Swiss Italian Festival

This place called Daylesford has offered me the opportunity to get back into lots of singing and my roots.

I arrived from Italy when I was nine and could not speak a word of English, but thanks to the kindness and help of those around me, my memories of those early years are very good.

This coming week, from the 18th until the 22nd of October, Daylesford, Victoria, Australia, celebrates the immigration of Swiss Italians from the area of Ticino, to Australia.

The program of events features lavish Italian dinners, singing, circus performances, historic walks, storytelling performances, gallery openings and exhibitions. I will be performing at various venues with my trio La Ricotta. Our songs are fun and beautiful. I delight in this festival and am so excited to be a part of it.

As I celebrate my Italian heritage I am also reminded of the sometimes darker side of immigration.  For first Australians, colonisation brought with it genocide. I’d like to be able to use a less brutal word, but it is not possible. English and European culture was so vastly different from Aboriginal culture that many first settlers resolved to address this difference by diminishing the Aboriginal population and by forcing children to assimilate and adopt European and English lifestyles.

The assumption made by many (but not all) past settlers, was that the Aboriginal way of life was far inferior to their own and that mass murder was the best way to deal with the challenge.

Bruce Pascoe and Bill Gammage, in their monumental works, make it lucidly clear that the Aboriginal way of life was sophisticated, civilised, intelligent, skilful, spiritual, and very much equal to our own if not better. In fact they both strongly argue that the Aboriginal people definitely thought themselves superior to the white settlers, for the simple reason that they knew their land so intimately and had managed and shaped it for so long that they had no need for the frivolous toys of the white people: blankets, mirrors, guns, tobacco, sugar, flour. And no need for the hard labour, day in day out that the white settlers punished themselves with, in order to carve out an existence.

No need for fences and the hard work of building and maintaining them in order to keep livestock under control: they used fire to manage the land and to direct the movement of animals.

No need for aggregating material possessions, the temperate climate and the diversity of climate made it possible to live simply and to access resources on a needs to basis.

They too operated by values and laws that governed what community members could and could not do and protected their land from neighbouring tribes through identifiable landmarks, and songlines. White settlers thought themselves so unmistakably superior, however, their bias so strong, that it prevented them from seeing the skills, and detailed knowledge of the first Australians.

Next week while I sing my language and celebrate my culture I will be thinking about the first Australians and the similarities between us. The love we share for culture, family and the land that shapes us.