They were heady days in Italian politics in 2006, when the controversial Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, was tossed from office and the vote of the two Australians was crucial for the centre-left coalition Government that held a mere two-seat majority.
Nino was proud of his role and was keen to speak up for his constituents on issues such as the welfare of elderly migrants, and initiatives for second and third-generation Italian Australians. “After all, I’ve been living in the Australian community for the past 50 years,” he told me. “I’ve seen it develop from a small minority in the post-war years to a very important part of the Australian society.”
But, Nino Randazzo had been speaking up for Italian Australians for many decades before his election as a senator.
He’d been editor of the popular Melbourne-based Italian community newspaper Il Globo for 30 years, a job he carried out with gusto and passion, taking up issues and campaigns defending the identity and rights of all members of the Italian Australian community and helping them become an integral part of Australian society.
The biweekly newspaper was the passion of Nino’s working life, starting there as a journalist, then deputy editor and in 1978 becoming editor-in-chief. He took over the role from his friend and mentor, the founder of Il Globo, Ubaldo Larobina, who, in his words, established the newspaper to build a virtual bridge between Australia and Italy.
Nino’s editorials reflected the man: they were stylish and elegant, but also forthright and insistent. This from his friend, the current editor of Il Globo, Dario Nelli, who delivered the eulogy at Nino’s funeral at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne: “Nino never took a step back when he had to start a campaign of some kind, be it in the name of Italy or of Italian Australians: from family reunions to welfare, from the rights of Italian immigrant workers to the right to vote in the Italian election, from the study of the Italian language in schools and universities to the frequent necessity of protecting the good name of Italy and Italian Australians from the often sensationalist and gratuitous attacks of the mainstream media when they portrayed Italian Australians in a stereotypical way. And he always did it by putting himself in the front line, without any fear, and always with the conviction that he was fighting for a just cause.”
Nino was an influential and renowned journalist and editor, but he was more than that: he was also an author, playwright and historian.
In his spare time, he translated Manning Clark’s six-volume A History of Australia into Italian, wrote books and historical essays on the Italian community in Australia, and penned 16 plays that were performed here and in Italy.
Nino knew more than most about the history of Italian migration to Australia and worldwide. He was, after all, a migrant himself, travelling in 1952 on one of those ships that brought countless numbers of hopeful Italian migrants to Australia in search of a better life. He came from the small and beautiful Sicilian island of Salina, which today has its own museum devoted to migration. Australia features prominently: more than 10,000 inhabitants have left the tiny island for a new life in Australia. Salina’s population today is about 2000.
Nino regularly returned to his home town, where he was something of a local hero. One of his plays, Andata e Ritorno (There and Back), was about his beloved Salina and the struggle of Italian migrants who left their loved ones to start a new life on a much bigger, faraway island called Australia. He always said he carried two islands in his heart, Salina and Australia.
In that 2006 Foreign Correspondent story on newly elected Senator Randazzo, we filmed him returning triumphantly to Salina. He carried two bunches of roses from the Italian mainland. He said they were for the two most influential women in his life. One he took to his mother’s gravesite, the other he lay at the feet of a statue of the Madonna in the church where he was baptised. Nino credits both women with giving him strength in life.
Women, in fact, dominated his life. Nino had three daughters, Carmen, Franca and Nadia, with the true love of his life, his wife Maria, the woman he met and fell in love with during the long journey on the ship coming out to Australia. Sadly, Maria died less than two months before Nino.
In a tribute in Rome, the Italian Senate heard that Nino’s already fragile heart could not cope with the loss of his one true love.
Nino Randazzo personified and enriched multicultural Australia. An Italian boy who became a great Australian, his legacy includes a rich body of work on the story of Italian migration and its contribution to this country.
Nino Randazzo died peacefully on July 10, just shy of his 87th birthday. Condolences to his family, and his extended family at Il Globo.
Josephine Cafagna is a Melbourne journalist. This tribute was written with the help of Nino’s family and friends.