Eras Journal - Papalia, G.: "Imaginary Colonies: Fascist Views of Australia in Italian Diplomatic correspondence 1922-1940".
Imaginary Colonies: Fascist Views of Australia in Italian Diplomatic Correspondence 1922-1940.
(University of Pavia, Italy)
This paper will reconstruct a vision of Australia derived from an unlikely source: the Italian diplomatic archives of the 1920s and 1930s. These archives contain the reports of Italian Consuls stationed in Australia during a very particular period of Italy's history: that pertaining to the one party government led by Benito Mussolini, also known as Fascism. Of these reports I have chosen the most significant to present in this paper. I shall mainly deal with language and its use in justifying the appropriation of the 'other'. Language is never neutral. In the case of Italian diplomatic writings, it reflected ideological concerns with deep roots in the country's history as a united nation.
In European culture, a mythical 'terra australis' existed long before Australia's actual discovery by Europeans. Hence it was the place over which a European discourse had already been forged, initially a mix of hopes and fears. Following its 'discovery' Australia was first defined as 'terra nullius' and then subjected to colonisation by the British peoples, becoming part of the British Empire. A fundamental aspect of the discourse justifying British colonisation was the availability of 'unused' land ( Put succintly by Dorothea Mackellar in her poem 'My Country': "The wide brown land for me!"). In 1847, an Englishman, Edward Wilson Landor published his memoires, recounting his experiences as a settler in Australia in a book titled The Bushman . In it, whilst contemplating a beautifully pristine wilderness, he expresses the following thoughts:
One could not help asking oneself how long this scene had existed as we now beheld it? Was it designed for thousands of years to be viewed only by savages, mindless as the birds or fishes that frequented its waters? Had it always existed thus, or been growing during centuries under the hand of Nature, until it should be adapted to the habitation of civilised man?
Colonisation is inevitably accompanied by literature which foreshadows appropriation and then justifies it. As pointed out by the literary critic Edward Said:
Imperialism and the culture associated with it affirm both the primacy of geography and an ideology about control of territory. The geographical sense makes projections - imaginative, cartographic, military, economic, historical, or in a general sense cultural.
These reflections represent the theoretical underpinnings of my analysis of Italian diplomatic archives on Australia. The Italian Consular reports on Australia afford us a unique perspective with which to contemplate and behold this country. There are a number of cogent reasons for this: Italy, unified only in 1861, was a relative latecomer to the world scene. Like Australia, it had for a long time been a geographical and not a political expression (to paraphrase Bismarck). The idea of a unified Italy, a concept which can be traced to Dante (De monarchia) and beyond, thus only began to achieve its focus in the latter part of the nineteenth century. Under the initiative of its astute prime minister Count Cavour, the Kingdom of Piedmont embarked on the successful unification of the peninsula, forging Italy from a collage of small weak nation states and proclaiming the Kingdom of Italy in 1861. However, unification was not complete: Rome was only wrested from Papal rule in 1870. Just as the Piedmont government's initial objective was territorial consolidation of Italian speakers on the continent, ideally its Italian successor also sought to ensconce itself in the Mediterranean by expansion as an outlet for its excess population.
An intrinsic part of Italian unification, or the 'Risorgimento ', was the discourse of Italy's 'coming of age' as a nation and its aspiration to sit among the concert of great European powers. Unification also meant the appropriation of southern Italian resources by the economically more developed north. The ensuing social upheaval initially involved widespread rebellion (called 'brigantaggio '), then mass emigration: over 12 million departures in the years before the First World War out of a total population of less than 40 million. Aspirations to national grandeur came to signify expansionism and were even given the epithet: ' il secondo Risorgimento '.
With the example of Great Britain and France before it, the Italian government sought to establish an empire, and in the scramble for Africa characterising that century, managed to secure for itself Eritrea and part of modern day Somalia. Its initial efforts to conquer Ethiopia, however, failed with the decisive defeat of its colonial army at Adowa in 1896. In 1912 it succeeded in wresting Libya from the Ottoman Empire.
During these events, a leading argument among nationalists and some leading members of the syndicalist movement such as Antonio Labriola, was the need to find an outlet for emigration, the extent of which was lamented as representing misplaced human resources which would be better exploited to further the ends of the Italian nation. This ideological elaboration is a distinguishing feature of Italian nationalist-imperialist discourse with an emphasis setting it apart from other European imperialist ideology. Italy's prospective emigrants, forced to emigrate because their rights had been denied at home, were now to be enlisted as the foot soldiers for the conquest of Italian 'Lebensraum ' or 'spazio vitale'.
Italian participation in the First World War on the side of the Allies from 1915 was secured with the promise that in the case of victory it would receive a number of colonial possessions. When this did not eventuate at the end of the war, the Italian government felt humiliated and the term 'mutilated victory' was coined, later to become an important concept in Fascist foreign policy. The widespread desire to attain greater international prestige became a significant factor in the rise of the Fascist party under Mussolini, who became prime minister in 1922.
Yet the Italian government had not the material means to project enough power to realise its aims. The Italian economy remained the weakest of the Great Powers, including Japan. Hence it could not exercise its influence, as the British and French empires did, simply by prestige and economic pressure. Indeed the Italian government under Mussolini continued to use military and political means to promote the country's economic interests. Examples of this were the brief occupation of Corfu in 1923; the reconquest of Libya in the 1920s; and the invasion of Ethiopia in 1935-36 which was the most controversial of the three. This was to mark a watershed in world diplomatic history because it hastened the formation of the future 'Axis' on the one hand and the 'Allies' on the other.
This second Italian invasion of Ethiopia, like its previous conquest of Libya, provoked an outcry in most of the Western World and much of the colonial one as well. The Italian Government justified the attack in its propaganda by recourse to a customary argument: that of the need for living space for its people. Elsewhere this has been termed 'Proletarian Imperialism' because of its emphasis on the need for Italy's huddled masses to find an outlet for their plight by conquering another country militarily. It should be remembered here that the Fascist regime actively repressed emigration. Hence foreign conquest was only an alternative outlet for the social pressures that unification had visited upon the country, particularly the South, if the existing class structure in the country was to maintain its hegemony.
