Commemorating 100 years in Australia

Cara Downes
Tuesday, 10 May 2022

On 20 April 2022, the Moro family visited the National Archives research centre in Brisbane to commemorate the day, 100 years ago, that their mother and grandmother left Italy for her journey to Australia. Luigia de Lazzari’s migrant story is one of thousands that can be found in the National Archives.

Preparing to leave Italy

Poor conditions in Italy following the First World War resulted in many Italians searching for work and a better life abroad. Luigia de Lazzari was the second eldest in a large family of 14 siblings. Her brother Luigi and aunt Caterina had migrated to North Queensland 2 years earlier in 1920. Once a person was settled in Australia, other family members would often come out to join them.

In preparation for her journey, 23 year old Luigia obtained an Italian passport on 12 March 1922. She presented her passport to the British Vice Consulate in Venice 3 days later, on 15 March, and obtained a visa ‘good for travelling to Australia'.

Journey on the Moncalieri

On 20 April 1922 Luigia left Italy from the port of Genoa to start a new life in Australia. She travelled on the Moncalieri with her older sister Corona and Corona’s 1 year old son Orfeo.

In her passport, Luigia's occupation is described as 'Contadina', meaning peasant farmer. Her passport was surrendered on arrival in Townsville to Customs Officers and is now held in the National Archives collection in Brisbane.

After a 6 week journey the Moncalieri arrived at Townsville on 3 June with 226 Italian migrants. The majority were men, with only 12 women and 6 children on board. Men were often the first to migrate, with their families joining them once they had found work. Many, like Luigia's family, were recruited to the sugar industry in North Queensland.

By coincidence, Luigia de Lazzari's future husband, Francesco Moro, was also travelling to Australia on the same ship. Francesco disembarked separately from Luigia, and they wouldn't meet until they were both living at South Johnstone in North Queensland.

A report in the Townsville Daily Bulletin on 5 June 1922 provides a glimpse into the atmosphere surrounding the arrival of the Moncalieri.

Down at the concrete pier on Sunday morning any man might have been excused for believing that he was in sunny Italy, instead of sunny Queensland, for far more Italian than English was being spoken.

Handicapped by a lack of English they had all picked up the one important word, and in the midst of a flurry of foreign language one could distinguish the word 'work' and understood that the inquirer was asking what were the prospects of employment.

Luigia found work as a cook for cane cutting gangs outside Innisfail. Francesco Moro was working in one of those gangs when they met. They married on 30 December 1923 at South Johnstone, and afterwards bought land and established a cane farm in the area.

A family legacy

Luigia and Francesco had 4 children who all pursued professions outside the farm, which was sold in the 1950s. After some years of ill health Luigia passed away in Ingham at the age of 60.

100 years to the day after Luigia migrated to Australia, the Moro family were able to see her original passport in the National Archives' Brisbane Office. The family described holding Luigia’s passport as a wonderful experience. The family had intended to be at Genoa harbour on 20 April to mark her departure, but had to cancel due the unpredictable nature of COVID-19 restrictions. Instead, 'coming to the Archives was the next best thing'.

The National Archives holds many records documenting the journey of Italian people to Australia. You can research Italian migration and life in Australia through passenger lists, alien registration papers, naturalisation case files and internee investigation files.

Luigia's son and granddaughters in the Brisbane research centre - Pauline Vallely, Sandra Moro (Speakman), Guiristo (Gary) Moro, Christine Moro (Zappala).

Luigia’s son and granddaughters in the Brisbane research centre - Pauline Vallely, Sandra Moro (Speakman), Guiristo (Gary) Moro, Christine Moro (Zappala).