As the longest running Italian Social Club in Melbourne the Società Isole Eolie holds a proud and rich history.
On the 2nd of August 1925, several Italian migrants came together, inspired with the ideal of forming a club which they named the Società Mutuo Soccorso Isole Eolie (SMSIE). At its founding, our charter was to be a social, cultural and welfare point of reference, aimed at helping Aeolian migrants settle in Melbourne by supporting their efforts to acquire the English language, and to provide moral and financial assistance in times of need.
As the years went by, it continued to focus on the needs of Aeolians and became a major fund raiser. In 1937, the SMSIE contributed the then-substantial sum of £330 towards a project called ‘Casa D’Italia’, which was to be the headquarters of the Italian community of Melbourne. As it did not proceed as envisaged, the money was redirected after the Second World War to the construction of the Villaggio Vaccari in South Morang, a retirement home for the elderly. It realized other purposes such as advancing loans to those wishing to open businesses in Melbourne and provided temporary relief to those members that fell ill or suffered misfortune.
The SMSIE played a significant role within the Italian community of Melbourne, especially during the years leading to World War II. During the conflict, however, the Società was forced to cease its operations, as Italians were viewed as ‘enemy aliens’ by the Australian authorities which were highly suspicious of organized groups. With the outbreak of war, many Italian men were interned or worked in the Civil Aliens Corps, including members of the Società. No meetings were convened until 1948, when they were held at the Cavour Club in South Melbourne. During this period of inactivity, the Società’s members were dispersed. The Club lacked coordination and remained unstable for several years. This was in contrast to the previously decisive role it played before the War. In the late 1940s, a fresh effort was made to gain new members and reinvigorate the organisation.
After the War, the Australian government embarked on increasing its population with the release of the ‘Populate or Perish’ policy and signed a formal agreement with the Italian government to accept thousands of Italian immigrants, for 5 years via an ‘assisted migration’ scheme. However, the majority of Italians that migrated in the 1950s and 1960s were through ‘chain migration’, whereby the men would come first, find employment and housing, then ultimately enabling their families to join them by paying their fares.
During the 1960s, the number of Italian regional clubs and associations began to grow in urban areas such as Carlton, Brunswick, Coburg, Preston and Oakleigh, thus the original scope of the SMSIE was diluted and it consequently lost some of its influence. The Società and these new clubs, and venues such as the San Remo Ballroom in Nth Fitzroy, became an important meeting place for Italian men to find prospective partners, especially those that did not subscribe to ‘proxy marriage’, which was a common practice at the time.
On the 15th November 1968, the Società acquired its current premises at 836 Lygon Street, Nth Carlton which had been the Jewish National Kadimah Library since the early 1930s. It was re-named Eolian Hall, and became a central meeting point for the Aeolian community of Melbourne. A renovation program was largely financed by members, friends and various prominent Aeolians of Melbourne, whose generosity and volunteer work contributed to modernizing the Hall and purchasing its fittings and furnishings.
In 1969, Eolian Hall was inaugurated by the SMSIE President, cav. Marino Casamento, the Chaplain, rev. Vincenzo D’Amico, the Mayor of Northcote, cav. Antonio Matisi and the Console General of Italy in Melbourne.
At the 1989 AGM, a decision was made to modify the original Constitution to cater for Aeolian-Australians, in order to bring older and younger generations closer together. At this time, the name was shortened to Società Isole Eolie (SIE). The original aims were not changed but enhanced- traditions and the original scope of the Società were retained:
• Mutual and material support among members
• Maintaining cultural ties with the Aeolian Islands
• Traditional devotion to the Patron, Saint Bartholomew
•The promotion of social, family and cultural activities in collaboration with other Italian-Australian associations, and participation in various Australian celebrations and appeals.
From the 1989-90 year, women were encouraged to become an active part of the Società. A Ladies Committee was formed partly thanks to younger, forward-thinking members, including Tony Barbuto, Giuseppe (Joe) Biviano, Salvatore (Sam) Lo Schiavo and Marcello D’Amico. The first women to hold an executive position were Marianna Cafarella as Vice-President and Pietrina Mandarano as Vice-Secretary. In that year, Nina Luca, Maria Russo, Rosemarie Cassarà, Josie Russo and Teresa Luca also joined the Committee as ‘Assistants to the Social President’.
As times have changed, the SIE has had to reinterpret its objectives. Members are now second, third and fourth-generation Aeolians- some having no Aeolian family heritage at all, since membership is now open to the wider Italian and Australian community. We now warmly welcome one and all to join us in our events.