A stones throw from the centre of Melbourne lies a suburb called Carlton. It is home to the Museo Italiano, CO.AS.IT, the Dante Alighieri Society and the Italian Historical Society. The bars and cafes on popular Lygon Street are diverse, some are historical establishments, with touters thrusting menus into the hands of passers by, the love projects of post-war migrants. (Above: John Hajek - Professor of Italian Studies at the University of Melbourne - Photo: David Hannah)

Amongst them are little venues that transport patrons into the heart of modern Rome or Milan, where you’ll be served by someone young, trendy, and newly arrived, and can take your espresso standing at the bar. The influence of Italy on this tiny little corner of the world is undeniable, it is perhaps the suburb that has most reflected the changing face of the Italian migration experience in Australia. It is, however, not the only place in Australia, or indeed, the world, where the Italian cultural presence is felt. Italy was named number 1, in the 2019 Best Countries rankings, formed by the U.S. News and World Report, in partnership with BAV Group, and the University of Pennsylvania.  

Italian culture has had a phenomenal influence and is particularly celebrated for its classical art, designer clothing, and of course, its culinary traditions.  

Just a short walk from Lygon Street lies the University of Melbourne, home to one of the oldest Italian Studies programs in Australia, where the teaching of the Italian language dates back to the 1920s, and the formal Italian Studies program will have been established 60 years ago this year.

To mark this milestone, and to continue to value the contribution that the Italian language and culture has made in Australia and throughout the world, the University of Melbourne has established a trust fund, which, Professor John Hajek explains, is intended to ensure the continuation of the Italian Studies program well into the future.  

The launch of the Italian Studies Trust Fund at the University of Melbourne

The Italian Studies program at the University of Melbourne runs language classes at beginner, intermediate and advanced levels, as part of diplomas, bachelor degrees and post-graduate courses. The program includes a wide range of studies surrounding culture, including theatre, literature and cinema. Hajek is proud of the Italian Studies program, and much like the changing face of nearby Lygon St, he has seen the student demographic evolve during his years as a member of staff at the University. Today around 50% of students are from a non-Italian background. Those who are from an Italian background, are largely coming to university to reclaim the language that has been lost through the generations, and it is particularly important, says Hajek, that they continue to have the opportunity to do this through tertiary study.

‘We want to make sure that, in 100 years time, regardless of available government funding, that students who want to study the Italian language have the opportunity to do so.’

The trust will be used to fund scholarships, as well as travel opportunities for students, allowing for increased communication with Italy. The funding is also intended to heighten community engagement, and research. As senior development manager Julie du Plessis says, the fund will enable ‘activities that deepen our understanding of the Italian contribution to Melbourne, to Australia and to the world.’

A contribution so great is surely worth understanding, and if the activity on Lygon Street is anything to go by, the Italian Studies Trust Fund will be appreciated by Italians and Italophiles for years to come.