During the Italo-Ethiopian war one piece of propaganda disseminated in Australia in English, was titled 'Can Italy be denied a Place in the Sun?' (itself another cliché given currency by Mussolini). Here it was pointed out that Italy was an overcrowded country, with insufficient agricultural resources to feed its population. Thus the only solution became "finding a territory adapted to receive an ever increasing number of strenuous and capable workers".
In another publication also distributed in Australia, 'The British Empire and Natural Resources', it was pointed out that the British Empire covered 25 per cent of the world's land mass which held only 500 million people, of which 400 million lived in India. The report concluded:
This means that the area held by the rest of the world is much more densely populated than that of the British Empire…and the more densely populated area is that held by peoples of such high civilisation as the Italians, the Germans and the Japanese, who justly aspire to a higher standard of living and desire outlets for their surplus populations.
Significantly, the Italians, Germans and Japanese were brought together under the concept of 'high civilisation', implying that such a quality was reason enough for wars of aggression against 'lesser' peoples and the appropriation of their resources.
The invasion of Ethiopia was justified by the need for extra living space. Great Britain, from where the most strenuous critics of Italian policy towards Ethiopia came, and the nation that led the imposition of economic sanctions against Italy by the League of Nations, was singled out for particular criticism in the Italian media for hypocritically holding onto such a large part of the world in its own right. Australia happened to be a glaring example of such an imbalance.
As mentioned above, Italian imperialism was sustained with very limited industrial resources from the very beginning. Indeed, some historians have marvelled that it could achieve as much as it did, ascribing even its limited successes to sheer determination and tenacity and not a little political adroitness albeit at the cost of great sacrifices. This inevitably meant that no option could be left unconsidered, no opportunity unexploited politically. And this inevitably informed the activities of the Italian diplomatic services which operated over a vast geographic range.
The traditionally elitist Italian diplomatic service was not primarily 'Fascist' in its outlook. Rather it expressed ideological continuity with a nationalist intellectual matrix it held in common with Fascism. Indeed, the diplomatic corps believed that it should cooperate with the new Fascist government in helping Italy attain true great power status. Once again, a primary aspect of this was colonial expansion. In the following years a great number of schemes would be hatched within the diplomatic service, nearly all unsuccessful and few even attempted, to increase Italian influence and colonial possessions throughout the world. These involved areas ranging from the Middle East, West Africa and Southern Siberia and, as we shall see, even Australia.
At this point it should be kept in mind that the Italian consuls were not ambassadors, with the political role of representing Italy abroad, but personnel whose main task was to assist increasing numbers of Italian emigrants. Hence their day-to-day work was to assist and discipline the wayward, if necessary. At the same time, Fascist directives also obliged them to keep an eye on anti-Fascist political activities by the many political adversaries forced to leave Italy. In the pursuance of this role they liaised closely with Italian police, who would enact discriminatory practices on their property and family in the home country.
Another fundamental aspect of their work, particularly where more extensive diplomatic representation was not in place, was to gather intelligence on military, economic, political and social matters. This information was fed back to Rome in the form of reports of a more or less urgent character depending on the issue. For example, during the war between Italy and Ethiopia, with Australia as a country applying sanctions, reports were necessarily brief but frequent. There was never a standard format for these reports: they could take the form of brief telegrams or be large enough to be considered small treatises!
The place of Australia in the Italian diplomatic system was an atypical one. As Vita-Finzi, the Consul General who served in Sydney from 1935 to 1937 later explained, when reflecting on the reasons for his appointment,"the destination was flattering, because there was no direct diplomatic representation in the Dominions (excepting South Africa), the Consulate General in Sydney assumed the functions of a legation or an embassy".  Mario Luciolli, consul in Melbourne in 1940, confirms the special status of the Italian consulates in Australia, when he says that the consulates had "almost absolute independence". Throughout the interwar period, Italy had only two consulates run by career diplomats in Australia, these were the Consulate General in Sydney and the Consulate in Melbourne. On these depended a series of vice-consulates and consular agencies headed by local residents.
In a volume published in 1925 regarding Italian diplomatic personnel in Australia, the Melbourne Consulate General is defined as a first class consulate (at that time Australia's capital was Melbourne), with Sydney having a vice-consulate. There were then consular agencies in Adelaide, Brisbane, Townsville, Launceston and Perth, nearly all run by Australians of non-Italian origin. The distribution of these consulates reflected the human geography of Australia and were situated where most Italian migrants had settled, and I might add where political opposition among anti-Fascist Italian migrants was the strongest. This was particularly evident in Queensland. Here a significant number had settled in the sugar plantations of North Queensland, particularly Cairns, Innisfail and Townsville.
Cresciani informs us that in 1928, a Royal Decree established a vice-consulate at Innisfail and a consulate in Townsville, which in 1935 was demoted to the status of vice-consulate. Melbourne lost its consulate general to Sydney after Australia's capital became Canberra, and had its representation reduced to the status of Consulate. Adelaide and Perth had vice-consulates. In 1936, the situation was as follows: consulate general in Sydney, consulate in Melbourne, vice-consulates in Townsville, Adelaide and Perth, and consular agencies in Cairns, Brisbane and Hobart. All Italian consular representatives in Australia were closely linked to the Italian embassy in London. This can be seen in the exchange of documentation between the London embassy and the Sydney Consulate General which is frequent in the Italian Diplomatic Archives.
The Sydney Consulate General had jurisdiction over the ACT, NSW, Queensland, Tasmania, the Northern Territory and New Guinea. The Melbourne Consulate had jurisdiction over Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia. Once again, the offices were located in areas where Italian migrants had settled. Exceptions were those areas like Wonthaggi in Victoria, and Fremantle in Western Australia, where there was no consular representation. Here, contact with the Italian government was guaranteed either by a branch of the Fascio or by other Italian organisations (like schools) connected with the consulates. As had happened in Italy, the political organisation of the Fascist Party assumed institutional characteristics, mixing political and administrative functions. For example, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had authority over and directed the Fascio branches abroad, under the 'Direzione Italiani Residenti all'Estero'.
