Captain Henry Curmi

When the Maltese Government had decided to send an official representative to Australia, Lord Strickland communicated with the Australian Federal Prime Minister, Mr. S.M. Bruce. That communication was sent to Australia on September 4, 1928, and the Maltese Government received a reply dated November 20, in which Mr. Bruce stated that he had no objection to such an appointment and that it was his belief that a Maltese representative in Australia would be an advantage to both countries.

The appointment of Captain Henry Curmi as Malta's representative in Australia came into effect on January 1, 1929. He left Malta on March 4, but prior to his departure, notices were distributed throughout Malta and Gozo to let interested people know that Curmi was willing to meet anyone before he left for his new post. More than two thousand of these notices were affixed in various localities and parish priests were asked to tell their congregations about this. In fact Curmi received 118 enquiries, 74 from Malta and 44 from Gozo. Most of these enquiries, 52 from Malta. and 11 from Gozo, referred to cases of neglect of families by migrants who were living in Australia. Curmi said that more than 95% of such cases of, neglect originated from migrants who had settled in the cities. At the time of his appointment Curmi thought that there were some 4,001 Maltese in Australia.

Captain Curmi left Malta for London. On March 12, 1929, the new representative of Malta gave an interview to "The Times" in which he stated that his major aim was to strengthen the ties between Malta and Australia and that he wished to improve the trade relations between the two countries. Curmi felt that he was the official spokesman for the Maltese living in Australia and that it was his duty to visit them and help them organise themselves.

"The Times" was told that most Maltese in Australia lived on the land. Curmi did not favour group settlements nor was he happy about the fact that in some areas Maltese tended to congregate together. Curmi told his reporter that "the idieal was not to provide relief but to encourage achievement of the Christian ideal of independence".

The Australian Press Association in London was handed a statement by Captain Curmi which was distributed to some 300 newspapers in Australia. Besides repeating what had already been printed in "The Times" Curmi added that his appointment showed the seriousness of the Maltese Government vis-a-vis the situation of the Maltese community in Australia. Curmi also said that since 192 1, when Malta had gained the right to self-rule, it became imperative for the Maltese living abroad to receive the respect they deserved.

In his interview Captain Curmi stated categorically that in his official capacity as the Commissioner of Malta in Australia he wished to give a fair exposition of the Maltese to the Australians to redress the harm which had already been done by unfriendly elements within the Australian Press. Curmi left no doubt whatsoever that his people saw themselves as a Christian and European nation, proud of their heritage which went back to the time when St. Paul was shipwrecked on Maltese shores. To defend such a heritage the Maltese fought the Turks and Napoleon. During the Great War of 1914-1918, 25,000 Maltese volunteered and many of those saw active service with the armies of Great Britain, U.S.A., Canada, Australia and France.

His own personal record made Captain Curmi an ideal person to represent Malta in a British country. Born in 1890, he entered the civil service in 1908 and two years later he joined the King's Own Malta Regiment. He was mobilised in 1914. In 1915 he was transferred to the Royal Malta Artillery and in that same year he was at Gallipoli with the Anzacs. In 1916 he proceeded to Egypt and was mentioned in dispatches. Besides his military career, Curmi was a polished civil servant with a thorough knowledge of migrants and migration.

But Captain Curini was not willing to rest on his laurels. He saw his new position as one capable of consolidating the relations between Malta and Australia. Migration was one instrument of achieving such an aim. Trade was another. On the matter of trade Curmi said:

"We are already buyers of Australian produce at the rate of 35s/40s per head. Much can be done to increase the purchase of Australian produce by Malta. I can see, for example, that Australian wheat of the Purple Straw, can probably supply the daily need of the baker in Malta and would, with advantage, replace South American and even some North American varieties, whilst giving more work for Maltese mills. In the same way, fattened meat from Australia, with improved refrigeration, should replace lean Roumanian and North African stock".

Captain Curmi touched Australian soil on May 30, 1929. His first stop was Western Australia. In Perth he laid a wreath at the State War Memorial in King's Park. He was accompanied by a Maltese priest, the Rev. Raphael Pace who had arrived in Australia in 1913. When interviewed by "The Western Australian" Curmi pointed to the significance of his first official gesture in Australia as the representative of the Maltese Government: "I have laid this wreath because I thought that the people of Malta would wish my first public act on reaching Australia to be one of homage and reverence to the memory of Australians who died during the Great War, many of whose remains are enshrined in Malta. As a brother in arms at Anzac, I always felt it a duty, when in Malta, to conduct Australian visitors to the places where the remains of Anzacs are interned".

Malta's representative presented his credentials to the Federal Prime Minister, J.H. Scullin. By 1930 Scullin had already made it known that his administration wanted to cut immigration by half. The labour market in Australia was deeply disturbed by the Great Depression and it was thought unwise to admit more workers seeking fewer jobs. The Italianate newspaper "Malta" of December 10, 1929, had reported that newly arrived immigrants in Australia spent a long time seeking work. Often they were offered "blackleg" work which meant low wages, insecurity and the enmity of the Australian Labour Movement.

Moreover, the "Malta" never reconciled itself to the sending of a representative to Australia at public expense. In an article published on December 13, it stated: "Let us not for the moment, however, leave Captain Curmi to continue, at our expense, to study Australia, make journeys, deliver speeches, attend luncheons and dinners. What use is Captain Curmi? The Australians want to keep the Maltese out."

Prime Minister Scullin decided to make great cuts in expenditure. He reduced the entry of aliens by half in order to stem the tide of soaring unemployment. This measure did not at first involve the Maltese but the Australian Government did suspend the agreement by which Australia was bound to provide 35,000,000 to help U.K. citizens pay their passage to Australia. At that time however, there was no restriction against the Maltese who wished to proceed with their own money.

Captain Curini was keeping the Maltese Government informed with the economies which were being introduced by Scullin. In a statement made to the Legislative Assembly in Valletta, the Hon. R. Hamilton advised that during 1930 no passports would be issued to those wishing to emigrate to Australia unless they had relatives in that country or had assured work prior to their departure. Again no emigrant was to be allowed to depart unless provided with a Commonwealth permit to land in Australia. Mr. Hamilton also stated that less than half of those who had applied to emigrate to Australia were allowed to do so. Hamilton's statement was made on December 9, 1929.

Unfortunately, Curmi's mission, which had began under the best of auspices, had to be terminated only a few months after he had began his oh. The Depression and the opposition to his status by some Maltese politicians were not the only problems Curmi had to contend with. Less than a year after his arrival in Australia on May 30, 1929, Curmi had to resign because of ill health. That was a great blow to those who had campaigned so vigorously for so long to have an official Maltese representative living in Australia.

After the departure of Captain Curmi, Lord Strickland had asked Mr. H.W. Potts to carry on with the work Curmi had to leave unfinished. Mr. Potts was an Australian who knew the Maltese very well. But Potts died suddenly in 1931 and his place was taken by Mr. F.J. Corder. Corder's association with the Maltese was a very fortunate one. He stayed at his job till June 1936 when Captain Curmi was able to return to his post and to work as Malta's Commissioner till his retirement in 1952.


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