Trade Schools and Technical Education
On May 19, 1928, Malta received a distinguished Australian visitor. He was Mr. jack Barnes OBE, who was a Deputy Director of Migration and Settlement at Australia House in London. Mr. & Mrs. Barnes and their son arrived on the ship "Orford" which was then on her maiden voyage. The Barnes visit was the third visit to Malta by important Australians in a few weeks. In April a
group of Western Australian Parliamentarians arrived on a visit and between May 1 1 and 12, 650 Scottish Australians on their way to Scotland made a stop in Malta and visited the war dead.
The Migrants Training Centre had been opened just six weeks before the arrival of jack Barnes. Mr. Barnes visited the Centre which was then housed at Bugeja Technical Institute at Hamrun. He was there received by Captain Henry Curmi who was responsible for the Training Centre. Captain H. Curmi himself was to be appointed Commissioner for Malta in Australia in 1929 and his name was to be indelibly written in the annals of the history of Maltese emigration to Australia.
Captain Curmi introduced the trade masters to Mr. Barnes. All of them had spent more than fourteen years in Australia and had received their training in that country. Mr. Barnes also visited the Emigration Department and spoke with several intending emigrants. He expressed his satisfaction at their fine physique and at their knowledge of English. He also inspected the Medical Branch and its equipment. Later jack Barnes, his wife and his son Fred, paid their respects to the Australian soldiers who had been buried at the Pieta Military Cemetery.
The Barnes visit had been an important event in establishing lasting links between the Maltese authorities and those of Australia. The Maltese had won an influential friend and Mr. J. Barnes was to be a useful asset to the Maltese in Australia House, London. When asked about his visit to Malta, Mr. Barnes sounded almost lyrical:
"Sunshine which helps to make happiness; smiling faces, healthy and well-fed children, and cleanliness on every side. 1 shall always remember Malta as the Smiling Island where everybody smiles and seems to be happy what-ever his place in the country's machinery".
In May 1929 the Department of Labour issued a pamphlet entitled "Migrants Training Centre". In spite of its English title the pamphlet was printed in Maltese. First the pamphlet explained the nature and scope of the Training Centre but then it went on to give an introduction to Australia and her people. There was practical information on the conditions of work in Australia and an extensive list of jobs available at the time in all the States. It even published a list of tools in English and Maltese. The pamphlet explained the importance of trade unions and the need of the Maltese worker to obtain his membership ticket and to abide by the directives given by the shop steward.
Some of the suggestions put forward to intending emigrants to Australia throw light on the way of life prevalent in Malta in the twenties:
- The first and most important thing for an emigrant is to keep his mouth shut and his eyes wide open.
- One should never brag about the amount of money he is earning. If you do you will probably find someone willing to relieve you of your earnings.
- Learn to trust the banks. Money under your mattress invites thieves. Money in the bank earns interest and it will be harder to squander.
- Remember your obligation to pay back the money lent to you by the Government of Malta. (This was a reference to a loan scheme initiated in 1926 when the passage to Australia then cost £60 and the Maltese Government loaned half the sum. Between 1926 and 1929 about one hundred and twenty emigrants availed themselves of this scheme).
The writer of the pamphlet also advised prospective emigrants to send some money to Australia before their actual departure. This was a pre-caution against an initial period of unemployment. Another advice was to avoid settling in the cities which were already crowded and where unemployment was a serious problem. The writer also added that Australians did not like to notice too many foreigners loitering around street corners. One should visit a city only when he felt he knew the country.
One particular piece of advice was interesting because it showed the kind of personal needs Maltese emigrants had in the twenties. They were told to carry with them two pairs of shoes, one fit for city walking and the other tough and durable. A pair of slippers were to be used indoors. Other necessities were: four shirts, four underparts, four vests, a dozen handkerchiefs, six pairs of socks, a good suit and used clothes to go to work with. A coat and a raincoat were also suggested.
The tone of these paternal warnings became more and more pressing: never go out barefoot and remember that sandals are simply not accept-able. Not even the most destitute of beggars would dare do such unheard of things. Do not wear caps or straw hats. Never put around your waist the traditional sash but use a belt instead. This warning read in Maltese like this: "Ankas it-triehi ma huma uzati; min irid jithazzem juza cintorin".
Try not to be different. Australians will judge you by the way you dress. Remember, in Australia all the workers go to work with their jackets on and they always wear shoes.
There were some tips about shopping. In Australia all items in shops had a price marked on them. The Maltese shopper was told to pay the price shown on the object he wished to buy. In no circumstances must he haggle about the stated price.
Personal hygiene was important too. The Maltese migrant was urged to wash often and he was told not to start eating before having washed his hands. The writer of the pamphlet told of some Maltese workers in the USA who were sacked because they presented themselves at the canteen without having washed their hands first. Another suggestion was about their hair. They were told to keep their hair short because short hair was easier to keep clean. Finger-nails too were to be kept snort and clean.