From 1920 to 1932, the Consul General in Australia was Antonio Grossardi, whose first posting overseas was Australia. He was not a Fascist before Fascism came to power in Italy. His activities in Australia reveal the profile of a typical Consul for the period. In accordance with his duties he also acted to improve the image of Italy in Australia, which meant promoting the Fascist regime as well. As we shall see he wrote reports encouraging his superiors to seriously consider Australia as an outlet for Italian colonisation. In 1932 he was sent to New York and replaced by the Marquis Agostino Ferrante, who had been a career diplomat for 22 years, most of them spent in Boston and Philadelphia. In January of the same year the Oxford-educated Enrico Anzilotti was appointed to the Melbourne Consulate taking over from Mario Carosi. Ferrante was sent to Malta in February 1935. Vita-Finzi, who was to replace him, arrived only on November 22. Between these two dates, the consulates in Australia were headed by the Melbourne Consul Enrico Anzilotti who managed relations with the Federal government in the interim. Vita-Finzi returned to Italy in February 1937 and was replaced only in April 1938 by Amadeo Mammalella, the 'ventottista' (or Fascist party stalwart), who was to remain in Australia until the outbreak of the Second World War between Italy and the British Empire in June 1940.
In their reports, it was only natural that the consuls should seek to portray Australia as a suitable country for Italian 'penetration' because this would necessarily reflect well on their own importance in such a peripheral destination. For the purposes of this paper, which must necessarily be concise, I have opted to describe and analyse four diplomatic documents and a published literary reflection. The first two documents were penned by Antonio Grossardi, respectively in 1931 and 1936. These are in the form of a brief treatise, the former of 55 pages, and the second ten. The third is the Secret Italian Government Report on Australia of 1937, containing 21 pages. This document contains no reference to any author(s); it appears to be a gleaning and re-elaboration of data from previous reports (particularly Grossardi's). The fourth is a much shorter report in the form of a five page letter sent by Vita-Finzi in March 1936, who also published the literary piece in 1937.
The two Grossardi reports are by far the lengthiest - and the most influential - in the documentation. The Vita-Finzi letter was chosen for this article because of the original perspective it gives during a period where tension had erupted in the international scene, to the point of affecting Australia 's security. Contrastingly, the literary piece affords readers a fresh look at how Australia was viewed by a highly educated Italian diplomat.
These reports reflected the general procedure within the Italian diplomatic service of considering every option and opportunity with an eye towards offering their government the most ample range of policy alternatives. Whilst some historians, particularly in the English speaking world, have ascribed the oscillating nature of Italian foreign policy to the erratic whims of a dictator, others have seen method in this apparent inconsistency.As such, these views bore credibility to the extent that they would inform official Italian government opinion regarding Australia, as we shall see in regard to the Secret Italian Government Report.
The first significant report on Australia was written in 1931 by Antonio Grossardi, towards the end of his mandate. Originating as he did from the Emilia Romagna region, Grossardi in his early years frequented Socialist Party circles. Nevertheless, in his role as Consul General, he faithfully served his government in an appropriately authoritarian manner which raised the hackles of the local Italian community on a number of occasions. His activities in Australia reveal the profile of a typical consul for the period. Cresciani described him as being more patriotic than Fascist in his outlook. However, as noted above, nationalism was the midwife for Fascism and not the other way around, nor was it confined to the Italian political Right. It is this desire to see Italy become a 'great' nation that informs his reports. Unsurprisingly, he could implicitly subscribe to concepts such as the hierarchy of nations, embodying the right for the more 'advanced' to dominate over the less 'modern'. He therefore began his report by stating quite categorically that:
Australia…since the day of its federation has lived…in the rosy certitude that it was the wealthiest, most capable, privileged and hard working country in the world, a type of Earthly Paradise,"God's Own Country", such that with a blind and constant faith in the present and future resources of the country, it abandoned itself to social-proletarian experiments of all sorts without taking into account the obstacles, the costs and the possibilities of insuccess.
In this passage Grossardi revealed his uncritical adoption of the British-Australian view of the country's history as representing a clean slate on which to write the word 'progress'.
However, Grossardi criticised British-Australia from within its own discourse: Australia's material progress appeared all the more absurd when it was considered that more than half of the population was concentrated in the six state capitals and that the countryside was, to use Grossardi's term,"deserted". In this adjective we find deployed the exaltation of the farming people of Italy, this nation of myriad Cincinnatii, worthy tillers of the soil in comparison to the apparently deracinated and sickly industrial human waste imported from Great Britain. As we shall see, later in his report, Grossardi attributed the ostensible failure of British assisted migration schemes to a lack of homesteading virtues. Tellingly, Grossardi added that the Australian population appeared to be unaware of the "grave dangers" inherent in this contrast. Implicitly he was saying that Australia's wealth and small population would inevitably lead other powers to cast their covetous eyes upon the country.
Australia appeared to be able to live "with impunity from the rest of the civilised world, which indeed it considered with a sense of commiseration for the constant anguished struggle of others to keep alive". As a corollary to this insular attitude, the typical Australian penchant for sport was described by Grossardi as: "an obsession and a disease, [the Australian public] does not give foreign policy one thousandth of the attention it reserves for sport". Having secured their birthright by occupation, the Australian public did not need to concern itself with the worries afflicting the rest of the prosaic world, or even defend its new-found prosperity.
Such was the wealth that the Australian people enjoyed that they could afford to launch "continuous experiments in social-democracy". This included a pragmatic labour party, distant from the ideological strife of the Old Continent, bent on enriching the poor rather than taking from the rich. From there the Consul General went on to describe Australia's social security system which he not surprisingly considered overly generous. Such comments beg comparison to the Italian reality at the same time, where the Fascist government was only beginning to introduce the rudiments of social welfare.
An interesting aside to this is Grossardi's description of how this optimism had fared in the face of the Great Depression. He asserted that in Australia the population had now come to the realisation that capital, as well as labour, too had its rights, and that more stringent and 'credible' economic policies had been applied. By the word 'credible' he was of course referring to the defeat of NSW Premier Jack Lang's attempt at proto-Keynesian policies to stimulate consumption by increasing incomes. As the crisis deepened, widespread fears of a Bolshevist takeover led many Australians, including Labor supporters to think that Fascism could represent a useful barrier against proletarian revolution. Much of the 'stability' apparently guaranteed by Fascism was considered as being of interest for Australian polity, particularly as the Depression wore on.
Grossardi drew analogies between the Fascist concept of the Corporate State, with the government acting as a mediator between capital and labour, and the Australian concept of arbitration. He dutifully listed those political figures on the Australian Right, who, when not directly involved in organising the White Army and other right wing organisations like the New Guard led by Eric Campbell, were coming out with public pronouncements praising Fascism and Mussolini. Grossardi asserted that the All for Australia League took its inspiration for its political platform from Fascism. The political expression of this movement was the United Australia Party founded in 1931, soon to win the elections in 1932. Its leader was Joseph Lyons.
