A Question of Numbers

When the original passengers from the 'Racconigi' eventually arrived in Sydney, they must have heard about the consternation that was then gripping Australia about the supposed invasion of the country by the Maltese. Those who believed in such scares did not know the real facts. In 1921 the total population of the Maltese islands stood at 212,253. Even if all the men, women and children living in Malta and Gozo decided to make an exodus and leave for the shores of distant Australia, those thousands could have been absorbed without difficulty. Casolani, in his report stated that out of that total, Maltese males amounted to 102,745. Young males, between the ages of 14 and 40 amounted to 42,548. It was usually from such an age bracket that emigrants originated.

Casolani was right when he wrote that only about half of that young male category would, consider the likelihood of emigrating. The other half saw no valid reason whatsoever for leaving their native land. Casolani reasoned that Malta in 1921, carried a potential of some 20,000 emigrants. Even that figure had to be halved as not all emigrants preferred Australia. In fact many opted for the U.S.A., Canada or the European possessions in North Africa.

Casolani wrote with statistics in hand. For those who feared the swamping of Australia by the Maltese, Casolani produced the following figures:

Year

Migrants for Australia

1922 -'23

406

1923 -'24

470

1924 -'25

692

Casolani does not mention the numbers of returned migrants. He does say however that apart from those who perhaps had entered Australia through some other country, in March 1922, the total of Maltese in all Australian States was 1,784. That figure hardly suggested that the Maltese were planning a takeover of the Commonwealth.

That Report was published in 1924. A year later a young priest from Gozo, 29 year old Angelo Camilleri, arrived in Queensland. His home village was Nadur, but he had been ordained in Algeria where he had worked among Maltese immigrants in that country and was helping other European settlers as well.

From Queensland Father Camilleri decided to go to Melbourne. In that city he did sterling work among Maltese migrants until he had to retire in 1934 because of ill health. Fortunately he kept up a regular correspondence with Mr. Henry Casolani who greatly appreciated his work and who acknowledged Camilleri as a priest who was doing the work of a social worker among the Maltese community in Melbourne.

Soon after his arrival in Melbourne, the Rev. Angelo Camilleri addressed two letters to the Emigration Office in Malta. In a letter written on April 21, 1926, he congratulated Casolani for his interventions on behalf of the Maltese which helped to redress some misconceptions the Australians had about the Maltese. Father Camilleri also thought that most firms in Victoria found no objection in ofrering work to the Maltese and, at the time he was writing, he knew of no Maltese out of work. Indeed some of them were working till midnight.

In another letter written by Camilleri on July 6, 1926, he told Casolani: "The Maltese at present are all employed, except those who do not want to work but to play. There is a great demand for workers and 1 am glad to tell you that the Maltese are preferred to others, a proof of this being that at the Albion quarry, the employees are all Maltese and only four are Englishmen. There are about 200 Maltese in the quarry".

Father Camilleri also referred to a statement made on June 9, 1926, by Professor G.L. Wood of the Faculty of Commerce at Melbourne University. Wood was reported to have said that the Maltese had given the greatest satisfaction in various spheres of employment in Australia.

In that same year, according to Father Camilleri, the Hotel Menzies had fifteen Malteseon the staff. It was in the summer of that same year that the hotel received Senator Achilles Samut as its distinguished guest. The senator met the Maltese employed there.

The Scotch Hotel employed twelve Maltese; there were others working in different hotels in Melbourne. Camilleri said he knew of thirty Maltese employed with the Gas Works and many were working on the construction of railroads. He mentioned one Maltese he had met who had been for just one week in Australia. In Malta, this immigrant worked at the Dockyard as an apprentice. The priest helped him get a job as a boiler maker and he was earning 24 a month.

Father Camilleri had some original ideas of his own. He suggested the setting up of a tile factory, which when open, was to be the first factory of its kind in Australia. The experiment was successfully made and a number of Maltese were employed there. Another idea of his was the setting up of an Orange Flower Water Manufacturing Company. Father Camilleri remained silent about the outcome of this venture, but in a letter written on November 11, 1926, he ended by saying that all the Maltese in Melbourne were doing well except for a hard core, made of some twenty men, who should have never been allowed to emigrate.

In July 193 1, Father Camilleri was mentioned in the Melbourne Herald because of the help he had given to a Maltese worker, Francesco Grech. Grech had had a serious accident while at work when a wall crashed on him on July 13. Grech had injured his spine and fractured a leg. For days doctors despaired of his life. Father Camilleri visited regularly the injured man at the Melbourne Hospital, while relatives took care of Grech's two young boys aged four and two.

The Melbourne Herald of July 21, said that Grech had arrived in Australia six years before when he was thirty-three years of age. He had had a distinguished career on service ships during the Great War and was decorated with the British War Medal and the Mercantile Marine Medal. These medals were awarded to Grech because in 1918, his ship, the "Mabel Bird", was torpedoed in the English Channel and Grech spent seven long hours in icy waters supporting his mates until they were picked up by a trawler late in the afternoon.

Men like Grech had every reason to speak highly of the work done by Father Camilleri among the Maltese living and working in Melbourne. Unfortunately Father Camilleri had to leave Australia in 1934 because of failing health. He retired to his native village of Nadur where he died. At the time of his departure someone wrote to the Maltese authorities to say that many times Father Camilleri had acted as an interpreter for his Maltese brethren, especially when they needed to borrow money to buy a house or a farm.

Source: The Great Exodus by Fr Lawrence E. Attard. (C) P.E.G. Ltd - 1989.


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