Mayor of Inner West Council Darcy Byrne shared the big news on his Facebook page on June 21, marking the end of the bureaucratic process and the Geographic Names Board’s formal approval.
The baptism and the birth of Little Italy is a historic moment for the Italian community in NSW.
The process began last September, when Mayor Byrne proposed renaming the heart of Leichhardt with the aim of recognising the symbolic value that has always tied the Inner West to the Italian community, in particular its pioneers.
Council unanimously passed the project, giving way to a bureaucratic process that included a survey on October 27, 2019, during the Italian Festa, the annual festival which takes place on Norton Street.
Council invited residents and festivalgoers to have their say on which area in Leichhardt should be recognised as Little Italy.
The public’s enthusiastic response led to the second vote in Council, which once again resulted in the unanimous approval of the renaming.
Given the strong response, the definitive approval of the Geographic Names Board was merely a formality to be completed by the legal deadline.
And completed it was.
A general view of Norton Street, now officially part of Sydney’s Little Italy
Mayor Byrne was thrilled with the result.
“This official endorsement of our proposal to create Little Italy is an act of respect and recognition of the Italian diaspora in Sydney,” he wrote on Facebook.
“Leichhardt is known across Sydney, Australia and even the globe as Little Italy.
“This is now officially recognised by law in NSW.”
Byrne added that the new name will be “a permanent recognition of Leichhardt as the Italian heart of Sydney”.
“This precinct will also ensure that the long-standing history and relationship between the Inner West community and Italo-Australians is recognised forever,” he declared.
The mayor said the baptism will be followed by further initiatives to promote Little Italy.
“Council will be working with the Italian government, CO.AS.IT. and Italian organisations and businesses throughout Leichhardt to bring new public art, prominent signage and events to the old neighbourhood to celebrate it as Australia’s own Little Italy,” he concluded.
Politicians celebrate the news
The birth of Little Italy was also celebrated by second- and third-generation Italo-Australian MPs.
From the Liberals to Labor, to the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party, state politicians welcomed the news, aware of its significance to Italian migrants, of which they are proud descendants.
Liberal representative and Minister for Customer Service Victor Dominello is part of the administration led by NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian.
“This is great news for the Inner West and the wider community,” he said.
“The area has been synonymous with Italian culture for decades and countless Italian families and small business owners have contributed to the community’s character.
“This decision will cement the area as a must-see destination for locals and visitors alike.”
Speaking of the Italian community in Sydney, Dominello added: “I was watching Silvia Colloca’s Cook Like an Italian show on television over the weekend, and even she referred to the area as Little Italy.”
Support also came from Guy Zangari, Labor MP of the NSW parliament, representing the electorate of Fairfield.
“This is a fitting honour to be bestowed upon the Italian community of NSW and in particular, the Inner West,” he said.
“Italians have made lasting contributions to this great land.
“I applaud Mayor Darcy and the Inner West Council for making the decision to rename Leichhardt Little Italy.”
From the benches of the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party, Philip Donato also lauded the move.
“Leichhardt has played a pivotal part of the Italian success story in Sydney,” he said.
“Embracing Italian food, flavour and culture, from cannolis to pizza and pasta, Leichhardt was the place to go for your Italian fix!”
Sidoti: “The real Little Italy is Five Dock”
Labor MP of the NSW parliament, representing the electorate of Drummoyne, John Sidoti, also weighed in on the news.
“Of course I’m happy that the contribution of the Italian community to the history of Sydney has been officially recognised and I applaud the decision of Mayor Byrne, but a Little Italy already exists and it should have been the recipient of this name,” he said.
“I’m talking about the Five Dock-Concord area.”
“The numbers don’t lie: over 12,000 people of Italian descent live in this area where, among other things, there is still a high concentration of businesses managed by Italians.
“Leichhardt represents the history of our community, not the present.
“Having said that, our community deserves this recognition for the contribution it has made to the history of Australia.”
Praise from Italian institutions
The baptism of Little Italy has been praised by representatives of the Italian Republic in Australia, including Senator of the Democratic Party (PD), Francesco Giacobbe.
“Happiness and gratitude to the mayor of Inner West for this beautiful initiative which represents, on the one hand, a recognition of the history of our pioneers, and on the other, Australian multiculturalism which aims not only to incorporate different cultures, but to enhance their diversity through their values, history and traditions,” he said.
“It’s a winning model that makes Australia a great country.”
Member of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, Nicola Carè, echoed this sentiment.
“Norton Street is a symbol for all Italians residing in Australia, particularly in NSW,” he said.
“It tells the story of our roots, of the first two generations of Italians who chose Australia as their new home, promoting Italian talents and traditions.
“Making this legacy official is a step in the right direction, a correct choice to pay homage to our fellow citizens who have spread our national and regional heritage, and the Italian language and culture.
“Leichhardt is a special place that takes you to Italy still today, even though it’s thousands of kilometres away.”
Meanwhile, managing director of CO.AS.IT. Sydney, Thomas Camporeale, said the organisation is eager to work with Council on the Little Italy project.
“CO.AS.IT. has a very strong link with Leichhardt, as our headquarters have been part of Norton Street since 1998,” he said.
“As the main Italian organisation in the state, CO.AS.IT. is the ideal partner for this project which recognises the history, culture and voice of the Italian community.
“We hope this project will bring new life to Norton Street, the Italian Forum and the entire community of Leichhardt.”
COVID-19 causes Council to postpone inauguration
While no set date had been given for Little Italy’s official inauguration, Mayor Byrne was clear during the last pre-coronavirus meeting with entrepreneurs, associations and representatives of the Italian community of Leichhardt: following the Geographic Names Board’s final approval, the inauguration would take place in June or July 2020.
Among the dates proposed by Council were June 2 (Italian Republic Day) or a date coinciding with one of the football matches that Italy was scheduled to play in the UEFA European Championship.
Needless to say, those plans blew up due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Not only has the virus affected Italian Republic Day celebrations and the Champions League, it has put on hold all public events and council elections.
However, with the elections postponed until next year, Council has more time to give Little Italy the celebration it deserves, perhaps with a street party to inaugurate that which marks not only be a tribute to history, but the beginning of a new chapter.
Old doubts in a new precinct: The identity of the Italian Forum remains uncertain
Pleasure and pain. Opportunity and repentance. Past and future.
The Italian Forum is everything and the opposite of everything.
The Italian Forum
It’s a monument to the history of the Italian community that first settled in Norton Street and it’s a missed opportunity to relaunch and restore lustre to the neighbourhood already known as Little Italy.
In true Italian style, the question would be long to deal with and controversial to explain, but one thing’s for sure: the Forum is necessary because it has great potential and, if used well, it can truly represent the beating heart of the Italian community in Sydney.
The debate surrounding the fate of the structure will resume as soon as entrepreneurs and institutions are called on to plan the future of Little Italy.
New hope, old problems.