The impact of Italian immigration to Melbourne could not be better felt than in the inner city suburb of Carlton - where many Italians first settled. So it is no surprise that the Museo Italiano Cultural Centre, which preserves the history of Italian migration to Australia, is located in a modern, slick building at 199 Faraday Street, Carlton.
The museum contains a small but comprehensive permanent collection with an emphasis on the Italian community's connection with Carlton. Today as you stroll down nearby Lygon Street, or Little Italy as it is sometimes known, the legacy of the "new Australians" is evident in the shops, restaurants and cafés.
Early film footage and photos convey the difficulties of migration and the isolation and hostility experienced by the Italian community as well as Carlton's importance in overcoming their homesickness. A poignant audio-visual installation reproduces a mother's anguish as she reflects upon her daughter's imminent departure to Australia. Excerpts of Giorgio Mangiamele's acclaimed film from 1963 about the tribulations of an Italian paperboy in Melbourne, The Spag and its unfinished soundtrack, screen on a continuous loop.
Possessions the immigrants brought with them on the long ship voyages in the 1950s and '60s are on display and include cooking utensils, musical instruments, tools of trade, books, antique artifacts, magazines, records, Venetian masks and holy pictures, to name a few, and are captioned in English and Italian. Be sure not to miss the drawers beneath the displays where you'll find embroidered linen, glory box items and other paraphernalia.
The museum presents first and second generation Australians discussing their identity and how they maintain their Italian traditions. You can also view celebrities like Joe Dolce performing his chart-topping though irritating song, Shaddap you Face and comedy sketches by Broccoli productions. A timeline with major milestones and historical and public identities in the Italian community are featured on wall panels including Rafaello Carboni's involvement in the Eureka Stockade and Giuseppe Garibaldi's visit to Australia to see his son.
The reaction of museum visitors, I am told, ranges from sheer delight upon seeing objects some of them grew up with; to melancholy as older Italian-Australians tearfully remember the sorrow of their voyages and the hardships of an unfamiliar and alien land.
The Museo, which also holds temporary art exhibitions and workshops, shares space with the Italian Historical Society (IHS) and its extensive collection of material, including a library, an online photographic archive, recorded oral histories, internment and POW records, diplomatic archives and special collections. The IHS can offer the community assistance with academic and family history research and is open to the public by appointment.