As pointed out by historian Michael Cathcart, who has chronicled the story of Australia's secret army in the 1930s, Italian Fascism was held in some esteem by conservative opinion in its role as a bulwark against communism, which the recruitment of the White Army sought to do as well. Much of this sympathy was premised on entrenched prejudices which depicted Italians as politically immature. However, the perceived ability of the Italian economy to weather the shocks of the Great Depression compared to the traditional democracies did evoke further admiration. Indeed, Italian Fascists could march openly in ANZAC day parades without evoking adverse media comment.
Joseph Lyons was considered to be sympathetic to Fascism by the Italian consuls. In the Secret 1937 Italian report on Australia's political situation, he was described as: "a fervent Catholic…who had personal sympathy for Fascist Italy and great admiration for the Duce". Such comment is unsurprising, given the tendency of the Italian Consuls in Australia to amplify their own importance. In fact, Lyons was acutely aware of Australia's strategic vulnerability to a potentially hostile Italian navy in the Mediterranean, and sought to maintain a very cordial diplomatic relationship with Mussolini (as was even pointed out by his wife Dame Enid Lyons). He accordingly advocated great diplomatic caution on the part of his British counterparts and became a strenuous supporter of 'appeasement'. The Attorney General at the time, Robert Menzies, made very strong affirmations in support of Fascism as an alternative to 'professional parliamentarians' and members of his own party are recorded on Hansard in the Federal Parliament expressing strong admiration for Mussolini's 'work'.
To preserve the pristine Australian paradise from foreign appropriation, the Commonwealth Government had devised a type of "unilateral Monroe doctrine", as Grossardi put it, to keep out undesirables that would otherwise water down Australia 's standard of living. He was referring to the White Australia policy.
Amongst the other reasons that Grossardi gave for such a policy was fear of racial mixing, which he attributed to the feelings of superiority which the Anglo-Saxons entertained with regard to the coloured peoples. In this context he mentioned that Australia had the "dubious distinction of being the only continent peopled by one race only". Australian racial discrimination towards the "honest and pacific" Chinese and their suspicion of the "intelligent and clever" Japanese was viewed with distaste by Grossardi, despite being a representative of a regime whose policies espoused doctrines of racial purity.
Grossardi described the hostility that the White Australia policy had engendered in other countries, particularly Japan. He was astounded that the Commonwealth Government should enunciate such a policy and put it into practice "without thinking about how to ensure its application in the case of revolt and hostility by the excluded nations". There are, of course, no prizes for guessing who was on the list of these 'excluded nations'. It should also be remembered at this juncture that the 'white' racial status of Italian immigration was often called into question by Australian immigration authorities well into the 1960s.
Incredibly for Grossardi, Australia had no appreciable armed forces at the time to defend its prerogatives, relying almost totally on the British fleet for protection. Grossardi speculates whether this lack of concern regarding defence was either due to recklessness or simply geographic distance from those peoples it considered potential enemies.
Just as Australia sought to exclude other races from entering the country, so too the foreigners residing there were marginalised. Generally speaking, Grossardi stated, Australians were favourably inclined towards northern more than southern Europeans. He attributed this attitude to "affinity of race and also of habit" amongst which he included "a proclivity towards drunkenness, weak family ties and improvidence". Once again Grossardi indirectly refered to the argument that the British had lost their legitimate claim of empire, not having 'sweated' enough for it as it were. Italian settlers, by contrast, were assumed as being endowed with more productive virtues. In this Grossardi revealed his own 'essentialising' attitudes towards the British, which however, were not unshared by other Italians.
While such emphasis on racial characteristics may appear out of place to a contemporary mind, it should be remembered that public opinion at the time was highly charged with ideas and theories about racial superiority and inferiority. In the Australian papers of the day currency was given to American intellectuals who theorised about the superiority of the 'Beer and Butter' civilisations over the 'Wine and Olive oil' ones. Moreover, there is no doubt as to the denigration inflicted on Southern European immigrants, expressed openly in popular discourse and constructed into positivist scientific theories by Australian academia and official opinion.
As for Grossardi's opinion of the Aborigines their fate, in keeping with the current opinion of the time, appeared to be sealed: they were of negligible number and seemed destined to disappear. Indeed, throughout the Italian diplomatic documentation of the Fascist period, they are only mentioned again in connection with a punitive mission of policemen setting out to avenge the killing of Northern Territory missionaries in 1933. It should be remembered that the consuls were reflecting attitudes common at the time in public and private discourse: Aborigines were not even counted in the official censuses, and could only be estimated at about 80,000 in number.
For Grossardi, the British and Australian assisted migration policies to Australia had been a failure in terms of settling the country (the Bruce-Page Government spent £34 million on such a scheme between 1923-29). While today's historians point out that the numbers arriving in Australia were not negligible, at the time the numbers did not appear to correspond to expectations, particularly in the context of past immigration. All in all about 200,000 assisted migrants reached Australia under this scheme. The reason, according to Grossardi, was that the British migrants were sent from metropolitan areas and were unsuited to hard agricultural labour.
It is worthwhile noting that what the Italian Consul wrote accorded with Australian attitudes of the time. The ethical right to occupy a territory derived from the capacity to exploit it better than did its original occupants. However, this was a prerogative that could be lost to more energetic competitors. As a Country Party parliamentarian of the day affirmed, "The encouragement of immigration is the right policy for the Commonwealth to pursue, because we cannot expect to hold an enormous territory bigger than the United States of America with a handful of people".
Thus it can be seen that these views of colonisation and the holding of land against other claimants were a shared concern in those times. British Australia had to reinforce its claim against the teeming millions of Asia or lose out to some undefined threat.
Grossardi makes much of the contrast between the 'unsuccessful' British immigration policies and the strong motivation as colonisers shown by the much smaller numbers of Italian migrants arriving in Australia (by 1939 the latter would only number 25,000 of which 18,000 would be concentrated in Queensland). According to Grossardi, Italian settlers were universally recognised as being "provident, good savers, cooperative with each other and endowed with the spirit of sacrifice". Grossardi indicates two different views regarding the Italians in Australia: the middle classes considered them excellent settlers, whereas the working classes saw them as competitors. Grossardi pointed out the great success they had obtained in the Queensland sugar industry with many becoming owners of farms in a short period of time.
