Dr. Gerardo Papalia is a Senior Lecturer at La Trobe University in Melbourne. He has completed degrees in Italy and Australia and has taught in universities in both countries. He is a specialist in the study of the history and culture of the Italian diaspora in Australia which he analyses through post-structuralist theoretical approaches. His publications cover a wide range of disciplines including history, cinematography, religious belief, literature and cultural hybridity.
It is a bright early July day. On a dusty mountain track fringed by fir trees and leading to a pass in the French Alps 2,600 metres above sea level, two men are struggling, pushing, panting. Their sweat has dried on their faces etching masks of effort and pain.
It all depends / on what happened yesterday; / it all depends / on what the papers / say; / whether / today / you are a wog, / a New Australian / or an alien.
This is a famous and often reproduced photograph, used to exemplify the migration experience. Legions of viewers have wanted to project or inscribe their interpretations onto this photograph, with comments like: “Ferocious and affectionate mother”.
Those, in the English-speaking world, who have heard of Pier Paolo Pasolini, are most likely to know of him as a director of controversial films. However, Pasolini, who was born in Bologna in 1922 and murdered in the outskirts of Rome in 1975, started his creative life as a writer of poetry and prose.
I will always remember my first exam at an Italian university. I had barely been seven months in Italy. I had arrived on a scholarship from the Italian government, enthusiastic and fresh-faced, just after graduating in Italian Studies at Melbourne University.
My introduction to Italian art was in the form of an imperious and shocking painting that my mother cut out from a book of art she had brought to Australia from Italy in a shipping chest. My father framed it in a veined wood veneer all shiny and orange-brown.