Test Case in South Australia

When Bartolo was in Australia in 1925 he had been told of political agitation in South Australia in which some Maltese had found themselves embroiled. Bartolo was in Adelaide on October 16, 1925. He was met at the railway station by five Maltese who proudly displayed their red and white cockades. Bartolo stayed at the South Australian Hotel. On the same day he arrived at his hotel he called at the Maltese Club in Hindley Street where he met about fifty Maltese, most of them still in their working clothes. The men aired their problems which were being caused by hostile elements in South Australia.

On October 19, the Maltese in Adelaide entertained Bartolo to a splendid dinner which included, among other specialities, Lamb Cutlets Valletta and Ice Malta. Bartolo promised to meet the premier of South Australia to complain about some hostile and discriminatory acts which had been perpetrated against the Maltese in Adelaide.

On December 28, 1924, a serious riot had broken out in Adelaide when a number of navvies held a meeting to protest against continued immigration of aliens into South Australia. Bartolo was told that at one time the crowd numbered some 500 men. There was also a counter-meeting called by aliens who were protesting against those who were objecting to the presence of foreign workers in Adelaide. The police had to intervene and it was then made known that among the foreigners who had been arrested there were some from Malta.

The bogey of Southern Europeans coming to Australia with their starving millions to take over the country had been raised not only in Adelaide but also in Melbourne, Sydney and Perth. The Returned Soldiers and Sailors League insisted that Australian and British ex-servicemen were to be given priority when they sought employment. Only when these had been given their jobs were foreigners to be allowed to work.

The Maltese considered themselves British. Many had seen active service with the British during the war of 1914-1918. They protested against such unfair treatment which considered them capable of taking up arms to defend the Empire but unworthy to obtain decent jobs. A Maltese immigrant, Mr. Edgar Grech, sought an interview with the premier of South Australia, the Hon. John Gunn. The interview lasted twenty-five minutes. Mr. Grech complained about irresponsible press attacks on the Maltese community. Mr. Gunn assured Mr. Grech that he had always considered the Maltese as equal to the British and to the Australians. He also said that the Maltese in Adelaide enjoyed his fullest confidence. He also reminded Mr. Grech that in 1924 there were over 160 Maltese who were, directly or indirectly, employed with the local government.

Bartolo also met John Gunn. The premier was accompanied by his Minister for Works and by the Director of Labour Bureau. The meeting was cordial and Bartolo was of the opinion that his initiative had helped not only to clear misunderstandings about the British status of the Maltese but also helped to obtain employment for the Maltese who were then out of work.

Bartolo visited the Legislative Assembly in Adelaide. The premier, John Gunn, let the Speaker know that a distinguished visitor from Malta, who was the Deputy Leader of the Maltese Opposition, was present in the gallery. Bartolo was conducted to the dais by Gunn himself and by the Leader of the South Australia Opposition, Sir Henry Barwell. Bartolo was given a seat on the floor of the House.

On October 25, 1925, Bartolo was at St. Francis Xavier Hall where about one hundred Maltese had gathered. The archbishop of Adelaide, Mgr. Spence, sent his delegate for the meeting, Fr. Getzemayer. Bartolo spoke first in Maltese. Fr. Getzemayer rose to speak and assured Bartolo that the archbishop would welcome a Maltese priest in Adelaide with open arms. Getzemayer also promised that the same hall would be put at the disposal 'Of the Maltese where they could organise parties and dances, meet their Maltese and Australian friends, and organise any function they wished. Getzemayer also promised that he was willing to offer his services to the Maltese community whenever they needed him to contact higher authority. Bartolo thanked his host and appealed to the Maltese to keep in touch with Getzemayer.

The interventions of Dr. Bartolo on behalf of the Maltese immigrants in Australia were numerous. When in 1929 he had knighthood conferred on him, eighty-five cane-cutters from Mackay, Queensland, sent him a telegram in which the men prayed God to grant him a long life in order to continue the good work he was doing on behalf of Maltese emigrants throughout the world.

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

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