Everyone’s an Aeolian

by Lauren Ellis
Publish date
4 July 2016
Comments (3)

Well, perhaps not quite. But the Aeolian community is one of the biggest and most interesting communities you’ve probably never heard of. Hailing from a dramatic Mediterranean archipelago of seven volcanic islands north of Sicily, this community spans four or more generations in Australia.

Renowned mariners, Aeolians were sought after for the vessels which sailed along the Roaring Forties. When they landed here, some jumped ship for the goldfields as early as the 1840s.

But it was during the 1880s that a series of key historical events precipitated a mass emigration from the islands to Argentina, North America, and Australia. The islands’ maritime industry began to collapse in the wake of industrialisation, volcanic eruptions closed sulphur and alum mines, and the infamous scourge of the phylloxera parasite devastated the local Malvasia wine industry. As a result, the population of one of the Aeolian Islands, Salina, halved over the course of just 15 years.

Drawing of a man and cart Detail from Swallows
Source: Joshua Santospirito

Joshua Santospirito’s grandfather Antonio left Salina in the 1890s for Melbourne, to join his father who had gone on ahead five years earlier and begun work selling flowers and fruit. As a six year old Antonio sold papers outside Flinders Street Station, by age 14 he employed three men in his florist business run out of an alley behind Young & Jackson Hotel.

Smiling man and woman John and Rosemary Portelli, owners of Enoteco Sileno in North Carlton
Source: Enoteca Sileno

Flowers and fruit are an important part of the Aeolian story in Australia. Aeolians migrants were not only hard workers, they were also land owners who arrived with money in their pockets and a keen sense of independent enterprise. They were prolific in the fruit and vegetable industry in Melbourne and Sydney, and a number household-name businesses were established by this entrepreneurial community - JB Hi-Fi, Taranto’s Ice Cream, Dimattina Coffee, to name just a few.

Also exceptional in the fields of academia and public service, numerous professors, commentators, judges, and politicians have emerged from the Aeolian community in Australia. Singer Natalie Imbruglia, journalist Paul Bongiorno AM, film director Fred Schepisi AO, Geelong FC President and philanthropist Frank Costa, actress Pia Miranda, and a whole host of AFL footballers from Delucas to Dimattinas to Russos – all Aeolian!

Two smiling men Deputy Premier James Merlino with his father Bruno, who migrated from Salina
Image: Peter Casamento

From volcanoes we sailed: connecting Aeolian generations explores the history, culture, and contemporary identity of this vibrant community in Victoria. The exhibition includes a short film of seven community members sharing their stories of cultural connection to the seven islands.

The Aeolian community exhibition and selected artwork from Joshua Santospirito’s graphic novella, Swallows, are both on display now at the Immigration Museum, until October 30.

Comments (3)

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Kate Phillips 12 July, 2016 09:05
Thanks for this great blog - looking forward to visiting the exhibition.
Marina Le Sage ne Lopez 16 July, 2016 16:27
My father Vincenzo Lopez came to Australia from Filicudi before the second world war. He was born in 1909. He had a miner"s right in the Flinders Ranges, Constitution Hill. He married mother and settled in Melbourne in Black Rock where he fished like in the old country. Would love to know if any family connections remember him. He died in 1972.
Peter John Umina 22 July, 2016 14:42
My father came from Filicudi in 1928,he was born in 1910, he had a friend "Tony Lopez"
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Updates on what's happening at Melbourne Museum, the Immigration Museum, Scienceworks, the Royal Exhibition Building, and beyond.