Grossardi wrote his second report in response to a request by his superiors to assess whether Australia could absorb Italy's 'excess' population. In an accompanying note this process is significantly described as "Italian penetration" in line with the pervasive phallocratic imagery of the Fascist regime. In his report, the ex-Consul General would be at pains to point out that, on an official level, Italian migration into Australia had suffered from no impediment and indeed had earned the approval of many senior government figures. Indeed, if numbers had dropped since 1928, this had been due more to the adoption of an Italian policy to restrict emigration, than by any decision by the Commonwealth Government.
Once again, Grossardi stressed that British emigration schemes to Australia had failed because of the unsuitability of the migrants involved. Australia needed, he affirmed, a "laborious and peasant emigration which does not ask for any payment or reimbursements or concession of large tracts of land and implements".
Accordingly Grossardi envisaged great opportunities for Italian migration and in particular espoused the view that a suitable scheme would be the sending of migrants "selected and controlled" by Fascist Authorities to a specific area set aside exclusively for Italian colonisation. He states that this idea had also been proposed by the then Minister for External Affairs Sir George Pearce, in 1925.
According to Grossardi, the sending of new "currents of emigration" to Australia would also have the advantage of eluding the tight control which the British financial system had over Australia which had hitherto opposed the establishment of Italian banks there. Australia still needed foreign capital to promote 'white' settlement. Hence Italian capital and Italian manufactured products would follow in the wake of the migrant wave. Then the concentration of Italians in one zone of settlement would allow the formation of a powerful "syndicate" to represent their interests. We can read between these lines the substantial weakness of Italian imperialism, dependent on emigrants to further its political and economic objectives. There are also analogies here with the standard imperialist modus operandi, adopted by other European countries at the time.
In 1937 the Secret Report was drafted to present the political situation in Australia. It repeats many of Grossardi's statements. The report begins by stating that popular apathy was such that Australia had no true democracy. Popular apathy was such that governments were left alone to carry out their policies, and would only risk losing an election, "if for causes independent of government policies the harvest was bad, unemployment increased and the circulation of money [was] more difficult". This is quite a remarkable statement from an ostensibly 'Fascist' viewpoint.
In regard to foreign policy the report quite categorically stated that Australia was forced to follow the British line because of its dependence on British capital to finance investment. Moreover, its defence system was pivoted on the protection afforded by the British naval base in Singapore. On populating the country, the report affirmed:
The problem of colonising this vast continent, very rich in potential resources is far from a solution because the policies of this country tend to preserve it for hypothetical British exploitation seeking to maintain the percentage of the population as close as possible to 100% British origin.
Despite the existence of a scheme of financially assisted British emigration, in practice this has given poor results compared with the huge expenses sustained in the past to get rich areas of territory ready for agricultural exploitation by English settlers. Hence it becomes necessary to make recourse to foreign emigrants (particularly Italians) who arrive in this continent at their own expense and set immediately to work obtaining excellent results where generally the Londoner fails.
The views held by Grossardi regarding Australia 's national character also find currency in the reports and writings by Paolo Vita-Finzi, a Consul General of Jewish extraction who was posted to Sydney from 1935 to 1937. Vita-Finzi thus served in Australia during the Italo-Ethiopian war and had the difficult task of defending Italian policy against widespread media hostility which almost unanimously reflected British perceptions of the struggle.
Once again, Australia's apathy to outside events was qualified by use of an English word "parochialism" to describe it. Vita-Finzi translated this word to "campanilismo", but its similarity to the Italian word for "parish" led him to make the observation that this apathy persisted despite the fact that this 'parish' had the dimensions of a continent. The implication here, given that Vita-Finzi was well educated, was also that Australian cultural life left much to be desired. According to Vita-Finzi Australian indifference made the country easy prey to British influence and propaganda; strong blood ties with Great Britain and control of local investment by British finance ensured this link remained.
The unspoken assumptions here are that Australia was potentially an independent nation, and that it should become one. This is a constant theme in the Italian diplomatic documentation. The Italian consuls repeatedly complained that Australia was damaging its own interests in subservience to British priorities. It was not taken for granted that British interests coincided with Australia's, unlike the commonly held assumption in Australian public and political opinion of the time. Their reports frequently lament that it was difficult to engage on issues where the prospects meant distancing Australian policy from Great Britain. The most prickly of these was trade. At the time Australia had been unwittingly embroiled in a trade war with Japan over the preference accorded to British products. This dispute erupted in 1936 over a policy called 'Trade Diversion'. More impartial media comment at the time agreed with the analysis made by Italian diplomats and lamented how Australia was acting against its own interests in clinging to the British line.
Vita-Finzi's most enchanting observations are contained in a literary piece, published in Italy in 1937 and titled 'A Day in Canberra'. Whilst on a diplomatic mission to Canberra to announce that Italy had annexed Ethiopia, he encountered an Australian minister in shirtsleeves in a deserted building. The encounter inspired him to write this piece. Vita-Finzi makes a number of wry observations about the state of unreadiness that he found in Canberra : "I have been in the federal capital of Australia for half an hour and I still haven't found a barber or a newspaper". When he finally does find a copy of The Canberra Times he likens its size to that of an Italian parish circular. Canberra's small hotels were such that in the morning one could find oneself queuing for the bathroom between a government minister and an archbishop. Once again, the dominant image of a nonchalant, apathetic Australian character emerges:
Arcadia, innocent, the Australian capital seems detached from the rest of the globe...It appears impossible in this bright and silent vastness to think of wars and conflicts. Europe and its revolutions, Asia and its struggles appear mythical, distant, from another world. This is the only continent on the face of the earth where a battle has never been fought.
This statement perpetuates the 'clean slate' view of history at the same time as it betrays disdain for the whole narrative of British colonisation in Australia. Vita-Finzi evidently considered the dispossession of the Aborigines as much a footnote to history as he hoped Italy's massacre of the Ethiopian (and Libyan) peoples would become. Not surprisingly it is accompanied with the following patronising comment regarding the Aborigines: who had "more or less disappeared, the few survivors being mainly 'half bloods' with only harmonious place names remaining which so attracted the poets of a century past".
