I found a wealth of things. I’ll run through a few of them that kind of surprised me, basic things like the date that he was born – December 1 1880 – which I had no idea about because we just don’t have those sorts of records. When you come to Australia on a boat you tend to leave a lot of that stuff behind in your village. So that was a basic start.
I found out that he had actually come to Australia in 1907, which I had no idea about. He was one of eight children I think it was, a couple had moved to the States, a couple had come to Australia and a couple had stayed in Italy. So this is quite a surprise. He then had gone back to Italy to fight in the Great War with the Italian army, and then came back in 1926. This was, as I say, a surprise.
I found out that his wife, Italia had only come over a year later with my Nonna, her elder sister Flora – who I barely remember, she died when I was eight – and my Nonna’s younger brother, his son Antonio. So there’s these basic sorts of information, which was great to find out.
Where it started to get really interesting was around the Second World War and in the lead-up to the Second World War. My Nonno, my dad’s dad, had naturalised when he was 13 or 14, the whole family, the Massolas, had naturalised soon after they came over. My Nonna’s side, for whatever reason – my great-grandfather and her and her brother and sister – had not naturalised. This actually had serious implications for me later in life as I’ll get to in a moment. They had not naturalised.
He had been a loyal fascist, as people were in those days, so there’s all this information in the Archives about what that actually meant. I found out he was president of the Club Cavour. He’d also founded the Dante Alighieri, which is a language society still running today. Another thing I found out, he was knighted for his services to fascism by the Italian king in 1936. [laughter] These are interesting things, you think I’m not quite sure what to make of that, but anyway.
But they didn’t naturalise. His brother Cassimiro ran a famous restaurant in Melbourne called the Latin. He had naturalised like my grandfather’s side as soon as they had come here. So because Ginese hadn’t naturalised, hadn’t become an Australian citizen – although as I found out in those days you didn’t actually become an Australian citizen you became a British citizen – he was interned. And as a prominent member of the Italian community, he was one of the first people who was taken.
This was always one of the stories my Nonna would tell us, ‘He was interned, it was terrible for him, it was so unfair’. She used to tell this story about working at the Bank of Australasia on the corner of Queen and Collins streets, and had been given the job because she was a good Catholic by Mrs McCormick, an Irish lady, also a Catholic, sympathetic, don’t talk about the war, these sorts of things. To actually get a proper historical overview of when he’d gone in, what reasons he’d gone in, was something else. Her memory was always more impressionistic than it was stuck in the details and the facts of things.
He was interned at camps at Hay, Liverpool and Tatura, these small country towns, some of which I had never heard of. There was a series of meetings. His wife Italia was too sick to travel to see him in these camps, but his daughter – my Aunty Flora who I only knew until I was about eight years old – would go and visit every two or three weeks up in the country. There were these transcripts of every meeting. There would be a guard in the room and he would faithfully record what was said. Ginese was considered an enemy alien so let’s make sure there was no information being passed around that shouldn’t be passed around.
The vignettes, the things that he would say, this is a man I have never known – family history is fairly important to me, like probably for many of the people in this room. So there are these things that are recorded. He was 59 when he went in in 1939. He wasn’t a well man either. He would say, ‘I’m pro-British, I’m anti-German, I am pro-Mussolini. I was a fascist, I joined up in the early 1930s. This wasn’t a crime. This is what we stood for. Mussolini made the trains run on time. He got rid of the rats in Rome,’ these sorts of things. It wasn’t to his way of thinking such a bad thing to do.
There’s just these beautiful quotes where he’s talking about ‘I always taught my children to raise their hats to Britishers’. And there are these letters in there from the Melbourne Archbishop at the time, Daniel Mannix, from the Mayor of Fitzroy, the suburb where they lived, saying ‘Look, please let Mr Triaca out. He’s old, he’s not well, give him a pass. He’s not an enemy alien. He has always been a good citizen in Australia.’
There were some funny moments in there, where he is petitioning the camp warden saying – and this is recorded in these transcripts – he is talking to my great-aunt saying, ‘I’ve got no problem with the Geneva Convention except that it doesn’t give you access to wine and to women’, [laughter]…meaning of course his wife, I’m sure! The guard has recorded ‘At this Flora Triaca laughed but Mr Triaca seemed to be entirely serious’.
This is all down there. I got this stack of papers, four inches high, I had no idea this information was in there.