Categories of Potential Emigrants

Some people considered emigration as a bad proposition because it deprived the country of some of its best people. This was a true objection, but Casolani referred to what was happening in Europe. In that Continent millions were leaving Italy, Poland, Germany and Great Britain because of the economic depression which was hitting those countries and social upheavals happening all over Europe since the end of the First Great War. Casolani tried to fit Malta into the inter-national situation where emigration was an international movement. Workers all over Europe were seeking work and security across the Atlantic Ocean hoping that the New World would offer them a life better than that they had so far known and experienced. The Maltese were only following their brethren on the Continent in trying to avoid hardship brought by unemployment.

Those who opposed emigration to English--speaking countries did so not because they had any interest in migration but because they did not like to see English supplant Italian in Maltese education and culture. Hence, Casolani noted, these people not only objected to emigration to Anglo-Saxon countries but they also objected to the teaching of English and they called for a halt to the Evening Classes and for the closing of the Migrants' Training Centre.

In 1933 the Nationalist Government resigned and in November of that year the Constitution was suspended. The Maltese found themselves with-out a say in the government of their island. During the previous years the Emigration Department had been neglected and eventually the Migrants' Training Centre was closed down. By that time Casolani had retired.

To Casolani organised emigration based on the Selective System was the only solution to the twin problem of unemployment and over-population. He dismissed the objections to his arguments as "old shibboleths". Casolani had felt confident that ... "as long as the God-fearing Maltese and Gozitan farmer produced healthy families of fifteen or twenty children, men would never be lacking to till our cultivated land. Moreover it is far better that Malta should lose a great part of her agriculturists to another country, than they should be allowed to exist on starvation wages".

The "old shibboleths" dismissed by Casolani were basically three: First, that if emigration were to continue unchecked the best element would disappear. Second, that the population Maltese islands would dwindle to nothing, that the day would come when only old men, women and children will be left.

The answers to such objectives were all. In a correspondence which appeared on August 17, 1920, it was pointed out that:

  1. Emigration was relieving over-population and disposing of the unemployed thus removing an anxious source of trouble to the country.
  2. The preparation of intending migrants necessarily educated the minds not of themselves alone but also of the families and their connections and brought vividly before a class of people who would not otherwise be convinced, that without instruction the were tied hand and foot to the village pump. From this point of view emigration served a stimulus to education.
  3. There was not one among the thousands emigrants who yearly left our shores, be they fathers, husbands, brothers or sons, who did not send a substantial money remittance to their home. Hundreds of pounds passed daily through the local banks, some of which had lately to increase their staff in order to cope with the new branch of business, while the Money Order Department of the Post Office was regularly flooded with remittances sent by Maltese emigrants.

The unemployed youth of Malta and Gozo agreed with such reasoning. The only two obstacles which prevented a veritable exodus were the conditions of entry prevalent in receiving countries at the time and the lack of cash without which most people were unable to buy a ticket to their final destination. When America made it harder for immigrants to settle in that country, the Maltese switched their attention to the distant shores of Australia. The Great Depression of the thirties hindered such a flow but by 1937 the situation in Australia had improved. When unemployment in Australia dwindled to a mere 4% the Maltese authorities opened another centre at Ghammieri.

The new centre soon received forty candidates. Their principal subjects were English, agriculture and carpentry. The last two subjects were taught with Australian conditions in mind. Those who were accepted at Ghammieri had to be physically fit and of a good character and considered capable of settling permanently in Australia.

While going through their courses students at Ghammieri received 10s a week for their expenses. They lost 2s for each day they were absent.

Early in 1937 Housecraft Schools were opened. These were meant for those who came from remote areas. Besides basic knowledge important for all migrants, there were also special lessons on good manners, especially during the long weeks which emigrants had to spend on board their ships which were taking them to distant lands. The Emigration Report issued for the years 1937-1938 stated with obvious gratification, that big strides had been made in education in Malta. In fact all the candidates -who had attended the courses organised specifically for them, passed their literacy test. In about ten years the migrants from Malta had become a very different class from the rude and rough who had emigrated from Malta in previous times.

In the late thirties it had become clear to all intending migrants that they had to be prepared if they wanted to succeed in their newly-adopted land. By the end of 1939, 150 trainees had completed their courses at the Housecraft schools. Such courses averaged between five and twelve weeks, according to the standard of education of the student. Unfortunately, the international situation had worsened and Malta and Australia found themselves embroiled in another war which was not of their making. When the Second World War was declared, normal daily life had to give in to a state of emergency and emigration was to cease for the next six years.

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

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