Having abandoned the pretence of defending the country, white (British) Australians were instead preoccupied with sport and the beach. Fear of the sharks lurking under the waves did not mean they would desist from cavorting in the sea. It only led many to take up surfing, a practice which fascinated Vita-Finzi. He goes on to say that a meagre seven million people inhabited the continent, cultivating only one percent of its land. He uses the imagery of flies swarming around the edges of a plate to amusingly describe the pattern of British settlement on the Australian continent.
Vita-Finzi sounded a warning to shake Australia's antipodean smugness: out in the rest of the world to the North, "the prolific yellow peoples appeared to advance like a shoal of sardines, slow, compact and irresistible; to the West, Europe was already tearing at the bandages covering its wounds; to the East, terrible crashes could be heard echoing from the scaffolding of American skyscrapers". The Australians were unconcerned, however, "desert within, sharks without, wars and struggles far away". These thoughts inspired Vita-Finzi to take surfing as a metaphor for Australia:
…with its carefree jumping about and playing, the enjoyment of nature and life, whilst pushing into the recesses of conscience that small jab of fear for the sharks that one day may suddenly jump out of the placid waters…
The Italian diplomatic documentation places Australian readers in the uncomfortable position of being the essentialised party, unwitting subjects of the discourses of power projected by a foreign 'other'. The fact that the Italian Government had faint hopes and even fainter powers over Australia is beside the point. What emerges from their writings is an aspiration to subjugate Australia, to reduce the country, its culture, and its history to a subordinate 'other'. The Italian consuls immediately connotated this status by denigrating British colonisation as incompetent, unworthy and inferior.
The Italian diplomatic perspective is instructive for a number of other reasons. For instance, it reveals the substantial similarities between the colonising attitudes shared by ostensibly 'democratic' Australia and Fascist Italy, particularly in regard to the 'Aborigines' (itself a colonial term). In terms of cultural apartheid, Italy's future polices among the soon to be subjugated Ethiopian population were not conceived by the Italian consuls as being ideologically different to those imposed on Australia's own indigenous inhabitants. Such opinions of Ethiopians were also shared by significant spokesmen in Australian polity like Catholic Archbishop Duhig of Brisbane. Cultural chauvinism was common among European countries at the time, however much they would protest when one of their number engaged in yet another 'civilising mission'.
It is often forgotten today how much the Great Depression had strained social consensus and conventional systems of parliamentary government to the breaking point. As we have seen above, Fascism began to attract credence and respectability as a more modern, efficient and palatable alternative to communism, particularly among ruling elites. Australian conservative political opinion was no exception and included authoritative politicians like Robert Menzies. Italian consuls stationed in Australia, as we can see in their writings, revelled in this recognition.
The documentation also reveals how in some respects the informing opinions of at least one Fascist Italian diplomat were less racist compared to attitudes enjoying currency in the Australia of the day, particularly with regard to Asian nations like Japan, which Australians feared intensely.
Italy's representatives consistently addressed Australia as a separate reality from Great Britain, as if its status as a 'Dominion' within the empire was an issue secondary to Australia's own interests. They took a long hard look at Australia's geo-strategic position and correctly anticipated and even sought to exploit future divergence between Australia and the erstwhile 'home country'.
Finally, the time honoured shibboleth of 'Australia felix', a pristine and essentially 'unoccupied' but isolated country consenting to European spoilation and guaranteeing an enviable standard of living for its working classes, is related in the Italian diplomatic documentation with disdain but mingled with perhaps a tinge of envy for the present and a sense of foreboding for the days to come.
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 Wilson Landor, E., The Bushman, Senate, London (orig. pub. 1847), p. 154.Back
 Said, E., Culture and Imperialism, Vintage 1994 (1993), p. 93. Back
 Miége, J.L., L'imperialismo Coloniale Italiano, Rizzoli, 1976 (translated from original in French:Impérialisme Colonial Italien de 1870 à Nos Jours, SEDES1968). See pp. 43, 87-7, and in particular p. 85, where he quotes from a seminal nationalist work by Nobili Vitelleschi published in 1902 (Nobili Vitelleschi , F.,'Espansione coloniale e emigrazione' in Nuova antologia, 1 May 1902, pp. 106 onwards): "..la sola emigrazione facile, utile, produttiva di moralità, di queiete e di ricchezza è l 'emigrazione che si compie con la propria bandiera a titolo nazionale, conservando la propria nazionalità, obbededendo alle proprie leggi e rendendo fecondo un suolo che è…parte della patria." See also Terracciano, C., La via imperialista del nazionalismo italiano, Quaderno n. 2 Edizioni Barbarossa, Saluzzo, 1982. For a perspective on Italian nationalism from the viewpoint of the Italian diaspora see: Verdicchio, P.,'The Preclusion of Postcolonial Discourse in Southern Italy ' in Revisioning Italy . National Identity and Global Culture, edited by Allen, B., and Russo, M., University of Minnesota Press , 1997. pp. 191-212.Back
 Procacci, G., Dalla parte dell'Etiopia, Feltrinelli, Milano,1984. Back
 Papalia, G., 'From Terrone to wog: 'Post' colonial perspectives on Italian immigration to Australia', in Italian Historical Society Journal, Melbourne, vol. 11, no. 2, July-September, 2003), pp. 2-11. Back
 In the 'Donation of the Italian Delegation in Melbourne 18-02-1936' collection in the State Library of Victoria there are the following mimeographed pamphlets: i) The British Empire and Natural Resources , ii) Can Italy be denied a place in the sun ?, iii) Italy's work of civilisation in East Africa, iv) Some Aspects of the Occupied Territory in the Tigrai - The Dispensary. These were probably donated by Enrico Anzilotti, the Italian Consul for Melbourne at the time. Back
