A migrant's timeline
The installation’s engaging introduction leads to films, old newsreels and videos about the migrant experience, the skills imported and those developed. A nice selection of specialist tools, musical instruments, restaurant equipment and delicate embroidery make the point.
There’s something mysterious that could be a coffee percolator or a duck press, and there may still be communal wooden tomato crushers like the one here. More informative is a thoughtful timeline: three rows of photographs, each charting Italian connections to local, international or Australian events.
The most spectacular success stories here are individual: professional, artistic, corporate, but just as remarkable is the diversity of pioneering families (merchants, builders, craftspeople, restaurateurs) who influenced the way we live in Australia.
Some Melburnians had their first impression of things Italian via a Gaggia espresso machine (there’s one here) or by pumpkin ravioli in a Lygon Street cafe. Mine was the four-cylinder music of a Grand Prix Gilera, ridden full-bore around an airstrip. Exotic machinery, new tastes in food, wine and fashion, a touch of European sophistication: the Italian influence on our lives now taken for granted makes it vital to see where it came from.
This museum, along with the Italian Historical Society, is housed in a large complex called COASIT. This includes a large resources library, plus there’s a comprehensive language teaching and cultural program for schools and adults.
Of course, there have been and are many Carltons: the early Italian-Australian and Jewish occupants, the student and academic Carltons around Melbourne University, the recent down-sizers, the rash of high-rise apartments as well as magnificent 19th-century architecture; even the chic macaron-from-Brunetti’s Carlton. All call for separate histories.
It could all have been very different. In 1676, an Italian priest in Manila who had been talking to some Dutch explorers asked Rome to make a mission settlement in the great south land. He sent a map. It took Rome years to make up its mind, by which time the priest was dead. The idea lapsed, or a mainly Italian Australia might well have been asking for successive waves of Anglo-Celts.
Museo Italiano, 199 Faraday Street, Carlton. museoitaliano.com.au, 9349 9000.
A taste of Italy
Carlton remains the centre of Italian culture in Victoria:
- University Cafe (257 Lygon Street) was one of Melbourne’s first espresso bars and a meeting place for new arrivals
- Stop in at Tiamo (303 Lygon Street) for pasta or cross the road to Brunetti for coffee and biscotti
- Lygon Food Store (263 Lygon Street) set up in the 1950s as a grocer selling Italian goods
- San Remo Ballroom (365 Nicholson Street) opened for weekend dances in 1966.
- Piazza Italia, in Argyle Square, is home to the Italian Festa, with its famous waiters’ race, and all Lygon Street dons Ferrari colours at Grand Prix time.