in origin, a tiny church, that dates to the year 972. Ever since, the “Madonna di Cendrole” (Our Lady of Cendrole) has been venerated by the Catholic Community. Here, the saint laid for 8 days, and the processions continued each day, from 9 am to 10 pm.

Buddhist monk, Tich Quang Dao in Giuseppe Sarto’s home.

Over 55,000 people visited the temporary resting place of Saint Pius X. They were mostly Italians but also very many foreigners. One visitor was the Reverend Buddhist monk, Tich Quang Dao, spiritual leader of the most important Buddhist Temple in France. Many pilgrims also came from the hundreds of parishes that throughout the world are named after Saint Pius X.


During the week, many were the moments that offered me special emotions. I was one of 900 people (mostly volunteers) who assisted with the organisation of these 8 days of Saint Pius X’s presence. The atmosphere that was perceived by all the pilgrims, was one of peace and serenity.

An evening procession in Riese Pio X on its way to Cendrole.

The main road in Riese Pio X, that leads to the Marian Sanctuary of Cendrole was closed to vehicle traffic from 9 am. to 10 pm. to allow the processions to flow safely with respect towards the saint.

On three different days, I was fortunate to be a reader of prayers in the Sanctuary, while the procession passed in front of Saint Pius X in his casket. I saw people praying in respectful silence and contemplation, people genuflecting, people crying. It was impossible for me not to be touched by such reverence. I read psalms and prayers written by the pilgrims. A very touching one was written by a lady who thanked Saint Pius X for answering her prayers many years ago when she was healed from tuberculosis.  How great was this man to be worshipped by so many people who had never met him and who had vaguely heard about his life that spanned from 109 to 188 years ago?

Aerial view of pilgrims in front of the Marian Sanctuary in Cendrole.

It has been an exceptional experience for me and my family and for the many thousands of pilgrims. Often during this past week, my mind went back to my parents and all that they did for me, carrying in their heart the holiness of their fellow citizen.

In the local newspaper ‘La Tribuna di Treviso’ of the Friday 13th, a 78-year-old migrant, Vito Porcellato, gave an interview. He was born in Riese and in 1966, migrated to Canada and eventually settled in the city of Guelph in the Ontario province. He and his family travelled to Riese Pio X especially for this occasion, to be part of this extraordinary event. He said, ‘Saint Pius X was the figure that kept us linked to our birthplace. Once a year, all of us “Riesini” and many other migrants celebrate his holy day. On many tombstones in the Guelph cemetery, you will find an image of this holy saint’.

It is no wonder that Saint Pius X has become the patron saint of the “Trevisani nel Mondo” (People who originate from the Treviso province and live in foreign cities) and that his name has been given to so many parishes throughout the world.

Remo Berno
22 October 2023

All photos supplied by Remo.


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