Italians have lived and worked in the Yarra Valley since the pioneer days.
La Terra Promessa (The Chosen Land), written by Anthony McAleer, tells the story of those who came before 1945. The ones who were a part of the district’s early wine industry; made up a large part of the workforce on the Silvan Dam and ran successful farms and businesses in that area that contributed much to the local food industry.
It is a story of how they came here seeking a better life and how they overcame poverty, prejudice and separation from their loved ones to make an impact on the development of the Yarra Valley.
It also details what happened to this community when their adopted country went to war with their homeland and the part they ended up playing during World War Two.
Work began on the O’Shannassy Weir near Warburton in 1922 and many Italians found regular employment here until its completion in 1928. Many of these workers then moved on to work on the construction of the Silvan Dam.
Alessandro Casella (sitting centre with white shirt) with fellow Italian workers employed during the construction of the O’Shannassy Weir. It was obviously thirsty work they were doing. (Courtesy Casella family)
The name D Correlli appears on the Shire of Lillydale World War One Honour Board in Lilydale’s Athenaeum Theatre (pictured).
This is a misspelling; it should read Dominic Correicllo, who was an Italian immigrant living at Lilydale at the time of his enlistment in the First World War and who went on to serve for four years on the Western Front with the 4th Pioneer Battalion and was wounded at in the Battle of Pozieres. He returned to live at Lilydale after the war.
His son, Ruodolph Correicllo, who was born at Lilydale, was later killed in action in World War Two fighting with the 2/7th Battalion in New Guinea and is buried at the Lae War Cemetery.
Let us not forget that Italians are a part of our Anzac Heritage too.
Long before the famous Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Scheme came into being, migrants from all different European nationalities were working together in the Yarra Valley to construct a large public project.
This was the Silvan Dam, started in 1926 over three hundred men were hired to help construct it.
LT Luxton (in an article ‘The Reservoir in the Hills’ published in ‘The Argus’ February 15th, 1930)
‘Cradled in the hills south east of Lilydale the dam, with its prospect of employment, attracts an astonishly cosmopolitan population. Working on the great concrete core wall, raising the earthen banks on either side, cutting back the forest, blasting the quarries, I found Australians and Englishmen, Germans and Norwegians, Swedes and Finns, Italians and Jugoslavs’.
A portrait of Luigi Marchesi, one of the first Italians immigrants to take up farming in the Yarra Valley after World War One.
Ironically his Aunt, Mathilde Marchesi, had taught Melba to sing professionally in Paris in 1887.
Luigi had a farm at Gruyere and regularly gave fellow Italians a job working on his farm, although history showed this would lead to his down fall.
Learn more about these and other Italian immigrants in our up coming book: ‘La Terra Promessa’ – Italians in the Yarra Valley Before 1945.