Maltese in the Limelight

In his memorandum to Earle Page, Senator Samut had stated that while in Australia, he had met many Maltese who had established themselves there. Although the Maltese in 1926 were numerically less than 2,000, yet a few of them had already acquired either a position for themselves or else had made a tidy fortune.

"The Evening News" of September 22, 1920, carried a story about a Maltese planter who had passed away a few days before. The planter was Alan Anthony who had found himself in Queensland before the end of the century. In 1890 he left Queensland for New Guinea and settled at a place some sixty miles inland from Port Moresby. He worked at his plantation for more than thirty years until 1920, when he had a tragic accident. Alan was resting on his balcony when he fell and injured his spine. He was carried on a stretcher to the coast but he died at sea while being taken to Queensland. Before he died Alan stated that he had amassed a fortune of some 60,000. In his will he left much of his money for the benefit of soldiers who had lost their sight while on service.

Four months after the death of Alan Anthony, another Maltese had made headlines, this time in Sydney. Mr. Alphonse Vassallo died on January 11, 1921. Twenty years before Vassallo had arrived in New South Wales and established his residence at 87, George Street, Sydney. He got his first job with the Dominion Iron and Steel Company. A few years later Vassallo opened his own Alphonse Hotel and he was managing another by the name of King George Hotel. He also ran the Unique Theatre until that building was destroyed by fire. Vassallo was also a prominent businessmen in the Boston Market.

Alphonse Vassallo was married to Ella Fortune of Sydney and they had three sons and four daughters. He died suddenly at his home in Sydney when he was in his fifty-fourth year. His funeral was reported by most Sydney newspapers which described him as one of the prominent citizens of that city.

Joseph Caruana was another well-known Maltese in Sydney. During the First World War he occupied the position of an official interpreter for the Government of New South Wales. He had his office at 9 1, Riley Street and many Maltese sought his services there. Caruana had written to the New Zealand Government to have the Maltese Language recognised by that country as a tongue spoken by a European group. This Caruana did in order to have Maltese emigrants going to New Zealand exempted from the Literacy Test. At the beginning of 1919 Caruana had returned to Malta and was living in Sliema.

The death of Vincent Palmier in April 1923 was also reported in the Australian Press. Palmier had been born in Msida, Malta, and had emigrated to Australia before the outbreak of the First Great War. His father was a school teacher and he gave Vincent a good education. Not only was Palmier very literate, but he spoke very good English and knew shorthand. Luqa Catania, an emigrant from Naxxar, Malta, knew Palmier very well. Interviewed on January 4, 1984, Catania said that he had arrived in Sydney in June 1914.

In Sydney Catania met Palmier who agreed to accompany him to Innisfail in Queensland, to seek employment in the cane-fields. Palmier taught Catania how to read and write and eventually Catania was able to write letters in Maltese for his mates. Unfortunately, Palmier's education served him very little in Innisfail and his constitution was not tough enough for the hard work in the cane-fields. He was given the job of greasing the wheels of the trucks which carried the cane to the mills.

When the War broke out Palmier joined the Australian Expeditionary Force. He went to Egypt with that Force and fought at the Dardanelles.He was in France and was involved in heavy fighting on the French fronts. He suffered severely from shell-shock and had to be sent to a nursing home in Sydney. Catania kept in touch with his sick friend, but Palmier never recovered.

The destiny of Luqa Catania was to be quite different. At Innisfail he worked on a shift basis, thus.making it possible to obtain a secondjob. The money was quite sufficient because within six months he was able to pay his father and other workers who had lent him some money.

Catania said that while in Australia he was never laid off, not even for one single day. The cane inspector liked the 18-year-old lad from Naxxar and in 1915 Catania was made the leader of a Maltese gang of cane cutters. There were eighteen men on that gang and the Maltese worked side by side with Australians, Greeks, Italians, Germans and Slavs.

Since there was a war going on Catania was told to enlist, but his boss intervened, claiming that work could not go on without the young man from Malta. In later years Catania and some of his mates leased land to work it but in 1918 a cyclone devasted their property. Eventually Luqa Catania returned to Malta. He passed away in his own native village of Naxxar when he was in his eighty-eighth year.

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

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