Australian diaries

The overlooked affinities between Australia and Italy

Italy and Australia have many things in common that many people, including government representatives, are unaware of. To begin with, they are together with Canada, the youngest nations of the western world. Italy became a sovereign state in 1861 and Australia in 1901.

One might argue that Australia belongs geographically and economically to the East but, from all other angles – language, culture, education, political system, etc.- is decidedly a western nation.

Italy, of course, has a much longer past, but like Australia, before becoming a nation, it was a colony: a foreign dynasty governed the South, the Austro-Hungarian Empire occupied the North and the Roman Church ruled the Centre.

The difference is that Italy had to go to war to free itself from the colonial powers while Australia did it peacefully by means of diplomacy, yet it had to pay with blood its sense of nationhood. Getting its independence diplomatically in 1901 was not enough. It took the massacre of over 8,000 Australian soldiers at Gallipoli in Turkey, fifteen years later, to break its psychological dependence from the United Kingdom that had masterminded the attack.

As a matter of fact, Anzac Day is one of the most important Australian national festivity which is celebrated annually on the 25th of April, the anniversary of the onset of the tragic military operation. The 25th of April is a major festivity in Italy as well, the so-called Liberation Day, commemorating the end of the German occupation of the country. In the same way as on Anzac Day in Australia, marches and parades take place throughout Italy to commemorate those who fought to restore dignity to a nation that had been an ally of Nazi Germany. This year both anniversaries marked a special recurrence: the 70th in Italy and the 100th in Australia.

Another singular coincidence refers to two exceptional racehorses that in times of hardship became an emblem of national pride and recovery for the two countries. Phar Lap captured the imagination of the Australian people during the years of the Great Depression and Ribot did the same in Italy twenty years later when the country was still in ruins after the Second World War.

Phar Lap lived just six years that was enough to consign him to the realm of legend. He dominated Australian racing winning a Melbourne Cup and every other competition, and he then won the Agua Caliente Handicap in Tijuana, Mexico in track-record time in his final race. Phar Lap died in mysterious circumstances in 1932 when he was one of the highest stake-winner in the world.

Ribot went further. Undefeated in sixteen races, he won over all distances and on all types of track conditions. He was the best Italian two-year-old in 1954 and won his first four races in 1955 in Italy before being sent to France where he won the prestigious Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. In the following year he excelled, recording wide-margin victories in both the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes in England and winning once again the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in France.

Ivano Ercole
Ivano Ercole is an Italian-born journalist and writer who has spent most of his adult life in Australia. He worked for ten years as a radio broadcaster at SBS in Melbourne and until 2012 he was the director of an Italian radio network in Australia. He has written many newspaper articles on Italian and Australian cultural matters and a few books on the history of Italian immigration in Australia.

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