 See Translation from the Italian Language from the Corriere degli Italiani In Australia 28-8-1935 (CIB Report) CRS. Series A432/89. Item: 43/1123. National Archives of Australia ( NAA). An article in the Corriere degli Italiani in Australia dated 28-8-1935 dutifully reported a speech given by Melbourne Consul Enrico Anzilotti before the Circolo Italiano 'Cavour' Melbourne on August 15. The location of the venue, being a Fascio or Italian Fascist party branch, was significant. The speech attracted the attention of the Commonwealth Investigations Branch (C.I.B.). After interpreting Italian objectives in Ethiopia in the light of the history of British imperialism, particularly Egyptian resistance to the British protectorate over their country, Anzilotti went on to say to his mainly Italian public: "….we cannot forget that the Treaty of London guaranteed us…colonial compensations proportionate to the colonial power (extension) of the allies. Victory was ours: France and England rounded off their already round empires, but we received no compensation (colonial) until eight years after the declaration of peace when we were given Jubaland, a poor gain in proportion to our sacrifices…compared with the German colonial dominions which France and England after the war decided to divide amongst themselves". Back
 Vita-Finzi, P.,Giorni lontani, appunti e ricordi, Il Mulino 1989. pp. 338-339. Santoro, S., La politica estera di una media potenza. L'Italia dall'Unità ad oggi, Il Mulino, Bologna, 1991, pp.74, 93-94 and note, 143, 157-8. Rumi, G., L'imperialismo fascista, Mursia, Milano, 1974., pp.24-25, according to whom the Fascist government of Italy had an opportunistic foreign policy. See in particular Miége, pp. 288-293. Back
 Rumi, G.,"Revisionismo" Fascista ed espansione coloniale, Mursia Editore 1974, pp.442-443, 450-1,452,459. Di Nolfo, E., Mussolini e la politica estera italiana, 1919-1933, CEDAM, Padova, 1960, in particular p. 46. See also Vigezzi, B., Politica estera e opinione pubblica in Italia dall'Unità ai giorni nostri, Jaca, Milano, 1991, pp. 99-112, in particular pp. 107-8. Back
 See: Papalia, G., Relations between Italy and Australia during the Italo-Ethiopian Conflict (1935-1936), unpublished Ph.D. thesis, La Trobe University, Melbourne, 2003, in particular pp. 132-152. Back
 Vita-Finzi, Giorni lontani, p. 357. Back
 MINISTERO DEGLI AFFARI ESTERI, Amministrazione Centrale, Ambasciate, Legazioni e Consolate del Regno d'Italia all'Estero. Ambasciate e Legazioni presso Sua Maestà il Re d'Italia.Agenti Consolari degli Stati Esteri in Italia in Libia e nelle Isole dell'Egeo. Tipografie del Ministero degli Affari Esteri, Roma, 15-9-1925. Cresciani, op.cit. pp.28-29. NAA. CRS: Series A981/1, Cons 157: Letter of the 7/5/1936 from the Consul General Vita-Finzi to Dept. of External Affairs. The letter announces the Consular Agency in Launceston had been closed. Later a recommendation was made to increase consular representation in Queensland because of the influence of Italian anti-fascists: Italian Historical Society. (henceforth IHS) Italian Diplomatic Archives (henceforth IDA): Doc.No: 7077 - 7078 - 7079 Date: ?-?-1938 From: Sydney Consulate General To: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Popular Culture Re: Italian Communities in Australia Contents: Need to increase consular representation in Queensland (only two consular agencies - one run by an Australian - and one vice-Consulate) despite there being more migrants than Melbourne and Sydney combined and they are more economically successful. Lack of consular presence has lead to ideological anti-Fascist and communist indoctrination among migrants. Papalia, G. Peasant Rebels in the Canefields. Italian migrant involvement in the 1934 and 1935 Weil's disease cane Cutter's strikes in Queensland, Catholic Intercultural Resource Centre Paper, Melbourne 1985.Back
 Cresciani, G., Fascism, Anti-Fascism and Italians in Australia 1922-1945 , ANU press, 1980, pp. 26, 34, 77. The Royal decree was published in the Official Gazette on 11 March 1928. See also Luciolli, p. 79. Back
 Cresciani, pp. 8, 11, 12, 18n, 19n, 26, 32-35, 42-43, 50-1n, 69, 72, 74. Born in 1885, Ferrante had also served in Turkey , Greece , Spain , Brazil , France , the United States and Canada . He was married to a British citizen, Virginia MacVeagh. See also: National Library of Australia: 'Moffat, J.P. Diaries.' on Microfilm: MFM G 7251. Diary entry for the 8 October 1936. Vita-Finzi,Giorni lontani, p. 360. NAA. CRS: Series: A981/1, Item: CONS. 161. Letter of the 23/12/1937 from Italian Embassy in London to Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden. The letter nominated Amadeo Mammalella Consul General in Sydney. Know, E.G. Who's Who in Australia Herald and Weekly Times, Melbourne, 1935, p. 178. Back
 Vita-Finzi,'Un giorno a Canberra'Nuova Antologia , fasc. 1562, 16/6/1937. A reprint of the original was published on in Nuova Antologia fasc. 2168, Oct.-Dec. 1 988, pp.281-286. Back
 See in particular the conclusion in Miége, L'imperialismo Coloniale Italiano, pp. 288-293. Back
 Grossardi Report No. 4360. Italian Diplomatic Archives, (hereafter I.D.A.) Doc. No: 4565. Date: 30-09-1931. Italian Historical Society in Melbourne (hereafter I.H.S.). Back
 On Grossardi's background, see: Cresciani, pp. 8-9, 42-43. Back
 On the Australian White Army see: Cathcart, M., Defending the National Tuckshop Australia's secret army intrigue of 1931, Penguin, 1988. See in particular pp. 32-37, 156-7. On the New Guard, see: Amos, K., The New Guard Movement 1931-1935 , Melbourne University Press, 1976. Back
 Pesman Cooper, R., '"We Want a Mussolini": Views of Fascist Italy in Australia', Australian Journal of Politics and History, vol. 39. No. 3, 1993. pp. 348-366. See also Cathcart, in particular pp. 32-37, 156-7. In Macintyre, S., The Oxford History of Australia, Vol. 4. Oxford University Press 1986 (1999), pp. 308-9, we can read the following comment: "…there was considerable sympathy on the right for Fascist dictators in their assertion of firm authorship and cultivation of vigorous national pride". Back
