In the excerpt published below, Romeo Varagnolo remembers the event which gave origins to the biggest Triestian emigration in history.
From Giornale di Trieste, Thursday, March 4, 1954:
“The inter-governing committee for emigration would like to announce the departure of the steamship Castel Verde from Trieste, which will carry to Australia the first contingent of 600 emigrants from the area and leave on March 15, rather than March 13, as previously indicated.
“All participants who were chosen directly by the Australian Mission will be summoned individually in a letter, in the following days.”
And so it was that March 15, 1954, became a historical date, as Castel Verde departed Trieste for Australia, paving the way for the biggest Triestian emigration in the history of the city.
The number of emigrants from Trieste and Friuli-Venezia Giulia is thought to sit between 20,000 and 22,000, due to a conflict in data, poor documentation and the sensitive politics of the time.
But it is likely that in less than six years, 10 per cent of the population of Trieste chose to come to Australia.
Trieste’s motivation for expatriation
The motivation which drove more than 20,000 Triestians to emigrate to Australia cannot simply be tied to the events of World War II, and in particular to the Italian exodus from the territories which were ceded to Yugoslavia, but also to the profound sense of distrust, disenchantment, and concern for an uncertain and stagnant future.
Triestians remember all too well the tragic occupation by the Yugoslav troops who for 43 days, from May 1 to June 13, 1945, took possession of the city with disastrous and tragic consequences.
In less than five years, from 1940 to June 1945, the Province of Trieste passed under the administration of five nations: Italy, Germany, Yugoslavia, England and the US, returning to Italy only in 1954.
Even when it was finally reunited with Italy, Trieste was no longer the same.
The shipbuilding, metallurgic and commercial industries were in progressive crisis.
The city was overcrowded; thousands of exiles took up residency in Trieste with a 20 per cent increase in overall population.
Another problem arose following the firing of the civil staff of the former Allied Military Government, and from the mass dismissals of Giulian staff from the Civil Police, who were rapidly replaced with staff from other areas of Italy.
In this chaotic atmosphere, the idea of emigration overseas became increasingly tempting, so much so that it seemed like the only solution to the socio-economic instability of the city.
Australia in 1954
At this point in the history of the city of Trieste, Australia enters to the sound of grand fanfare.
Australia: the country of wealth, the land of kangaroos, situated on the other side of the world and attempting desperately to populate itself, and to develop its immense territory.
In Trieste, Australia saw a source of ideal immigrants.
The country quickly began circulating propaganda to entice giuliani to immigrate to Australia.
“The more the better,” was the Australian motto.
Specialised workers, technicians, professionals and a good part of the former members of the Civil Police (all in possession of trustworthy references after nine years of service in the Anglo-American administration of the Allied Military Government) were enticed.
At that time, Australia had less than 10 million inhabitants spread across an area larger Europe; it seemed the obvious solution to every problem.
Logic led the way and the Triestian youth climbed on board the ship with a smile on their faces.
“Let’s just try it for a few years.”
Some of the emigrants, however, had families and were in search of a secure arrangement and a decent income.
The saw Australia as an opportunity to resolve tomorrow’s uncertainties and create a better future for their children.
Their leap of faith certainly paid off, even if there were some sacrifices along the way.