Italians in Australia


This blog provides a small insight into Italian migration to Australia. It follows the previous post on Italians in Griffith, New South Australia. Photos of books about Italians in Australia are features. (Click  to enlarge them)

Italian people first migrated to Australia in the mid 1800s. They were usually from poor rural areas and the difficult economic conditions in Italy motivated people to migrate to other European countries, United States, South America and Australia. It is estimated that between the 1870s and 1900, about 300,000 Italians left their homes each year to migrate to other countries.

Some early census statistics
– there were were fewer than 2,000 people who were born in Italy living in Australia. In South Australia, there were 141 Italians – 133 men and and 8 women. Towards the end of the century, small groups settled in Port Pirie and Port Adelaide from Molfetta in the region of Puglia and worked as fishers.

1921 – just over 8,000 Italians were living in Australia and 344 were in South Australia.

Between 1926 and 1928, the Veneto market gardeners arrived at a time when the numbers of Italian migrants in Australia increased greatly because the United States of America had imposed a strict quota and although Australia was much further away, it was an option for people who were seeking a life with more opportunities for work and a more hopeful future.

Italian migrants waiting to disembark from the ‘Osterley’, Adelaide, 1927. Photo from “Per l’Australia: The Story of Italian Migration” 2005 by Julia Church.

1933 – the number of Italians had grown to more than 26,500. In South Australia, there were nearly 1,500. Men outnumbered women 3:1.

Italians who lived in South Australia in these years came mainly from five regions: Calabria, Campania, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Puglia and the Veneto. At first, the majority of the migrants lived in the west-end of the City of Adelaide.

Des O’Connor’s book  is the most significant history of the migration and settlement of Italians in South Australia up to World War II.

Post-war migration of Italian people
The Australian Government developed immigration policies after World War II with programs like the ‘Populate or Perish’ initiative and the Displaced Persons Scheme. This opened the way for large numbers of Italian people to migrate to Australia.

Between 1945 and 1972, it is estimated that about 374,00 Italians migrated to Australia. Approximately 30,000 arrived in South Australia. Many arrived through the assisted passage program which required the migrant to undertake a two-year employment contract usually in unskilled areas. The 1950s were the peak period for the arrival of Italian migrants.

Changes in the numbers of Italian-born people in Australia
In 1981 the total population of Australia was nearly 15 million. In that year just over 285,000 people were born in Italy. The numbers of Italian-born people in Australia has decreased from the 1980s. In the five years 1981 to 1986, there was a decline of over 5.1%. The median age (the age at which half is older and half is younger) of Italians has also decreased.

In 2000, when the population of Australia was a little over 19 million there were 242, 000 Italian-born people.

In 2012, Italian-born people were the ninth largest group of overseas-born people in Australia and made up 0.9 of the total population. The total population was 22.7 million.

Australian states and capital cities and main cities.

Italians in South Australia
In the 2021 census
, 16,653 people recorded Italy as their country of birth. The largest group (78.2%) were over 65 years.

Most of the Italian-born people or 92% live in the Adelaide metropolitan area. The largest groups live in the north-eastern side of the city in Payneham, Campbelltown, Hectorville and Newton. There are also groups who live in the western suburbs concentrated mainly in the Fulham Gardens and Lockleys areas.

Some communities have written and published their histories.  These histories tell the stories of migration of individual families and the development of the communities in South Australia over time from last century.

Antonio Mercurio and Angela Scarino published this book in 2004 about people who migrated to South Australia from San Giorgio la Molara in the province of Benevento in the region of Campania from 1927.
Don Longo edited this book about the community who migrated from Molinara to South Australia 1927-2007. Molinara is int he province of Benevento, region of Campania.










Italian people have strong connections to their villages, provinces and regions of origin. Clubs and associations were established in the 1970s when Australia had adopted multicultural policies although the first one, the Fogolar Furlan Adelaide commenced operating in 1958.


The clubs were established around Australia created atmospheres that were familiar and provided opportunities to meet paesani, speak dialect and enjoy typical food and cultural activities. Today, the clubs do not attract the numbers of people because the second and third generation Italian Australians do not have the same needs as their parents and grandparents who wanted the familiarity of a close community in Australia.







In the 2021 census the population of Australia was approximately 25.5 million. Over 1 million people claimed Italian ancestry or about 4.4% of the population. The impact of Italian culture is very evident – you only have to look at the number of Italian restaurants and gelati shops!


Madeleine Regan
3 December 2023

Photos by Madeleine.


Australian Bureau of Statistics


Collins World Atlas

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

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.

error: Content is protected, please contact site owner for access