 In the original the Italian 1937 Secret Report stated: "Pertanto la politica inglese verso l'Italia si orienterà sempr e verso quella inglese nonostante che il Primo Ministro, signor Lyons, (fervente cattolico) Il quale nutre personali simpatie per l'Italia Fascista e grande ammirazione per Il Duce, abbia cercato in molte occasioni di attenuare l'intransigenza del Foreign Office contre le nostre giuste aspirazioni." See Australia: Political Situation in 1937 (Secret Report). I.D.A. Doc.No: 6713 Date: 1937. I.H.S. On the "profound esteem" for the Duce by Lyons, also see: 'Conflitto italo-etiopico - atteggiamento australiano' I.D.A. Doc. No: 6291 dated: 7/9/1935 I.H.S. It reports a telegram from Anzilotti in Melbourne sent on the 3/9/1935 . Also see: The Argus'Young Nationalists Critical of Parliament a Few for Fascism.' I.D.A. Doc. No: 4732. Date: 27-11-1933. It reported that Fascism was seen as more efficient than parliamentary democracy and quoted Menzies as arguing against professional parliamentarians. See also CPD, vol. 147: UAP MP, FAIRBAIRN on the 7/11/1935 (p. 1407) : "However much we, who believe in democracy, may dislike the idea of Fascism, we must admit that Mussolini and his colleagues have done a wonderful work in raising Italy from a condition of chaos within a period of ten years. They have done everything that is humanly possible to overcome the problems within their own country. Any one who saw Italy after the war, and who has seen it recently, must admit the efficiency of the Fascist regime, however much one may disagree with the restrictions of personal liberty which it entails." In Macintyre, S. The Oxford History of Australia, Vol. 4., Oxford University Press 1986 (1999), pp. 308-9, we can read the following comment:"…there was considerable sympathy on the right for Fascist dictators in their assertion of firm authorship and cultivation of vigorous national pride." On Dame Enid Lyons, see: Pesman, p. 361. On the diplomatic issues, see Papalia,Relations between Italy and Australia during the Italo-Ethiopian Conflict (1935-1936). Back
 Pugliese, J.,'Race as a Category Crisis: Whiteness and the Topical Assignation of Race' in Social Semiotics, vol. 12, no. 2, 2002, pp. 154-166.Back
 Regarding US influence on Australian official opinion: Ferry T.A., Report of the Royal Commission Appointed to Inquire into and Report on the Social and Economic Effect of Increase in Number of Aliens in North Queensland , Government Printer Brisbane, Brisbane, 1925. For academic lucubrations: Lyng J.,Non-Britishers in Australia , Macmillan & Melbourne University Press, 1935 (1927); Pyke N.O.P., 'An Outline History of Italian Immigration into Australia', Australian Quarterly , XX 13 (Sept. 1948), pp. 99-109. Back
 Macintyre, S., TheOxford History of Australia, The Succeeding Age, vol. 4. OUP (1986) 1999, p. 200. Natives in North Australia I.D.A. Doc. no: 4751 - 4752 Date: 20-09-1933 I.H.S. Back
 Macintyre, p. 200-3. See Greenwood , G., 'Development in the Twenties, 1919-29' in Australia: A Social and Political History in Greenwood G., (ed) Angus and Robertson, 1955 (1969), pp. 287-343. See: pp. 314-19. Back
 Quoted in Greenwood, 'Development in the Twenties, 1919-29', p. 315.Back
 Cover note, I.D.A. Doc. No: 6632 Date: 09-03-1936 . I.H.S. Grossardi 'Memoriale sull'Australia', I.D.A. Doc. No: 6633 - 6634 - 6635 - 6636 - 6637 - 6638 - 6639 - 6640 - 6641 - 6642. (no date) I.H.S. Back
 Australia: Political Situation in 1937 (Secret Report). I.D.A. Doc.No: 6713 Date: 1937. I.H.S. Back
 Conflitto italo-etiopico. Atteggiamento australiano' I.D.A. Doc. No: 6214 - 6215 - 6216 - 6217 - 6218. Date: 23-03-1936 . I.H.S. Back
 For an example from the Consular documentation: Resignation by Sir Henry Gullett. I.D.A. I.H.S. Doc: 6790 - 6791 - 6792 - 6793 Date: 22-03-1937 I.H.S. The issue was Australian trade policy had conflicting priorities: British preference versus local protection and trade opportunities with Pacific countries. Macmahon Ball, W. 'The Australian Press and World Affairs' , pp. 9-33, see, pp. 12-13, 16, 29, in Macmahon Ball, W., (ed) Press Radio and World Affairs, Australia's Outlook, Melbourne University Press, 1938. Also, Kerferd, G.B., 'Australian Press and Imperial Ideals', in Macmahon Ball, W.,(ed) Press Radio and World Affairs,Australia's Outlook , Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1938, pp. 106-124, see pp. 117-8. An overall picture in this respect from the Italian viewpoint can be seen Australia : Political Situation in 1937 (Secret Report). I.D.A. Doc. No: 6713 Date: 1937. I.H.S. Back
 Vita-Finzi, 'Un giorno a Canberra'Nuova Antologia , fasc. 1562, 16/6/1937, pp. 281-286.Back
 In his autobiography Vita-Finzi describes Italian attitudes at the time (and by extension also his own): "the evident injustice of Italy's exclusion from the redistribution of colonies and mandates after the Great War; the rapidity with which the Ethiopian Empire had collapsed; its obvious backwardness and chaotic internal strife; the commitment to providing Ethiopia with order and civilisation; the promise to abolish slavery and the slave trade with neighbouring countries, would have lead sooner or later to this violation of the law being condoned by world public opinion and Italy returning to its position among the defenders of order and stability in Europe." Vita-Finzi, P.,Giorni lontani, Appunti e ricordi, Il Mulino, 1989., pp. 376 and following. Back
 On the laws enforcing apartheid in Ethiopia following the Italian conquest, see: Del Boca, A., La Guerra d'Abissinia 1935-1936 . Feltrinelli, 1978 (1965), pp. 207-209. On Duhig see: The Bulletin, 23/10/1935. Workers' Weekly 27/8/1935 : Duhig: with the title: 'An Archbishop'. Also see I.D.A. Doc. no. 6255. Telegram dated 21-11-1935 from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs significantly to the Vatican and London Embassies reporting a letter from the acting Consul General in Sydney dated 9 October. On Vita-Finzi's opinion regarding colonisation, see Giorni lontani, pp. 376 and following. Back
 On how Italian diplomats sought to exploit Australia 's internal politics to further Italian foreign policy objectives by emphasising Australia 's geographic vulnerability, see: Papalia, G., Relations between Italy and Australia during the Italo-Ethiopian Conflict (1935-1936) . Back