Queensland Cane Cutters, Proxy Husband brushes the hand of his proxy bride with a kiss when the ship Aurelia berthed at Cairns in 1956.
Image: unknown : Photographer
Source: Museum Victoria
Question: Who were Proxy brides?
Answer: The practice of proxy marriage was common amongst many migrants from southern European countries from the 1920s through to the 1960s – particularly those of Greek and Italian origin in Australia where the single men outnumbered women. This was mainly due to Australian immigration policy, which relied on the recruitment of able-bodied young men for employment in manufacturing or rural work. It was also common practice for men to migrate first, find employment and housing, before calling for families to join them (known as chain migration).
Proxy marriage became a solution for many men who wished to marry women from their own cultures and villages. The women would be part of a marriage ceremony in their home countries, with family members standing in—as a proxy—for the groom, before migrating to join their husbands in Australia. The women usually came from the same village or district as their prospective husbands. Sometimes they knew each other; often they did not.
For southern European families, marriage by proxy ensured that their daughters’ virtue and future was secured before leaving home. For many families it was preferable to send a married woman to a foreign country, rather than a single, unescorted woman who may be vulnerable to seduction or abandonment. It was often an agreeable solution for the women and their families. Proxy marriage promised escape from an Italy in a state of economic and social collapse, and from civil war and upheaval in Greece. Nevertheless, there were cases of young proxy brides meeting men on their voyage whom they preferred; of disappointment on both sides upon meeting when small black and white photographs did not quite match reality; and sometimes of men even rejecting their new wives.