A town with two heart-beats

Some 8,000 South Australians can trace their heritage back to a single, picturesque, hilltop town in southern Italy.

In a chain of migration extending over five decades, more than 1,600 former residents of Caulonia [pictured] came to settle in South Australia, where they became the State’s largest group of Italian migrants from one town of origin.

Their story has been traced in Caulonia in the heart, a lavishly illustrated history published in both English and Italian by Flinders language academics Ms Daniela Rose and Professor Desmond O’Connor.

They researched archival sources and conducted interviews with more than 140 immigrants and their descendants in Adelaide, Perth and Mildura, as well as current residents of Caulonia.

Emigrating to Australia in a bid to escape the hardships of rural poverty in regional Calabria, the original families settled in and around the western suburbs of Lockleys, Seaton and Fulham, setting up market gardens along the River Torrens.

As time went on, the pioneer families were joined by relatives and friends, who, with three generations of locally born descendants, now form a community that still honours its distinctive cultural and religious traditions. Caulonia’s patron saint, St Hilarion, acts as a focus for community celebrations and festivals.

“They really nurture the bond they have with their hometown,” Ms Rose said.

Cities, towns or villages of origin are central to Italian migrant identity, coming before region and country: “They feel first and foremost Cauloniese, then Calabrian, and after that Italian,” Ms Rose said.

Professor O’Connor said the migrants from Caulonia have been very successful, both in personal terms and in their contributions to the Australian society; three large nursing homes are operated by the Cauloniese community in the western suburbs of Adelaide.

“They have integrated with the wider community, but they have also maintained their traditions,” he said.

Professor O’Connor said that as decades passed, a migrant community usually maintained its traditions and dialect more faithfully than was the case in the town they left behind.

He said that the Australian Cauloniese have had a great deal of interchange and contact with their home town over the years, demonstrating that migration is a complex and continuing process rather than one of simple departure and arrival.

“And it often involves subsequent generations in the discovery of their heritage,” he said.

Caulonia in the heart (Caulonia nel cuore) is published by Lythrum Press.

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