Ordine dei Cavalieri di Vittorio Veneto
Earlier this year State Library was delighted to receive an unusual and very interesting donation from the Consulate of Italy in Brisbane. The gift, now accessible in a digital format, is a large handsome volume titled Ordine dei Cavalieri di Vittorio Veneto or, Order of the Knights of Vittorio Veneto, edited by Italian historian Franco Giuseppe Gobbato and financed by the Prosecco DOC Consortium, a northern Italian organisation in the region of Veneto which protects and promotes the interests of vine-growers, winemaking companies and bottlers. The Consortium and the northern Italian municipality of Citta di Vittorio Veneto are acknowledged for their contribution to this work’s publication.
The particular interest of the Order of the Knights of Vittorio Veneto is in a list of names, names which are deeply connected with two momentous events in a history shared by Italy and Queensland - the First World War and post war emigration from Italy to Australia. A potent aspect of this history was that, following the devastating impact of the Great War in Italy, many Italians and their families, now crippled by poverty, were forced to leave the homeland their soldiers had fought so courageously to protect.
The origin of the Order referred to in the title of this work dates back to 1968 when, on the 50th anniversary of the end of World War One, the fifth President of the Italian Republic established the Order in recognition of the contribution of Italian World War One veterans. We learn in the introduction that applications for admission to the Order came not only from former soldiers living in Italy, but from emigres all over the world, among them a significant number of Italo-Australians now permanently settled in Australia.
That might have been the end of this story from an Australian perspective were it not for a decision in 2018, on the part of the Memoriale dei Cavalieri di Vittorio Veneto, to identify and list those compatriots then resident in Australia. Even though no claims are made as to its completeness, the list arrived at was substantial, a total of 1992 former soldiers living in 566 cities, towns and suburbs throughout Australia. What is revealed in these statistics in relation to post war Italian immigration patterns, is fascinating: for the most part the Knights admitted to the Order are represented in terms of single digit numbers in the identified localities, suggesting a sizable number of emigres forged new lives in these communities on their own. The exceptions to this assumption are the capital cities – 233 settled in Sydney, 122 in Melbourne, 110 in Brisbane, 59 in Perth and 17 in Adelaide – and the towns of Lismore, represented by 25 Knights of the Order, Mareeba 20 and Stanthorpe 17.
This list is reproduced in the form of a statistical summary in the first part of the book. What follows are nine pages devoted to a more detailed alphabetical list of just under 600 former soldiers who settled in Queensland. The list, extracted from the original Australian compilation, includes the name of the Knight admitted to the Order, his year of birth, address at the time of the compilation and the date the Knighthood was awarded. Almost without exception the recipients were born in the 1890s and the majority of them appear to have received the award during the 1970s.
The pages of this elegantly designed publication are interspersed with a selection of highly evocative photographs sourced from the Museo della Battaglia, a war museum in Vittorio Veneto. The museum is home to an impressive collection of hundreds of black and white photographs and approximately 700 glass stereoscopic slides originating in private collections and depicting battle scenes, military celebrations, concentration camps and other war related subjects.
The Order of the Knights of Vittorio Veneto, now digitised by State Library of Queensland, is an important tribute to a remarkable history shared between Queensland and Italy. The Library is pleased to have made this history available to the online community through our OneSearch catalogue. One good reason for deciding, at an early point, that its contents should be made accessible to the widest possible audience is its significance in Queensland’s broader historical and cultural context.
The appreciation of just what this list - and these names - contribute to the state’s documentary record is encapsulated in the endorsement of editor Franco Gobatto who expresses the hope that this book...
"… can become a memory for the current generations of Italo-Australians, both of their ancestors and of their fellow countrymen, and that it can serve as an ideal bridge between the land that welcomed them and allowed them to become integrated and their land of origin."
And transposing from the national context, the words of Anna Maria Fioretti, Curator and Science Attache at the Embassy of Italy in Canberra give further expression to an ambition shared by collecting institutions such as ours:
"This book testifies that we have not forgotten our emigrants, nor the historical conditions that determined their departure. We would like this memory to be shared with their descendants … To them we donate this book, symbolically loaded with a fragment of collective history, as a sign of profound respect, appreciation and friendship."
Libby Fielding - Specialist Librarian, State Library of Queensland