New Italy

By | Category: Travel destinations

the memorial to those who came to New Italy after the pain of the Solomon Islands

In a little hamlet tucked off the Pacific Highway in northern NSW is a memory of something known as New Italy. Blink and you could pass it as the traffic thunders along the highway at between 80 and 100 kilometres an hour.

At this little more than rest halt on the main Australian highway between Sydney and Brisbane, there is a museum, a café, a souvenir shop, a glass blower, some memorials and an exhibition devoted to Italian regions.

But the story is more intriguing and involves a French conman, a sympathetic local politician and some prim and determined Italian emigrants.

The conman, Charles Bonaventure du Breil (Marquis de Rays)  set about persuading the inhabitants of many places that an eldorado existed in the Pacific at a colony called Port Breton which was in the Solomon Islands. Land was two francs an acre according to an advertisement that he started running in 1877 and a rapid fortune was promised. The first boat set sail from Flushing but before it had arrived, a second left from Barcelona and this carried Italians from the Veneto region of the country.

a memorial to one of the original familes – the Spina family

They didn’t learn of the hardship of the first settlers. Many died. Some managed to find their way to other places. When the Italians arrived on their ship the India, they found no paradise and no promised land. After many trials a number made it to NSW where the premier – Sir Henry Parkes – granted then permission to stay, something that at the time was unusual because the main colonists were English speakers and the Italians had no words other than their mother tongue.

the advertising which promised so much and delivered so little

They settled in what became New Italy and became Australian, serving in the WW1 and some also in WWII. They became farmers, integrated and married descendants of Britons living in nearby towns and cities but never forgetting their Italian roots.

Today new Italy has few of the original settlers living nearby but those that have moved away remember their heritage and support the little museum with any variety of photographs and memorabilia from those early Italian families – families that were destitute until NSW gave them a home.

The museum records their tragedy and how they pulled themselves up by the bootstraps. The story is what attracts tourists and not just those of Italian origin to pull over and learn of this sad but, ultimately, lucky story.

Incidentally Brays made over half a million pounds but was senetenced to gaol when the news came out. After release from prison he died less than a year later in an asylum.

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