This is my response to the Ragtag Daily Prompt of 21 June 2018 — Italian.
Some of you may know that I have recently joined a Bush Poetry group. As this month’s theme for my Group is “Italian” and as I’ve only so much time, I thought “Italian” would make a good Ragtag Daily Prompt as well (it’s my day to be the Prompter). For those interested in contributing their own post on the Italian theme, please click the hyperlink above for instructions on how to take part.
Bush poetry is a style of poetry that depicts the life, character and scenery of Australia, employing a straightforward rhyme structure. It uses language that is colourful, colloquial and idiomatically Australian. Well, I’m new to bush poetry or any poetry, so I found it difficult to write a poem in that style, consistent with the theme, but here is my attempt. My poem (below), “Italian and Then Some”, is about the experience of Italian migrants in Australia under the White Australia Policy. It covers the period from the start of the 20th century through to the 1980s. Please be advised that the poem contains racial slurs that were in common use during that time and these slurs were not something I personally engaged in.
Italian and Then Some
(A Poem about the White Australia Policy and Italian Immigration)
Ere the days when only white settlers were true blue;
but too few to till the soil, cut the cane, or mine the land down under.
Aussie’s finest went to war, leaving all bosses and no workers.
No ticker to stand the scorching sun or sweat upon the brow;
no calloused hands or aching muscles for the nation builder.
Labouring a job for wops and brown-skinned island men –
slaves of scythe and plough – the latter tossed aside and evicted.
The better to save the bleedin’ country for white Australians.
Three million bloody square miles of countryside, with just a few fair-skinned men;
too small a population, yet non-whites strictly verboten.
Unpaid roustabouts, blackfella went walkabout. Not the sort to rely upon.
And driven by a whitening offensive, stolen half-castes subjugated;
wards of Brothers and Nuns hell bent on conversion in more ways than one.
While those Asian hordes to the north, were not welcome on our shores.
Their existence and entry denied by White Australian furore.
But wait …… populate or perish was the new paradigm and clarion call.
So we opened up our country’s doors to Europeans displaced by war.
In every shade of white they came: ten-pound Poms, Greeks and more Italians.
Australia was the poster child, the great white southern nation;
pure as the driven snow, as determined by skin colour, culture and religion.
They came in a convoy of leaky boats, on the promise of a safe haven;
the welcome for those not born on English soil, lukewarm. Damn nation.
By God, those men could really work. Good strong lads those Italian blokes.
Joined by blushing brides and later, sons and daughters too.
They played their part in the post-war baby boom.
Canny men and women, those I-talians; many illiterate, but it didn’t hold them back.
They set up shop, cut the cane, dug the mines and grew the crops.
From the Mallee to Tully, they spread everywhere.
They never complained like whinging Poms. They knuckled down and did the job.
Resented by the drooling class, their response? To smile and nod.
When I was young, there was no “them”, only friends: Sofia, Marco and Lucia.
I loved Pina Arena best. But she needed an Aussie name, so they called her Tina.
We ate pizza and pasta; drank chinotto and limonata.
And on my adopted Nonna’s knee, I learnt to speak with my hands —
Words that flowed like honey off my tongue. Just a small glimpse of being Italian.
As I grew older, I learnt some words that weren’t so sweet, like wog, wop and dago.
Face-to-face with Aussie racism. Ignorance poison laced.
Over time, these racial slurs began to fade, and we Aussies began to assimilate.
We embraced our Italo-Australian cobbers. We ate their food and drank their vino.
We went the full antipasto, quaffing cappuccino and espresso.
To all you Aussie racists left out there, you’re just slow. Bloody drongos.
Don’t you know, the White Australia policy was abandoned long ago?
As for me, I’m just an Aussie sheila into kindness and a fair go.
To all the migrants who call Australia home, I raise my espresso to you,
and say, “You’re welcome. ” In Italian, that’s prego.
Comments welcome. Can’t find the Comments Section? Keep scrolling.