MALTESE IN SOUTH AUSTRALIA

 

In 1914 Father Fenech, an Adelaide Maltese Carmelite priest, was helping new Maltese arrivals who could not find work in South Australia to migrate interstate. He often arranged for them to travel to the Northern Territory. In 1914 there were around 385 Maltese workers on the Pine Creek to Katherine railway line, and around 200 at the Mount Lyell mines.

 

Joe Vella and Paul Abela decided to make the journey to Australia. Joe was born at Mellieha, Malta, in 1891. The two friends left Malta for Naples in December 1913. They voyaged to Adelaide aboard the Otway.

 

Joe and Paul did not have sufficient funds to tide them over until they found work. Within a week they were destitute. They lived in the bush around Port Adelaide. Every day they walked from the port to the city in search of work, and lived on food scraps, grass and tree roots. Once they were detained by police, who thought they were deserting German seamen. The police helped them find work on a small merchant ship. Joe later moved to Broken Hill to work in the mines with Paul' cousin, then on to Sydney's railway lines. He later settled in Mackay in Queensland. His travels across Australia were typical of the experience of many Maltese who searched for employment and stability in Australia.

 

Frank Schembri arrived in Adelaide in 1915. He had worked as a canteen manager on British ships in Malta. He initially worked at Port Pirie. In 1918 he ‑his opened a corner shop at Glanville, and three years later he was able to bring out wife and daughter. In 1922 Frank built an ice cream factory behind his shop. He made ice cream for 20 years before switching to soft drink production in the 1940s. In the late 1980s Frank's son still ran the family business in Alice Springs.

 

In 1921 there were 147 Maltese South Australians. They worked on the Murray Bridge project, at the Murat Bay Waratah Gypsum Works, at the BHP ore mining and shipping plants at Iron Knob and Whyalla, at Port Pirie, or on public works.

 

During the 1920s Adelaide's Maltese settlers were victims of discrimination. In 1924 the South Australian government banned them from employment on government works such as railways. Two thirds of Maltese South Australians were destitute. Many of these men had served in the First World War. All belonged to unions, and a number were skilled artisans. Premier Gunn regarded the Maltese as 'uninvited immigrants' and made no effort to help them find employment.

 

Unemployed Adelaide Maltese set up tents and vegetable gardens on the banks of the River Torrens and received assistance from the Maltese Club at 158 Hindley Street. By 1927 there were 200 destitute Maltese in Adelaide. They formed the Adelaide Unemployed Maltese Organisation and lobbied the state and commonwealth governments to lift the discriminatory ban. Their efforts failed and many Maltese returned to their homeland. Others migrated to New South Wales and Queensland and found work on small farms run by fellow Maltese Australians.

 

Maltese immigrants began arriving in South Australia in large numbers shortly after the second world war. Malta was faced with many post‑war problems, including an ever­-increasing population. Australia needed labourers and factory workers during this time. Many Maltese immigrants received assistance under the 1948 Malta‑Australia Passage Scheme.

 

A large number of Maltese Egyptians resettled in Australia following the 1956 Suez crisis. The Egyptian Government took action against British subjects in Egypt, including the Maltese. Approximately 1,500 Maltese resettled in South Australia between 1947 and 1961. By 1966 there were 2,258 Maltese South Australians. There has not been any significant Maltese immigration to South Australia since then.

 

Maltese South Australians have settled throughout the state and are employed in a range of occupations..

 

 

 

Community Activities

 

The Malta Community Society was established in the late 1940s. In 1952 it was registered as an official body and became the Maltese Guild of South Australia. The guild has premises in Jeanes Street, Beverley.

 

Like the other 12 Maltese South Australian organisations, the Maltese Guild is affiliated with the Maltese Community Council of South Australia, which aims to promote harmony and the maintenance of Maltese culture among the organisations. The council co‑ordinates three annual national days: Maltese National Day; the Feast Day of Our Lady Queen of Victories; and the Feast Day of Saint Catherine of Alexandria. For further information see Appendix 1, Religious Belief and Practice: Christianity.

 

Maltese National Day is on September 8, celebrating two momentous events in Maltese history.  On September 8, 1565, the Maltese people and the Knights of Saint John of Jerusalem drove Turkish Muslim invaders from the shores of Malta. In 1943 Malta triumphed over a three‑year siege by the Axis powers. Maltese South Australians celebrate September 8 with speeches on historical themes and social gatherings, and sometimes communal meals. Traditional foods that are served include lampuki, fish; timpana, macaroni and eggplant, hard‑boiled eggs and ricotta; pastizzi, cheese pastries; and imqaret, date slice.

 

The Feast Day of Our Lady Queen of Victories is celebrated on the first Sunday in October. Maltese Roman Catholic South Australians celebrate Maltese Masses throughout the week leading up to the feast day, which honours the Blessed Virgin's deliverance of Malta in 1565 and 1943. They hold social gatherings, a Queen of Victories Feast Ball, and a procession with a statue of Our Lady at the Feast Day Mass at the Church of Christ the King at Lockleys.

 

The Feast Day of Saint Catherine of Alexandria is celebrated on the last Sunday of November. Saint Catherine was a Christian of noble birth, believed to have lived in Alexandria during the fourth century. Roman Emperor Maximian sent learned worshippers of images to speak with her to make her renounce her faith. However Catherine, who became known as 'the philosopher', converted the men to Christianity. She was beheaded by the emperor in 305. In Adelaide the Feast Day of Saint Catherine is celebrated with a Maltese Mass at Saint Brigid's Church in Kilburn.

 

In 1992 the RSL Maltese Sub-branch, under the presidency of Mr. Charles Farrugia erected a commemorative monument at the RSL War Memorial Garden in Prospect. The monument commemorated the 50th anniversary of King George VI awarding the George Cross to all of the inhabitants of Malta. This decoration is the highest British award for civilian gallantry. It was bestowed upon the people of Malta as a tribute to their great tenacity during the Axis siege. The monument was unveiled on April 15, 1992.

 

 

 

 

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