The emigrants were urged to seek membership of a trade union if they wanted secure jobs and avoid trouble with local workers. When looking for a job one was told to do so on his own and not to go in groups. When not at work the Maltese were told not to gather in groups and talk aloud in a foreign tongue. This would attract attention and hostility. If the Maltese wished to meet fellow Maltese they were to do so in clubs or in parks. Never on a street. Australian streets were for traffic and the pavements for busy pedestrians.
A vivid insight was given by the advice preferred about the habits concerning eating out. According to the author of the pamphlet restaurants abounded in Australian cities and there too prices were determined by the local authorities. Therefore one was never expected to argue about the bill. In 1929 an ordinary meal in an ordinary restaurant cost about a shilling. Here too table manners were important: "At table keep your voice low, take off your hat and do not smoke. Use knives and forks; never eat with your fingers. If your tea or coffee is very hot do not do what so many men do in Malta, that is, never pour your tea or coffee in your saucer and blow on it to cool it and then drink your tea or coffee from the saucer. Allow your tea or coffee to cool in the cup and drink it from the cup, not from the saucer".
Water in restaurants was served in jugs: "You are not to drink straight from jugs because those are there for the convenience of others too. Pour the water from the jug into your own glass and drink from the glass. If your appetite is healthy and if you have finished the food that has been served to you, never wipe your plate with a piece of bread and then eat that piece of bread as is so often done in Maltese homes. This is not done by people trained in good manners. Finally, remember never to speak to anybody, including your waiter, with your mouth full".
One final bit of advice concerned church-going. According to the pamphlet issued by the Department of Labour, in the late twenties there were about two million Catholics in Australia. Priests were only too willing to help new arrivals. When the Maltese went to church in Australia they were told to imitate the Australians and to avoid some of the peculiar customs prevalent among the Maltese. Some warnings concerned:
- Waiting in groups outside the church and talking aloud and then rushing in at the last minute.
- Praying aloud to the annoyance of those sitting next to you; avoid sitting next to your friends because they will start talking to you while the priest is saying Mass. This habit of talking in the church gives Maltese Catholics a bad image.
- Leaving the church before the last prayers are said. It is very unbecoming to leave your place and walk out when others are still in their places, praying or singing.
The Maltese authorities did their part in trying to educate the people who were interested in leaving their home to seek a new life abroad. The basic flaw in all these efforts was that they were trying to teach people who were already adults and therefore less receptive to new ideas. Education had to start with young children if these were to develop into grown men and women ready to compete with other adults from more developed environments. The erection of trade schools and technical colleges was a step in the right direction.
In 1923 the Department of Agriculture had taken in a number of young students to train them in market-gardening and in horticulture. Although this experiment lasted only one short year, it helped to condition the mind of those people interested in education and in the move-ment of migration that technical education was becoming imperative if the Maltese abroad were to compete successfully with others.
Australia, Canada and even the USA had made it clear that they were not willing to accept illiterate and unskilled labourers who would swell the ranks of the unemployed living in squalid conditions in the more depraved areas of their cities. What those countries were after were healthy men and women capable of hard work on the land. Henry Casolani had been told this in 1922 during his talks with representatives of those countries in London.
To his credit Casolani insisted with his superiors to change Maltese secondary schools into polytechnics which... "besides the usual Day and Evening Classes for the teaching of Languages and Mathematics and all branches of Electrical and Mechanical Engineering, will comprise a course of Practical Chemistry, Tailoring, Cookery, Bakery and Confectionery, Women's Trade and Domestic Economy classes, and other live instruction which has a present market value and can immediately be turned into cash".
In his book "Awake, Malta" Casolani dwelt extensively on what he termed as the hard lesson of emigration. That hard lesson meant that Maltese mentality had to change and adapt to the advent of the technological era. In some ways Casolani could be said to have been more than thirty years ahead of his time. He envisaged an educational system that would cater for a Maltese society that would eventually rid itself of colonial bonds and experience a mild form of industrial revolution. However the author of "Awake, Malta" called for a reform in Malta's schools not because he saw a bright future for Malta but simply because he was the Superintendent of Emigration.
It is ironic that the development of the Maltese educational system had to be linked with such an unlikely phenomenon as emigration. Casolani championed the cause of the English Language and the opening of polytechnics not because they were meant to improve the quality of Maltese life, but because a Matlese emigrant who was able to read and write in English and possessed a trade as well was capable of adjusting to life in a foreign country much quicker than his illiterate and unskilled brother.
The Language Question was still a burning issue in the middle twenties when Henry Casolani was the prime mover in the development of the migratory movement from Malta. In his capacity as Superintendent of Emigration he had the fore-sight to envisage emigration to the USA, Canada and Australia as the best proposition for the Maltese migrant. Casolani had stated this in the clearest of terms: "Our two most successful settlements are, unquestionably, the American and the Australian". Casolani had written this at a time when those who opposed the teaching of English in schools often suggested Latin America in general and Argentina in particular, as the area they thought most suitable for the Maltese emigrant.
Source: The Great Exodus by Fr Lawrence E. Attard. (C) P.E.G. Ltd - 1989.