Education Emigration and Representation

The above was the case put in defence of the Maltese Emigrant by Henry Casolani in his book: "L-Emigrazzjoni tal-Maltin" which was published in 1927. Casolani had to retire before he saw many of his arguments accepted by countries like Canada and Australia. That book pointed to an extraordinary vision of the basic conditions necessary to develop a sound policy towards any future migratory movement from Malta. In his book, Casolani insisted on three basic needs: First, educate prospective emigrants. Second, appoint an official representative empowered to speak and act officially in the name of the Government of Malta. Third, encourage priests to accompany departing emigrants and to settle permanently in areas inhabited by the Maltese.

Education was intended to make the Maltese literate and capable of expressing themselves in good English. Casolani suggested that ex-servicemen should be encouraged to teach that language. Better still, why not acquire some teachers from England? Evening classes had been held between 1919 and 1921 and the attendance was calculated to have been about 400 students for every year. Only a few managed to get over the final examination and Casolani did not think that the system worked. He complained that what was hurriedly learnt was hurriedly forgotten.

Emigrants from Malta had shown that since the Armistice in 1918, they had invariably opted for English-speaking countries. Thousands had settled in Detroit, New York, San Francisco and other parts of North America. Emigrants in Detroit and New York had created no problem for the local inhabitants as most of those who went to those cities had been men discharged from the Dockyard. These were able to read and write English because of the contact with English people they had while they worked in Malta.

The Maltese in Australia were different. Most of those emigrants originated from Gozo and the rural areas in the north of Malta. These were people who worked on the land. Their education was practically nonexistent. Casolani was himself involved in the creation of the evening classes in 1919 and he realised what an impossible task it was to teach illiterate grown-ups to read and write in a language that was not their own. Casolani was right when he said that a sound education was to begin from the primary schools and that such an education was to be made compulsory and free. To Casolani technical education and the English language held the key to any success.

That was very bold thinking for 1927. Rather than waste time on purely speculative subjects, Casolani wished that every curriculum should include the trades which would prove useful to life in a foreign country. He had in mind carpentry, painting, plastering and other affiliated trades needed in the building industry. He suggested holding public lectures on health, personal hygiene, gardening and general knowledge. To those who had spent their years at school memorising facts and figures he suggested that they should have extra lessons on farming and on market-gardening.

Preparing emigrants for life overseas was the first step. It was necessary to keep in touch with them and see how they were doing. The Government of Malta was not able to follow closely what was going on in various parts of Australia because of the great distance involved and the difficulty in communication. Casolani knew that by the time he heard of some adverse publicity suffered by the Maltese in some publications and the time it took for his reply to be seen in print, sometimes three or four months elapsed. The Maltese needed a representative who lived in Australia and kept himself well informed about what was happening within the Maltese community.

The Church was invited to help by sending Maltese priests to areas were there was a concentration of Maltese. Casolani felt that religion was very important to the Maltese and the priest could fulfil his double duty as a leader and spokesman in religious and civil matters. Most Maltese had full confidence in their clergy and if the priest was fluent in English, the Australians would listen to him. Moreover, the Catholic Church in Australia possessed significant prestige and the Maltese priest would establish contact with his Australian superiors. The Catholic Church in Australia could speak out for the Maltese in all the States and the local parish-priests could help the Maltese to find jobs.

Maltese Catholics were urged to join Catholic societies in order to lessen their sense of loneliness and to acquire new friends who could offer useful contacts. Such friends could also write to the newspapers to defend the Maltese. In spite of what had been written in the past by biased reporters, Casolani felt that most Australians were willing to give a fair deal to those who deserved it.

The Maltese Church was eventually to respond to Casolani's suggestion and a number of pries were to accompany Maltese emigrants as chaplains on the ships taking them to Australia. Many stayed with them and gave their people sterling service. The question of appointing an official representative to live in Australia was also tackled by Lord Strickland's government. On February 22, 1928, Lord Strickland informed the Maltese Legislative Assembly that his administration had decided to send a Maltese representative to Australia to help co-ordinate and organise the position of Maltese migrants living in that country. The appointment was made on an experimental basis for two years.

Lord Strickland also said that it was his intention to appoint sub-agents for the Maltese Government in the principal capitals of the Australian States. These were to keep in touch with Maltese settlers and to help them find work under good conditions.

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

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