In 1952 Italian born Mario Abbiezzi was living at 141 St Johns Road, Glebe. Just before Christmas he received an official letter refusing renewal of his visa and giving him two months’ notice of deportation. A member of a ‘communist penetrated organisation and a financial contributor to a communist publication’, he had already been refused naturalisation. Abbiezzi fled to Darwin where he was arrested, then brought back to Sydney and locked up in Long Bay.
Meanwhile, news of his plight had spread quickly. A Defence of Mario Abbiezzi Committee, meeting in the 727 George Street premises of the Italo-Australian Club where Mario was Secretary, collected a petition with 10,000 signatures. The anti-fascist Italia Libera Association approached one of its patrons, Victorian Senator Donald Cameron, who wrote to Immigration Minister Harold Holt arguing against the order.
Protest also came from Dr Silvio Daneo, the Italian Minister to Australia. A week before the deportation deadline, Holt was asked by visiting Italian Minister Dr Schiazzi to withdraw the proceedings in the face of widespread opposition, particularly from the Queensland Association of Italian Workers and trade unions representing boilermakers and club and restaurant workers.
Holt ordered a departmental report and Cabinet met. It was decided that genuine troublemakers could be dealt with under the Crimes Act and that expulsion of Abbiezzi might ‘create a dangerous precedent which could be used in future to the detriment of a person who could in no way be regarded as subversive, but whose political views were not in accord with those held by the government of the day’. Comparisons were made to a 1925 court decision in favour of two overseas born Seamen’s Union officials threatened with deportation. The Abbiezzi case was quietly dropped.
The federal government’s postwar immigration program had been in trouble in 1952, a recession year. In July at the Bonegilla migrant centre there were riots by Italian migrants frustrated at not finding work. Demonstrations and street marches followed in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne.
Authorities maintained that Abiezzi’s case was not connected with this unrest but he had been critical of the Australian government’s treatment of new arrivals whose expectations were not met. For years after the events of 1952-3 he was denied Australian citizenship.
Born in Milan, Abbiezzi at age 18 joined the Partito Comunista d’Italia (PCI). In the period 1934-1942 he was arrested and imprisoned several times, and in 1944 joined the 52nd partisan brigade, the Garibaldi. He helped Allied prisoners of war escape to Switzerland and was credited as among the captors of Mussolini in 1945. In 1949 he decided to go to Australia and have a ‘look around’. In Genoa he boarded the Sebastiano Caboto, carrying 316 passengers from Italy, Poland, Greece, Austria, Germany, Egypt, Cyprus, Hungary and Czechoslovakia. Most were single Italian men travelling as assisted migrants. Although he sailed third class, Abbiezzi was an unassisted ‘trader’. His credentials as a businessman were emphasised by those opposed to his deportation.
Abbiezzi remained an active member of Sydney’s Italian community. The Italo-Australian Club where he was Secretary provided food, newspapers and social events including dance nights. In the 1960s he ran the Garibaldi Bar in Riley Street East Sydney, premises dominated by a mural of his hero astride a white horse. He was a founding member of the Sydney branches of the PCI and the Federazione Italiana Lavoratori Emigrati et loro Famiglie (FILEF) and edited Il Risveglio and Il Nuovo Paese.
He was cremated at Botany cemetery on 24 March 1986.
Footnote: Deportation proceedings issued in October 1952 against Cyprus born Demetris Anastassiou, said to be a political agitator amongst ‘New Australians’, were also withdrawn. ‘Jimmy’ had marched on May Day, joined the Greek Atlas Club, attended the 1951
Berlin Youth Festival and danced at the Russian Social Club. In 1962 his application for Australian citizenship was rejected by Immigration Minister Alexander Russell Downer. It was finally granted by Al Grassby in 1973.
Battiston, Simone History and Collective Memory of the Italian Workers’ Migrant Organisation FILEF in 1970s Melbourne PhD thesis La Trobe University 2004
Border Morning Mail 19.7.1952
Canberra Times 9.8.1952; 17.1.1953
Daily Telegraph 16.1.1953
Deery, Phillip ‘Dear Mr. Brown’ History Australia 2005: Monash University ePress www.epress.monash.edu.au Italia Libera manifesto 1943 La Fiamma 24 March 1986
New Theatre Management Committee Minutes 1952-3
Tribune May, June 1953